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In a Violent Media World, YouTube is an Oasis

New research finds far less violence on YouTube than on prime-time television.
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A still from Charlie Schmidt's Keyboard Cat, which, at last count, had been viewed nearly 30 million times since it was uploaded in 2007

A still from Charlie Schmidt's Keyboard Cat, which, at last count, had been viewed nearly 30 million times since it was uploaded in 2007

Concerned that your kids are getting exposed to dangerous amounts of violent imagery on television and in video games? You might want to encourage them to enjoy a very hip source of entertainment in which violent content is refreshingly rare:


A study recently published in the Journal of Communication finds the popular internet video site is a far more peaceful place than, say, prime-time television. What’s more, the violence that is on the site “is generally less glamorized and less trivialized” than it is in television and movies.

“The unregulated ‘Wild West’ of entertainment that is Web video may actually be more responsible in its treatment of aggression than traditional mainstream producers ever were,” writes a research team led by Andrew Weaver of Indiana University.

“Unregulated” may be a bit of an overstatement: YouTube does have a code of “community guidelines,” which admonish users that “graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed,” and instructs them: “Don’t post … things intended to shock or disgust.”

This study suggests that users tend to abide by that code, in that there is “far less violence as a percentage of programming on YouTube than there is on television.”

Weaver and his colleagues looked at 2,407 videos (totaling just over 176 hours) collected between February and May, 2009. “Overall, 313 of the videos—13 percent of the sample—contained violent content,” they report, contrasting that number with a 2002 survey that found violence in 61 percent of television programs.

Of the videos looked at, those with the most views were significantly more likely to contain violence than those picked at random. Even of that group, however, only 16.8 percent contained violent acts.

Violence seems to be somewhat ghettoized on YouTube. The researchers found that “nearly half of all of the violent acts were contained in just 1.3 percent of the videos in the sample.”

What’s more, they add, “nearly all of the videos with heavy concentrations of violence, including all 10 of the most violent vidoes, were captures of video-game play.”

The researchers also found the context of the violence presented differed dramatically from typical television portrayals. “Compared to television,” they write, “there was much less justification, fewer positive reactions, and less humor associated with violence. In fact, negative reactions to violent acts were more common than positive reactions.”

In other words, “When users create content, they spend more time focusing on the consequences, and including negative reactions to violence,” they conclude. “Amateur creators are providing the kind of realistic depiction of violence—with an implicit anti-aggression message—that the mainstream media are not.”