Social Media and Violence

Social media now plays a central role in the lives of young people in the UK, with the vast majority of teenagers using smartphones and tablets to access online platforms throughout their waking hours. The integration of social media into the daily lives of young people has left online– offline boundaries increasingly blurred. Whilst there appears to be concern about young people accessing pornography, we feel that a large area of concern should be around people viewing violent videos online and it consequences.

Whilst online activity offers huge potential to enhance the quantity and quality of communication between people across the world, it also raises some serious challenges. A report from Catch 22 and Birmingham University report focuses on one of these challenges, namely, the links between young people’s use of social media and youth violence.

Whilst social media platforms are being used to glamorise, display and incite serious acts of violence, this content currently drifts under the radar of responsible adults and organisations which have the potential to respond to and challenge this behaviour.

The main finding from the report focuses on

No holds barred online: Because social media is commonly perceived to be hidden from adults, a virtual free-for all space has emerged in which a small minority of young people share various forms of material that both display and incite serious incidents of violence in real life.

The Impact of the smartphone: Whilst some of the online activities discussed in this report have been occurring for several years, they now pose far greater challenges because of the recent developments in smartphone technology, which have radically altered both the nature and prevalence of young people’s use of social media.

 Growing audience: By collapsing time and space, social media platforms are providing young people with unprecedented opportunities to disrespect one another. Before the advent of these platforms, incidents of violence, disrespect and provocation were typically confined to relatively small audiences, as well as a single location and point in time. Now, however, visceral displays of violence and disrespect are being captured via photographs and videos, and may be replayed at any time as the content spreads virally over multiple platforms. In addition, the enhanced audience size facilitated by social media makes violent retaliation more likely because of the unprecedented potential for disrespectful online activity to undermine young people’s perceived status and reputation.

Threats and provocation in music videos: Young people and professionals reported concerns around what they referred to as drill music videos, which threaten and provoke individuals and groups from rival areas. A clear distinction must be made between the vast majority of music videos that simply provide a raw reflection of the realities of young people’s lives (content that does not provoke real-life violence), and a much smaller number of videos that go well beyond this, through displays of young people brandishing weapons, incendiary remarks about recent incidents of young people being seriously injured and killed, and explicit threats to stab or shoot specific individuals and members of rival groups.

Daily exposure to online violence: A small minority of young people are exposed daily to social media content that displays or incites serious violence in real life. This includes uploads of photos and videos of individuals and groups trespassing into areas associated with rival groups, and serious incidents of theft and violence perpetrated against young people. Some social media accounts are dedicated entirely to archiving and sharing material that displays young people being seriously harmed, disrespected and humiliated.

 Social pressures: When young people are disrespected by content uploaded to social media, this can generate significant social pressure to retaliate in real life to protect their perceived status and reputation. Moreover, when young people witness graphic displays of real-life violence involving their friends and family, this can leave them suffering from significant levels of anxiety and trauma. Those who initially upload the content disrespecting a particular individual or group become prone to retaliatory acts of serious violence and theft, which in turn are often recorded and broadcast over social media, creating a vicious cycle of retaliation.

Vulnerability of young women: Professionals and young people reported cases of girls being violently attacked and sexually assaulted by members of rival groups after appearing in content uploaded online. In addition, professionals described cases in which young women who commented on content uploaded to social media were subsequently groomed and pressured into risky activities such as holding and storing weapons or drugs.

You can download the full report here

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