Warning! Violent and gory content

The brutal and hateful world of the Internet

Media Awareness Network

Teachers and parents need to be aware of the violent and hateful content that is easily accessed on the Internet by children and young people.

Violent content

More than one-third (35 per cent) of boys in Grades 7 to 11 have visited violent or gore sites on purpose.

Source: Young Canadians in a Wired World Survey, Media Awareness Network, 2005

Children and youth today live in a media culture where they are constantly exposed to violence in movies, TV, video games and music. Violence has always played a role in entertainment, but in recent years, dramatic changes have taken place. Research shows that media violence has increased in quantity and has also become much more graphic, sexual and sadistic.

The Internet adds an entirely new dimension to the issue of media violence. Children are exposed to a continuum of violence on the Internet, ranging from sites with sophomoric cruel humour to disturbing depictions of torture and sadism. Today, children and teens can download violent music lyrics, including lyrics removed from retail versions of songs, and access violent images, video clips and online games, all with the click of a mouse.

Murder is a staple of the website www.newgrounds.com, which features crude animated movies of celebrities being degraded and killed. A 2005 Media Awareness Network (MNet) survey revealed that newgrounds was the fifth most popular site for students in Grades 4 to 11. Around one-third (28 per cent) of the top 50 favourite sites listed by children in the survey contain material that is violent.

Violent gore sites such as www.gorezone.com and www.rotten.com, which feature real pictures of accident scenes, torture and mutilation, are also popular with students.

Many children view gore sites as the online equivalent of harmless horror movies. However, the manner in which these sites combine violence with sexual imagery is disturbing. Gorezone’s front-page disclaimer describes its images as "sexually oriented and of an erotic nature." It then warns viewers that they also contain scenes of death, mutilation and dismemberment.

Online hate

Seven per cent of Grades 7–11 students have stumbled across a hate site, while 10 per cent of boys in Grades 10 and 11 had gone to a hate site on purpose.

Source: Young Canadians in a Wired World Survey, Media Awareness Network, 2005

There are many forms of hate on the Internet, ranging from extreme racist sites to the cruel satire found on many popular children’s websites. A website such as www.uglypeople.com may seem harmless, but it contributes to youths’ online culture where cruelty to others is considered acceptable.

It is not difficult to understand how some impressionable children move from sites where people are mocked for their personal appearance to sites where minorities are attacked.

White supremacist and hate groups are increasingly turning to the Internet to target young people for recruitment. Hate mongers look for vulnerable youth who can be brought into their community through private chatrooms and e-mails, far from the public eye.

These groups also use hateful music to entice young people to their cause. When children and youth surf the Internet for music, they can easily come across sites that sell hate music or even make it available for free.

"They put me in the slow class at school because I have dial-up Internet service."
—Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen

Some hate sites have areas specifically designed for young children. The children’s page of the official Ku Klux Klan site offers homework help and advice to children for talking to their parents about racial superiority in case parents "just don’t get it." Other sites give the appearance of being legitimate by offering harmless activities and crafts and links to respected children’s sites.

Hate sites often hide keywords in their pages that can be picked up by search engines. Some keywords on one white supremacist site for women are "children," "toys," "art," "games" and "fun." If someone enters one of these words into a keyword search engine, this site will turn up in the results.

The purpose of a hate site isn’t always readily apparent. For example, at first glance, www.martinlutherking.org appears to be a tribute to the American civil rights leader. In fact, it is a hate site created by a white supremacist organization.

Hate groups often cite free speech in defence of their activities. The website of the Canadian Association for Free Expression appears to be concerned with civil liberties, yet it promotes the right to discuss racist immigration policies. For inexperienced young people, such information on deceptive hate sites can easily be taken at face value and not fully understood.

Tips for teachers and parents

Young children must be protected from hateful content on the Internet. Teachers and parents must teach older children and youth how to think critically about online content.

• Learn everything you can about the Internet and what children are doing online. Ask them to show you where they go online and what they like to do. Keep the lines of communication open so that children feel comfortable coming to you for help if they stumble across anything disturbing online. (In research conducted by MNet in 2005, 82 per cent of Grade 7–11 students said they had never discussed hate sites or racist sites with their parents.)

• Create an online agreement, with input from children. The agreement should have clear guidelines for where they can go on the Internet and what they can do. (MNet's 2005 survey found that risky online behaviour is greatly reduced in homes with Internet rules. For example, students in Grades 8 and 9 are twice as likely to go to inappropriate sites when there is no house rule against this activity.)

• Monitor and supervise children's Internet use. Generally, children under 10 years of age do not have the critical thinking skills to surf the Internet alone. (At home, it’s a good practice to keep connected computers in a highly visible area, not in a child's bedroom.)

• Teach children about media violence. Young people need to learn to respect others and to respond appropriately to violent media. Talk to them about real violence and its consequences, and discourage media that portray killing or pain as entertainment.

The website www.tolerance.org is one of the helpful resources in educating children about online hate.

• Educate children about online hate. Young people will be able to recognize and avoid hateful content if they are taught the strategies that hate mongers use and the history of racism. Help them identify hateful content and symbols on websites; for example, swastikas, derogatory references to race or sexual orientation, and cartoons depicting ethnic and racial groups.

• Filters and blockers are largely ineffective at protecting children from hateful content. Children should be taught to filter information and to recognize hate. (In 2005, MNet asked Grade 7 students what Internet-related subjects they would like to learn about in school. The top choice of 68 per cent of respondents was "How to tell if information you find on the Net is true or not.")

• Direct children to anti-racism youth websites such as www.tolerance.org and the Racism Stop It! site for the Canadian government’s March 21 Day Against Racism.

• If you stumble across hateful content on the Internet, report it to the appropriate Internet Service Provider (ISP). You can contact your own ISP and ask for help in locating the host of the offensive content. You should also report online hate to your local police department.

—Media Awareness Network, www.media-awareness.ca