Don't blame YouTube, MySpace for teen beating video

A sheriff targets YouTube and MySpace after teens beat up a girl on tape.

By Farhad Manjoo
Published April 9, 2008 3:34AM (UTC)
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The Ledger

Top left: April Cooper, Britney Mayes, Cara Murphy, Brittini Hardcastle, Kayla Hassell, Mercades Nichols, Zachary Ashley and Stephen Schumaker

Scroll to the bottom of this post to watch an extremely graphic video of six teen girls beating another teen girl.

I understand that sounds like something out of "Idiocracy" -- you don't have to watch the clip, but I promise, for all its lowest-common-denominator fist-in-face gruesomeness, it's provoked a fascinating question: Does the Web make kids go mad? (For real, that's what some people are saying.)

According to law enforcement officials in Lakeland, Fla., the six girls -- aided by two boys who stood guard; they're all pictured in the mugshots here -- were upset at the victim, 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, over "trash talking" that occurred on MySpace and via text messages.

On the evening of March 30, Lindsay, who had been living with one of the teens temporarily (she'd fought with her parents), came home to find the girls waiting to administer a beat-down. That beat-down commenced, off-camera: According to an affidavit by the county sheriff, one of the girls hit Lindsay several times and then slammed her head into a wall, knocking her unconscious.

The video you see here takes off after that: Lindsay awakes on the couch, after which she is beaten some more, and yelled at regarding various MySpace improprieties.

The girls ask stunningly stupid questions as they beat her -- they essentially want to know, Why don't you like us?, which you'd suppose would be obvious, what with the fists et al. The worst part comes about a third into the video, when one girl cautions another not to hurt the furniture as they beat Lindsay.

But to the larger cultural story: Though the sheriff blames the kids in question -- they were charged with false imprisonment and felony battery -- he also charges online services with pushing them to their brutality.

In a press conference, Sheriff Grady Judd said that the kids intended to post the video on YouTube and MySpace. (They never did; the sheriff's office obtained the video from one of the kids.) According to Judd, the video bespeaks the "pack mentality" and "animalistic behavior" provoked by the Internet.

He added: "It's incumbent upon YouTube and MySpace to make drastic changes.... If we desensitize kids to this kind of beating today, what's next?"

Lindsay's parents also blamed online companies. "As far as I am concerned, MySpace is the anti-Christ for children," her father told The Ledger, a local newspaper. "I hope this comes to a final resolution. I am not going to stop here."

But the idea that the Web has desensitized kids to beatings and that MySpace has given rise to teen brutality is extremely dubious. For starters, despite high-profile news stories, we've got no evidence that that's the case -- that bullying, fighting, or generalized teen angst has worsened during the MySpace era.

Also, doesn't it seem just as plausible that headline-making incidents like this could deter, rather than provoke, violence in kids? They videotaped their crime to post it on YouTube: It's disgusting, but more than that, it's profoundly stupid.

If the sheriff is right about kids wanting to post all their crimes online, isn't that a good thing for law enforcement officials? Imagine the plight of cops in the days before YouTube, when kids had no incentive to create photographic proof of their felonies.

The Internet, with its speed and permanent memory, doesn't easily forgive; even if these kids manage to avoid jail, the Web will give them no props for this. The video and their mugshots are everywhere, and this thing will stay attached to their names in Google for decades.

I bet kids online are savvy enough to notice this: You don't want to end up like these sorry souls. Better to hold-off in administering that beat-down.

Here's the video, courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Department.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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