Posting of videos of fights adds insult to injury

Despite a "policy against harassment, bullying and violent content," fighting videos still turn up on YouTube. The company asks users to flag inappropriate content so it can be removed from the site.
Despite a "policy against harassment, bullying and violent content," fighting videos still turn up on YouTube. The company asks users to flag inappropriate content so it can be removed from the site.
Posted: February 02, 2011

YOU USED to have to go down to the schoolyard to see kids fight. Now all you need is an Internet connection.

Uploaded videos featuring student scraps and downright vicious classmate conflicts are easily found on YouTube.

"It is using technology to further humiliate or denigrate somebody, to retraumatize them," said Jonathan Singer, an assistant professor of social work at Temple University. "If kids take a video and then post it online, the intent is to inflict further harm."

Last month, a YouTube video of three girls kicking and punching a fourth girl at Hunting Park's Edison High School drew hundreds of thousands of viewers.

More recently, Upper Darby police confiscated a video that shows 13-year-old Nadin Khoury being tormented by seven teenage attackers who drag him across the snow and hang him by his coat on a 7-foot-high spiked fence.

After arresting the alleged perpetrators, Upper Darby police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said he and other police assumed that the video was destined for YouTube.

"With all this social networking, they believe they will become heroes," he said. "It's not that crime has increased because of it, but the sheer brazenness has increased because they want to become cult heroes."

Of course, it's not just a local problem: In September, a Florida mother was charged with child abuse after a video was uploaded to YouTube showing her cheering her daughter on in a fight in a field.

In December, a Suffolk County, N.Y., politician launched a violence-reduction program, with a "focus on YouTube, where hostility and aggression are inappropriately being glorified."

YouTube said in a statement that it has "policies against harassment, bullying and violent content" and that users should flag inappropriate videos.

"In the case of kids fighting, we have a specific flagging category called 'youth violence.' We review flagged content quickly, and remove all videos that violate our policies," the company said.

Still, users post such videos, and they can go undetected for months, even years. A quick YouTube search for "school fights philly" revealed a handful of actual footage of fights among school-age participants. Watching one leads to handy "suggestions" showing even more.

"The reason they put it on YouTube is to appear cool to their friends," said anti-bullying advocate Jodee Blanco, the author of Please Stop Laughing at Me and Please Stop Laughing at Us. "Cruelty is often currency for the young."

The Philadelphia School District immediately seeks to have any objectionable videos that come to its attention removed from the Internet, spokeswoman Shana Kemp said. It has had anti-bullying, anti-cyberbulling and unlawful-harassment policies in place since September.

The district doesn't track the number of incidents that occur each year, "but there's no denying that we are in the midst of a digital age, and we are looking at ways to monitor occurrences in hopes of taking even more immediate action," Kemp said.

The desire of perpetrators to document atrocious acts is nothing new, said Andrew Mendelson, an associate professor and chair of the journalism department at Temple. What is new is the ease of recording and disseminating it to a mass audience.

"These same complaints were made when the first Kodak was released," Mendelson said. "There are places we can't imagine a camera being."

In our 24/7 world, people use photographs and videos to define themselves. They then use social-networking tools to widely share that definition, he said.

"It's a way to present an image, 'Aren't we cool? Aren't we scary? Aren't we tough?' They're trying to make a version of themselves to show to other people and to show to themselves," Mendelson said.

Bullies think that bullying shows power, said Temple's Singer.

"When kids videotape themselves," he said, "they're saying, 'We are right and the kid we are bullying is wrong, and it's going to be so much fun to watch this over and over again because this kid is not one of us. Look how powerful we are. Not only can we dominate this kid, but we can get other kids around the world to agree with us.' "

Upper Darby's Chitwood said police officers use social-networking sites to make cases. They've seen photos and videos of people counting money with drug paraphernalia in view, and of robberies and assaults.

"If they have access to social networks, they're going to put stupid and criminal events on there," he said.

The Upper Darby arrests were in part made possible because of the existing video, he said. Before, he said, it might have been a "he said, they said" situation.

"The video exacerbates the situation," he said. "It goes from an assault to all these significant charges. It's now a crime and not just a complaint."

Staff writer Stephanie Farr contributed to this report.

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