Violence online vs violence on TV

By Pandella Maultby

Recently, a video depicting a suicide was shared via social media, originally Facebook, but it was later circulated on Tik Tok. Following this, many people were quick to ban their children from using the app and call for Tik Tok to be deleted.

Why are we so quick to boycott an app that depicts violence or ‘triggering’ themes, but then go and watch a violent movie or TV show without a second thought?

The truth is most of us start watching violent content at a very young age. Think Looney Tunes, Disney or Tom and Jerry. And yet we don’t have an issue with allowing children to watch these. And while you may think, ‘how do they compare with social media, they’re just cartoons?’ Children don’t always see the difference; they see the human traits.

And even if not cartoons, free-to-air prime-time television is full of violent content also. From the 6pm news to medical or police dramas, violence and death is prevalent in our everyday viewing. A report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from September 2000 showed that by the time the average child is 18 years old, they will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders through television, movies or video games. These statistics are from 20 years ago, yet society has only gone downhill since. Now these numbers are much higher, but still we only focus on the violence that is witnessed through social media.

And surely that’s because as adults we see the difference between Hollywood props and make-up and real guns and blood. We expect that children do too, but that’s not always the case.

Of course, parents only worry because they don’t want their precious children to be hurt or influenced to hurt others by the violence they view online. Children are copy-cats after all.

But how much does the media really influence their actions?

Evidence shows that high exposure to violent media can lead to changes in brain function. However, the evidence is 50-50 in whether the changes encourage or discourage violent behaviour. A study from the University in Amsterdam found that there are six main factors that led to children becoming violent or suicidal. The factors, apart from viewing violent media, are bias toward hostility, low parental involvement, participant gender, physical victimisation, and prior physical fights.

If we don’t want children to witness, and therefore be influenced by, violence or death, then a lot more needs to be done than just banning social media. We’d have to sensor everything: movies, TV shows, music videos, video games and the news.

Or rather, parents could have the important conversations with their children about what they see on any form of media and their reactions to it.

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