Front Line Focus: Internet drives violence

Gangs of youths fixed on causing “ultra-violence” are nothing new. Most people may recall at least one encounter with young urban tribes if they haven’t been members themselves. My experience was a good 30 years ago, involving a late-night sojourn on a country road and long shadowy figures suddenly stretching out across the road in front of me. A skinhead’s fist greeted my jaw with crunching force. But this was enough to provide unwitting aid for a spirited propulsion over a privet hedge, making good my escape – into the archives of memory. At least I didn’t end up on a website for all to see.

“Happy slapping” is a pun on happy snapping that originated in London in 2004. Since then this ugly phenomenon has spread across the country with attacks becoming more frequent and more violent and lately, according to a recent documentary, has entered the corporate world of entertainment. Freely ­available websites are now the hosts of violent “home videos” where teenagers are beaten unconscious, stabbed and, in one case, impaled by a pole, to laughter and jeers from a young crowd, who hold aloft their mobile phones to record every moment. It only takes a few moments to upload the video clip on to the internet by text messaging to one of several websites, such as YouTube and Liveleak, to then be viewed. One video of a violent assault received 1,600 hits. The attacks posted on YouTube are filed under “entertainment”. These websites not only promote the attacks but also allow the assaults to be masqueraded as play, viewed for others’ amusement.

YouTube is owned by Google and attracts advertising from big brands offering their services and products alongside the glorification of children being battered senseless. Many companies were unaware they were appearing on such sites and have since withdrawn the advertisements.

Yet the spokesperson for Google seemed unrepentant. Rather than the responsibility of a profiteering corporation it was up to the community to police the website: “We think it’s rightIt’s someone else’s censorship.” Hiding behind some perverted, noxious notion of democracy, these weasel words revealed the moral bankruptcy of this $170bn business.

Is there some moral panic in all this? Only if you deny the incremental effect such exposure has on teenagers, a desensitisation towards violence, which will be reaped in the years to come.

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

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