Violent media content is a reflection of society

Image: 123RF/ Alessandro De Carli

The Film and Publication Board is concerned by the spate of violent acts committed against children and shared online. Sadly, in most of these, children themselves are the perpetrators.

The video clips spread like wildfire, reaching a significant number of children on social networks.

The media, as they say, is a reflection of society. South Africa is generally a violent society and the media reflects this reality.

Violence, it would seem, has become the nation's twelfth official language.

As the title of a recent study on violent protests suggests, it is "The smoke that calls".

Protagonists in violent protests remarked to the authors that officials only respond with speed when violence erupts. The authors point out that this suggests South Africans have adopted violence as an effective method of resolving conflict.

We have also noted that children are not the only victims. Talk shows were recently abuzz with the video of two pupils in school uniform assaulting a teacher.

Another video depicts two schoolgirls fighting in a classroom.

So what does this violence tell us? It is one of the bitter fruits of the poisonous concoction South Africa inherited from its colonial and apartheid past.

Violence is a tool of choice also, it would seem, if you want to humiliate your enemies. Social media is an effective vehicle to this end.

So how come we are seeing more and more violent content on social media; and what is the likely impact of exposure to such content on children?

Studies have shed some light on what to expect should this trend continue, with the link between exposure of children to violent television content and violence and aggressive behaviour in adult life. The other possible outcome could be that children are being desensitised to media violence.

Parents are seemingly also oblivious to violence in the media. In a recent survey, parents were most concerned by any suggestion of sexual content, yet violent content in films the FPB classified in 2016 and last year outnumbered sexual content - more than tenfold.

This prurient approach to media content means parents are failing to make a connection between violent media content and the real life violence in society.

Unfortunately, those at the receiving end of acts of bullying spread online do not get through these experiences lightly.

Trauma and a sense of shame and humiliation leave victims badly affected. There have been cases of teenagers resorting to suicide as an escape from these bad experiences.

At the moment we are unaware of studies that assess the impact of exposure to violent media content on children, yet the studies cited above suggest a possible link to offline, violent behaviour.

We believe a multi-pronged effort is a more desirable approach to addressing this problem. This means every stakeholder should play their part, with prevention being the primary point of intervention.

*Nene is the acting CEO of the Film and Publication Board.

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