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Opinion

Column:: The Whiteboard Jungle: The rise in social media is diminishing childhood innocence

The tragedy last week in New Zealand where a maniac murdered 50 people was doubly despicable due to the killer live-streaming his deed on Facebook using a GoPro helmet camera.

It took half an hour before anybody reported this to Facebook, 12 minutes after the shooting ended. In other words, those watching online did not report it while it was happening. In fact, many were cheering him on.

What happened was not a video game, yet there exists people in the world who derive entertainment from the killing of innocent people. It’s disturbing to realize that hate has a worldwide audience.

How does a parent explain this to a child?

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The internet offers wonderful opportunities. But whatever good people get from using social media is negated if it means that just one child intentionally or not may come across a video of a person actually getting killed.

Ever since the birth of the internet, dutiful parents have had to carefully monitor content, pornography being an obvious problem. However, no matter how one closely scrutinizes or how many filters are in place, something horrible is bound to suddenly appear on a screen.

Each generation comes to grips with changes in technology. When television came on the scene, some thought it would corrupt children’s minds.

However, this occurred when there was one screen per household. All one had to do was to turn off the TV.

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Today, each person has a screen. Internet accessibility and control rests in the palms of a child’s hands. It’s impossible for a parent to continuously watch what appears on the screen.

Surely, social-media companies such as Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube have the ability to shut down hate-related content.

Some advertisers plan to boycott these businesses. The Assn. of New Zealand Advertisers and the Commercial Communications Council posed the following question in their statement released earlier in the week:

“If the site owners can target consumers with advertising in micro-seconds, why can’t the same technology be applied to prevent this kind of content being streamed live?”

If the internet was available during Hitler’s reign, he might have installed cameras in the showers where Jewish prisoners were gassed, available for everybody to observe.

Just because we have the capability to access every repulsive act a person can perpetrate on another human being does not mean we should see it.

One of the main problems I have with the internet is that it offers legitimacy to the most illegitimate antisocial outcasts among us, giving each voice an audience. Yet not every voice should be heard.

Unimaginable horrors abound online where anyone of any age can access hateful ideologies, suicide instructions and an online forum titled “watch people die.”

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Is that really what we are all about?

The world shouldn’t be a nightmare. If so, why would people bring up children in such a toxic environment?

It used to be that children had a childhood. Unsuitable material could be delayed until later. Not now. Innocence is a nostalgic notion.

There’s a favorite line of mine from the 1962 film “To Kill a Mockingbird” that was not in Harper Lee’s novel. Screenwriter Horton Foote, who won an Oscar for the screenplay, wrote a scene where Atticus Finch turns to his son and says, “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep them all away from you. That’s never possible.”

How truer that is today than ever before.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of “Smart Kids, Bad Schools” and “The $100,000 Teacher.” He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.


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