The videotaped beating of a 16-year-old Florida girl by other teens whose intent was to post video of the attack on YouTube and MySpace has sparked national outrage and has prompted calls for these sites to better police their content.
Eight teenagers have been arrested on charges alleging they beat Lakeland, Fla., teen Victoria Lindsay in an "animalistic attack" so they could make a videotape to post on YouTube. A week after the attack, Ms. Lindsay still had not fully recovered her hearing and sight, reports the local newspaper, the Ledger.
Ms. Lindsay was attacked on March 30 by six teenage girls when she arrived at a friend’s home, authorities said. One of the girls struck the victim on the head several times and then slammed her head into a wall, knocking her unconscious, according to an arrest report.
Later, according to a clip of the video that was released by the Polk County, Fla., sheriff’s office, the teens can be seen blocking a door and hitting the victim.
"It’s absolutely an animalistic attack," Sheriff Grady Judd said April 8 on NBC’s Today. "They lured her into the home for the express purpose of filming the attack and posting it on the internet."
Victoria’s father, Patrick Lindsay, said the teens intended to post the video on the video-sharing web site YouTube. Christina Garcia, the mother of one of the defendants, said her daughter had turned the tape over to police.
The sheriff’s office said that after the attack, three of the teens forced the victim into a vehicle and drove her to another location, where she was told she would be given a worse beating if she contacted police.
All eight suspects were arrested April 2 and charged with battery and false imprisonment. The three teens who took Lindsay to the second location are also charged with felony kidnapping.
Ms. Lindsay was treated for a concussion, damage to her left eye and left ear, and numerous bruises, police said.
The brutality of the case has drawn national attention and raises serious questions about the lure for notoriety the internet affords. Mental health experts say teen violence has proliferated as kids look to flaunt their deeds on a worldwide stage.
Patrick Lindsay says he wants video-enhanced web sites such as MySpace and YouTube to stop allowing users to post videos of such beatings.
"I’m going to carry this as far as I can to see about getting this stuff off the internet and stop our children from endangering other people’s children just to create a shock video," Lindsay told local news channel WESH 2 News.
A YouTube spokesperson told InformationWeek the company doesn’t comment on individual videos, and the full video of the beating was never uploaded. The spokesperson said the community polices the site and flags content it finds inappropriate.
"Once it is flagged, YouTube promptly reviews the content and removes it from the system if it is in violation of our Community Guidelines," the spokesperson said. "Real violence on YouTube is not allowed. If a video shows someone getting hurt, attacked, or humiliated, it will be removed."
A search of YouTube’s video archive as of press time turned up dozens of clips depicting beatings and other violence inflicted by teens upon each other–though it’s impossible to tell how many are real and how many are staged for the benefit of the camera.
Some internet users have sprung to the defense of YouTube and similar sites in the midst of all the criticism.
"Does censorship work? Is it even possible for YouTube to vet every video that’s uploaded to its site? YouTube serves some 100 million videos every day. What kind of manpower would it take to monitor all of it? And how would one distinguish between a real fight and a staged melee that’s part of a (fictional) short film," Yahoo Tech blogger Christopher Null wrote on April 9.
"Censoring one type of content–which YouTube actually does plenty of–is a slippery slope," Null continued. "And really, what would be the point? If not YouTube, would the teens have posted pictures or video clips on their blogs? Or simply used another hosting service? Kids have been beating each other up for centuries, since well before YouTube came along, and they’ll be doing it after it’s gone, too."
But some psychologists say there’s a link between the growing use of the internet and the escalation of violence among teens, especially teenage girls. They suggest that adults need to get more involved in what their kids are doing online.
Schools also have a role to play, says Nora Carr, chief communications officer for North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and an award-winning columnist for eSchool News.
"Even if internet service providers cooperate [and remove questionable videos or other content]–never a sure thing–the viral nature of electronic communications makes replication easy," Carr wrote in her February column. "Since online activities can take place 24-7, harassed teens no longer have a bully-free zone."
Carr recommends several steps that parents and educators can take to combat the problem–including updating school policies to address online bullying, creating an inclusive climate that fosters acceptance and tolerance, and reporting instances of harassment to the proper authorities.
"This is heinous crime, one that should carry the full force of the law to send a strong message that this kind of behavior simply won’t be tolerated," Carr told eSchool News.
"While this case is extreme, it also exposes the dark underbelly of the web, in which anonymity and the lure of worldwide exposure entices people to do things that normally they would never do or be able to do otherwise."
She added: "Schools need to teach students that with the unfettered and unfiltered freedom of the internet comes great responsibility. Personal responsibility is the flip side of the coin. Like any communications tool, the web can be used for good or ill.
"If we don’t teach students to use the web and other new technologies wisely, responsibly, and for the common good, we will fail in our duty to the next generation."
Polk County Sheriff Judd has drawn his share of criticism, too, for releasing a three-minute clip of the beating video to the press. The clip has turned up on YouTube and all over the internet–thereby fulfilling the accused teens’ desires.
The video has been such a media sensation that a Polk County judge issued a gag order on all parties involved in the case, saying they could not discuss it outside of court.