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Study links social media to violence


DISTURBING LINKS between young people’s use of social media and youth violence have been laid bare in a new hard-hitting report which in turn highlights the lack of smartphone technology knowledge revealed by parents and professionals working with young people.

The groundbreaking work, called Social Media as a Catalyst and Trigger for Youth Violence, has been put together by Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, of Catch 22, a not-for-profit business with a social mission, and Craig Pinkney, a Birmingham-based criminologist and director of RealAction UK, a charitable outreach organisation, supporting young people.

The project has been carried out in partnership with University College Birmingham, where Pinkney is a full-time lecturer specialising in youth violence, urban street gangs and black men’s desistance. The report pulls no punches when it says urgent up-to-date social media training is vital for all professionals working with young people, including parents, in order for them to get a grip on how young people live today.

The authors hope it will act as a springboard for action to educate the generation tasked with caring for and nurturing these young people, who are living in an online world which is becoming increasingly disconnected from reality. The report is the result of a six month analysis of information from those who work with young people, including the police, and young people themselves.

Pinkney, who is also the UK lead for the EU Gangs Project involving young people in several European countries including Italy, Romania and Greece, told The Voice:

“The response to the report has been immense.

“It has exposed the social media knowledge gap that many parents, teachers and other professionals have because the pace of screen technology is moving so fast. “Many have no idea how much social media is exploiting young people, particularly when it comes to violence and cyber bullying.”

The report’s key findings outline how social media has now become a virtual free-for-all, giving young people a limitless platform to disrespect and bully each other. It says how teenagers ’ round-the-clock monitoring of their social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Periscope, has meant lines are increasingly blurred between their online personas and reality.

Their time spent viewing and uploading content to social media platforms has risen by an incredible 1,525 per cent in the past five years, according to an internet trends 2016 report by Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers. The report states:

“The attitudes and behaviour of the young people discussed in this report must be viewed within the wider social context of their lives.

“Many will have grown up in areas of socio-economic deprivation, maybe struggling to cope with serious issues around trauma stemming from early childhood experiences, and are therefore exhibiting attitudes and behaviours that are tragically understandable when considered in this context.

“For many, their self-esteem is increasingly based not on what they think about themselves, but on what others think about them.”

The report is keen to emphasise it’s not blaming young people – more blame is attached to the celebrity culture which promotes unrealistic idealised identities It stresses the dangers of ‘drill’ music videos, a genre that originates in Chicago, and how these can raise tensions leading to an escalation in neighbourhood violence between rival groups.

Concerns are also raised about girls, who are often targets for sexual violence and end up being groomed into holding and storing drugs or weapons. 'Honey-trapping', where a girl encourages a young man to come to an unsafe area, leading to him being attacked, is still common practice. In one of the focus groups held with young people, one young man was reported as saying:

“Girls hang around with gangs because they want to say to other girls that, ‘Ah, I’m part of the gang’. “They want the status as well ... girls think it makes them look good – that’s why they do it.”

The report’s recommended action plan puts pressure on the Home Office to provide comprehensive guidance on the acceptable use of social media for teachers, the police and social workers, while actively encouraging these professionals to use it to support their work. It also states that the social media providers themselves should make sure they have proper procedures in place to remove content that violates the platform’s own guidelines when complaints are made.

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