The Bridge Between Virtual and Everyday Violence

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By Georgia Schultz, Staff Writer

From video games focused on murder to constant replays of barbaric events in the media, Americans are constantly bombarded with violent images, videos and thoughts in their everyday life. With the rise of this hatred becoming normalized, death tolls caused by violence have grown dramatically in the last decade. In the 1970s, mass shootings claimed an average of eight lives per year.  From 2010 to 2019, the average was almost seven times that.  It’s no question whether or not brutality is increasing in this country. With a rise in aggression in the media, violence is clearly on the minds of the students at New Paltz High School. 

“The way it is with restrictions being taken down and gun laws being taken back, violence definitely plays a role in how I think everyday about coming to school,” Sage Rochetti, a senior at New Paltz High School said. “I never know what to expect.”

Fear of mass shootings is more severe in 18-29 year olds.

And it isn’t just Rochetti who worries about how violence might affect her everyday life. According to the The Chapman Survey of American Fears , 63.5% of participants of the survey between ages of 18-29 years old are very afraid of mass shootings. So where is all this violence coming from?

“I think it will normalize violence for children,” Rochetti explains, “if you are playing video games from a very young age.”  

Mirat Selvi from the Daily Sabah claims that exposure to violence through the media has four main effects on people. These were defined as incitement to aggression, fear of victimization, depersonalization, and appetite effects. Basically, it’s the idea that violence breeds violence, and the more it is normalized, the more often it will happen. 

Adolescents spend about 7-8 hours a day using some form of media, such as video games, their phones, and the T.V. According to the National Library of Medicine, research over the past half century shows that “exposure to violence on television, movies, and video games increases the risk of violent behavior on the viewers part.” In today’s world, the constant stream of information is inescapable, and when an individual mainly consumes negative feed, it creates the illusion that all the real world is, well,  negative. And while it is true, most youths who are aggressive or antisocial do not go on to become violent adults, it is most common for those who are already aggressive to be desensitized to violence from their childhood. “The best single predictor of violent behavior in young adults is aggressive behavior when they were younger,” Says L. Rowell Huesmann in the article The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research. “Thus, anything that promotes aggressive behavior in young children is statistically a risk factor.”

Studies have shown that the dangerous behavior on the screen causes an increase in aggressive thoughts, hostile appraisals, and a lack of empathy.

Studies have shown that the dangerous behavior on the screen causes an increase in aggressive thoughts, hostile appraisals, and a lack of empathy. The world today’s children receive through technology is reflected in the statistics. Of course, video games and social media for children are not all bad. In fact, they provide opportunities for engagement, learning, community, and entertainment. But it can’t be overlooked that these platforms help to facilitate a brutal, darker side to people. 

“I think that people who have a wish to do harm can seek the media as an ally.” Joel Neden, a teacher at New Paltz High School, reflected. “I mean Elliot Rodgers, for example, who drove his car into a crowd, was satisfying some creed on this horrible Reddit feed. He was applauded for what he did.”

Reddit, and other similar social media platforms like twitter and Instagram, have been under fire for years because of the content they allow to be shared. These apps have opened new venues for social interaction in which aggression can occur and youth can be victimized. Much like video games, the media children consume on a daily basis is full of unregulated images, videos, and messages that promote harmful ideas. It desensitizes kids from a young age to violence in a gradual and subconscious process, which leads to presentations of violence to be seen as justifiable or fun.  Moreover, online communities will sometimes idolize the aggressor, treat them as heroes, or obsess over and imitate them. 

“I definitely think news outlets have an effect on violence in our country. I think that if someone influential goes on the media, someone like Alex Jones or Kanye West, and they start saying things that can incite violence, absolutely it will spread hate crimes.”

Sage Rochetti

The effect entertainment media and information platforms have on society is no longer questionable. Violent events are covered frequently in great detail and spread like wildfire. For days, or even weeks after a catastrophic and brutal incident, the same video will be replayed over and over again across headlines. The aggressor’s name will be plastered everywhere. 

Experts believe that this media coverage can negatively inspire what is called “copy-cat” sprees, otherwise known as the media contagion effect. As some people hear about horrific events in the news, or on social media, they feel inclined to repeat the offense. This can be seen with terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and hate crimes. 

But there is hope. More recently, information platforms seem to be taking extra care in the way they report their news. 

“I think the media is much more aware that the reporting of certain subjects can perpetuate violence,” says Neden with optimism. 

And it’s true. The perpetrators name has been used less and less in headlines. The focus has been shifted away from the assailant and to the victims. There is less “award” or “celebrity status” given to the perpetrators of violence. 

Mass shootings and other violent events are still on the rise however. According to the “Gun Violence Archive,” as of November 2022 not a single week has passed without at least four mass shootings. This is our world. Despite the steps that have been taken so far to shield the innocent from the horrors of society, it is not enough. 

Disturbing online communities that push brutality still exist. Video Games centered around fighting are still prevalent in young children’s minds. News platforms still report things insensitively because, as they have found, “violence sells.” With the violence and hate that the generations of today are fed since childhood, it should not be a surprise the headlines are what they are. 

Of course, completely eliminating social media or violent video games isn’t practical. It is a keystone in communication and entertainment in American society. But to recognise the detrimental effects this portrayal of violence can have on youths, and how it appears later on in people’s lives, that is what can really make a difference. Understanding the media we consume and the hate we witness daily can desensitize us to things that should never be normalized will hopefully help foster community and peace. 

“I think that in the information age we are living in, everything you take in absolutely gets compartmentalized,” Rochetti explains. “It becomes who you are.”

Whether depiction of violence in media triggers aggression or vice versa is a chicken and egg problem, but regardless, the narrative in which news is reported, or brutality is spoken about, requires careful consideration.