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Influence of Mass Media on Youth Violence

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Society is facing a problem with the development of its youth. The second leading cause of death amongst today’s youth is gang-related homicide. Youth today are exposed to more violence in their own households, online, in life, and at school than in any other decade. We are at a time in our life where violence among adolescents is at the highest rate. Higher than it has been in any previous year. This research paper will look in-depth at various scholarly articles that address the influence of mass media on today’s youth, and the violence associated with it. The purpose of this research paper is to find out if there is, in fact, a correlation between the increase in youth violence and mass media.

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The focus of this paper will be to review developing theories to identify the areas of mass media that may be contributing to youth violence. Mass media is a broad term for different ways to communicate with numerous people at once. Examples of different forms of mass media are newspapers, radio programs, television, the internet, and the multitude of social media platforms. This research paper will start by focusing on how mass media has opened up a door to allow more youths to be predisposed to violence, online violence spilling into the real world, and will end with what is being done currently to combat this problem in today’s society.

Social Media Opens a Door for Violence

In today’s world, the freedom and ease of access to the many different forms of social media. In the past, there were limited platforms for people to communicate. Although radio and newspapers have existed for many years, there was nothing that could compare with how the masses can communicate today. Social media platforms available today provide individuals the ability to choose not only what content they want to be exposed to, but also the ability to communicate specific messages to as large or small a target group they want. Additionally, through social media today, an individual can even post messages to and even limit who can see those messages, creating creates a sort of “rule-free” environment that parents are unable to enforce. Because of this “rule-free” environment, there is a dilemma of being somewhere and not really being there being created (Mengü & Mengü, 2014). This dilemma allows for the normalization of violence because nobody is being held accountable in a rule-free environment. Social media gives the user invisibility, and freedom from their conscience because they have the ability to hide behind anonymity.

Today, it is not uncommon to hear news accounts of middle schools and high schools being closed because some anonymous student posted some form of threat or racism against the school or specific students. In addition, individuals can post violent videos which are watched by children with easy access to the social media on which those videos are posted. Current research suggests that children who are frequently exposed to violent activities and violence in the media suffer a detrimental psychological effect (Patton, Et Al. 2014). This is seen in a 2008 study where middle school children were surveyed on their problematic behaviors in correlation with their video game habits. It was found that children who played extremely violent video games M-rated, were significantly more likely to have been in a physical altercation, caused property damage, or been in trouble with the law (Cantor, 2009).

Children are being exposed at every turn, to violence on the internet, social media, their gaming systems, and the television. Polls show that as much as 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. A large percentage of teenagers own cell phones, and many use them to access social media, texting, and even instant messaging. With so much usage, it is easy to see how such a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and cell phones. (O’Keefe et al, 2011). This exposure can lead to other negative behavior against others. These same adolescents who are being exposed to violence in the media are the same ones that, in turn, are using social media to cyber-bully others.

According to Mengü, with the rise of technology and social media, there has also been a rise in cyber-bullying. The study by Mengü also noted that social media also allows everybody to be a hero or heroine. Letting original posters create different scenarios resulting in negative or positive exchanges. These negative exchanges can also be violent (Mengü & Mengü, 2015). Cyber-bullies aren’t born cyber-bullies, they have been exposed to some kind of violence that they either identify with or gives them a sense of power when they bully someone online. This sense of power is fed by a “no one knows who I am” invincibility.

Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows “over 80% of adolescents own at least one form of new media technology,”

(David-Ferdon, Hertz, 2007). The rise in technology and adolescent use has led to the rise of electronic aggression. Media violence amongst adolescents is often referred to as electronic aggression, a form of cyber-bullying. Electronic aggression is the different forms of harassment or bullying including telling false truths, posting slanderous comments, and making aggressive threats to one another.

Online Violence Spilling into Real World

Media influence on violence in adolescents is not exclusive to the online world only. When looking at gang violence in today’s society one can say that violence in the real world is directly related to violence portrayed in, among other forms, music videos, Twitter posts, Facebook posts, and Snapchat. In one particular research study focused on Southside Chicago and its gang members’ media use, music videos specifically targeting rival gangs contain threats and taunts that further incite violence among youth. In a survey taken shortly after an explicit violent music video was released, participants were asked what happened after the video was uploaded. Answers ranged from more shootings to more stabbings. Every answer pointed towards the video inciting violence (Irwin-Rogers and Pinkney, 2017).

Research on exposure to violent television, films, music, and video games shows that exposure to this type of media increases the likelihood of a violent outburst and violent forms of aggression (Anderson et al., 2003). This can be seen when we go back and look at how gang and adolescent violence have a direct relation to media violence. The violence that youth participating in gangs are exposed to in the different forms of media appears to be inciting violence by making it “popular” or “cool”. The exposure to so much violence, especially being carried out in music videos by individuals that are idolized and respected by the youth watching the videos has a desensitizing impact. If XYZ rapper is shooting a gun and someone dies on the video, it’s not a big deal, and it’s cool. There is no understanding of what it means to take a life or the consequences associated with it.

The most common types of youth violence in social media include cyberbullying/victimization, harassment, electronic dating aggression/cyber-stalking, gang violence, peer-to-peer violence including school shootings, and cyber-suicide (Mengü & Mengü 2015). This study of the connection between violence and the impact of social media shows how norms are changing. In the study, Mengü points out a new national phenomenon called internet banking that is being reported by media outlets, in which individuals involved in gangs or neighborhood factions use social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to incite dares, trade insults, taunt or even make threats of violence which may result in violent retaliation through homicide or victimization. All of these examples show the extremes of the Internet can be used negatively.

What Parents Can Do

Because violence in the media is such a big problem for today’s youth it is up to the parents to try and limit exposure. With such few restrictions on what you are and are not able to post online and such little supervision over what the youth are searching and seeing online, it is difficult for parents to limit their children’s access. The internet is used at home, at school, and libraries for legitimate purposes as well as illegitimate ones, and it is difficult for a parent or other adults to keep track of their children’s usage. A third of teenagers reported that at least one of their favorite video games was reportedly rated “Mature”. With laws in place disallowing minors to purchase “mature” rated video games, it means that they are getting them from somewhere else. Typically, their parents are the ones purchasing. This usually is related to peer pressure, and the parents not really having an understanding of the violence in the video games because they do not play the games themselves. Although it is recommended that parents do not purchase games or media portraying violence towards others, it is a very real dilemma for parents when all of the kids on the block are playing the same game. However, adolescents who were not exposed to the same kind of violent media as those who were were less likely to be in a physical altercation or trouble with law enforcement (Cantor, 2009).

Conclusion

After further review of the articles presented in this research, paper one can determine that there is in fact a direct correlation between violence portrayed in the media and violence amongst youth. Many different factors went into this research including different media platforms, video games, music videos. Many different theories were tested but all pointed back to the same thing. Social media today allows for a new kind of world that today’s youth can be a part of. It creates a rule-free space where social identities can be constructed resulting in heroes and villains. It allows exposure to certain things that otherwise may never have been exposed. These include but are not limited to, music videos, video games, tv shows, movies, and many more. New doors have been opened up allowing for more violent behavior, current research points to the conclusion that the rise of violent behavior among adolescents can be directly linked to the rise of social media and violent media.

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