Social media cause of violence?

Posted: April 06, 2013

Two years ago, two friends at a Philadelphia high school turned on each other and began a hallway fight sparked by a rumor on Twitter and Facebook.

As the fight escalated, onlookers pulled out their smartphones and began recording the action.

Shortly thereafter, the "winner" of this school brawl posted the unsettling video on Facebook for all to see.

This incident spurred a debate at Constitution High about what role social media have, if any, in conflict resolution.

"Social media is funny, in that we can see fights from across the country from somewhere like Los Angeles," said Kathleen Melville, an English teacher at Constitution High. "Kids immediately take their phones out and start recording. It legitimizes people's roles as bystanders. They no longer intervene. All you are is a witness."

The fact that social media may have been misused, as in the case of a conflict between two best friends, doesn't mean the new media cause or fuel altercations anymore than older media do.

"This is not new-age violence. Before YouTube, people were recording for VHS as souvenirs," said George Miller, a communications professor at Temple University. "The winner of fights in the past would usually broadcast the fight vocally. It is the same idea, just a larger audience.

"YouTube can be used for good or bad. It supports the actions of teens and urges them to go viral, which is easy for sites like Worldstar HipHop," a site that presents videos of fights and bad language, which some students then emulate, Miller noted.

Use of social media can be a negative outlet, some argue, while others view it more in a positive vein.

Robert Paul, an English teacher at Constitution High, doesn't see much good in social media.

"It's unfortunate it has gained so much popularity. It antagonizes and causes conflicts and fights," said Paul. "It is so easy to disrespect someone without having to face them in person. When fights occur, there is still physical evidence. Once, a student from years ago brought up a fight from when he was still in school and showed me a video. The proof of the violence never dies."

And some students concur with Paul's assessment of social media and the negative effect they have, particularly on young people.

"It's a mob effect on a grander scale. When you witness a fight in schools today, all you see are people crowded around and holding cellphones. It's creepy," said David Feduniue, 17, a senior at Constitution.

"It's like they are brainwashed by social media," he said, "because they feel it is acceptable to entertain a fight by sending it out into the world of social networks."

To fellow senior Courtney Simmons, "social media is pretty important. It's an accessible way to keep in touch with friends. On the other hand, teens definitely take advantage of it.

"It entertains the idea that you're invincible through the computer, and that is how fights start in person," he said. "The Internet is like your armor."

In its Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Assault on Learning," published in 2011, The Inquirer found that in the previous five years, the number of violent incidents at Constitution High School increased from one incident per 100 students in 2006-2007, the year the school opened, to five incidents per 100 students by 2008-2009, before declining to four in 2010-2011.

Have social media made worse the number of violent incidents at school, or are these conflicts mirroring increased tensions among students?

"Since I entered Constitution, the fights have become more and more prevalent," said former student body president Sydney Walton.

"Most times, the fights are over petty issues either in school or outside. It becomes an issue of our generation's obsession with Twitter or Facebook and the fact that they do not respect one another.

"The school itself has no control over the actions of those who choose to fight. If they decide to implement policies to confiscate our phones for the day until school ends," Walton said, "kids will just post things after school and still find a way to fight either way."

So, are social media to blame? What's the most effective way to get a handle on this growing problem among teens?

"Educate people and help foster social values," said Miller, the Temple professor. "You can't ban the use of social media, due to the freedom of democracy."


Violence at Constitution High

In its Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Assault on Learning," published in 2011, The Inquirer found that, in the previous five years, the number of violent incidents at Constitution High School increased from one violent incident per 100 students in 2006-07, the year the school opened, to five violent incidents per 100 students by 2008-09, before declining to four per 100 students in 2010-11.


To read The Inquirer's exclusive seven-part series on violence in

the Philadelphia schools, go to www.philly.com/schoolviolence

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