Update: Natalie Munroe Claims “Below the Belt Tactics”

Following this week’s revelations by superintendent Robert Laws on statements made in Natalie Munroe’s blog, Munroe has posted a defense claiming that Laws resorted to “Below the Belt Tactics.”

In her new blog post, Munroe states that the words quoted by Laws which attacked special needs students were not her own. She explains that the words were part of a cartoon image, which she found online and included in a blog post. She further claims that she selected the image not to malign nor joke about those with special needs, but as an illustration of her point in the blog - which was that teacher-comments in report cards are designed to be unfailingly positive even when a child’s performance is below par.

OSS did a search of the exact phrase included in Munroe’s original blog post – in the cartoon image, as she described it. We found that, indeed, this phrase was not only part of a cartoon image but also a popular inscription on many blog sites. The popularity of the phrase apparently reached its height, in 2007 – well before Munroe’s blog post.

We even found this phrase available for sale on a T-shirt.

Recent Study Announced This Week from MacArthur Foundation: Myths About Youth Culture and the Internet Busted

This week, the MacArthur Foundation announced the availability of a recently published (Nov 2010) study which busts several myths about youth culture, their use of the Internet, and their subsequent participation in politics. This study was well-researched, including a survey of 2500 students. This study also followed the online behavior and political engagement of 400 individual teens, over several years.

The myths which are busted in the study, include these:

  • That students using the Internet would likely be exposed only to political perspectives with which they agree – the so-called “echo-chamber” effect
  • That involvement with the Internet would encourage only “shallow” participation in politics by students – so-called “slacktivism”

In fact, as events in the Middle East appear to substantiate, the Internet seems to expose students to multiple perspectives “most” of the time – and also seems to encourage active involvement of “many” young people in real life civic and political issues.

The study, called “Digital Literacy Media Education and Online Civic and Political Participation” has been published as a “Working Draft” by the studies author, Joseph Kahne. In the MacArthur Foundation press release, Kahne calls attention to the importance of understanding – and encouraging – the link between youth culture and civic engagement which is happening through the Internet.

“Research demonstrates that many youth are disengaged from traditional forms of civic and political life but are very engaged with new media,” Kahne said. “Our study findings strongly suggest is that there are ways to build on their engagement with digital media to foster engagement in civic life.”

The Study is Just the Beginning

Along with the study, the MacArthur Foundation also introduced the Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) team. This newly-formed network of research scholars, like Joseph Kahne, will continue research into “ways in which the Internet and digital media are impacting democratic and political engagement, particularly among youth.”

YPP has a web site, which lists all of the working members of the YPP research network. They’ve also posted three working papers, including Kahne’s. The other two papers are:

  • The Civic and Political Significance of Online Participatory Cultures Among Youth Transitioning into Adulthood
  • Youth Online Activity and Exposure to Diverse Perspectives

The formation of YPP comes in the wake of events in the Middle East, in which youth culture’s use of the Internet and social media appears to have played a central role in the overthrow of repressive regimes. We look forward to following the research being conducted by the YPP scholar network, as we all learn more about how social media itself has proven to be an essential catalyst to real-life change.

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Study Reveals that Youth Cutters Find an Audience of Millions on YouTube

Self Mutilation Portrait

Image by julianbleach via Flickr

Reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) this week, a study of YouTube videos featuring “nonsuicidal self-injury” – most often cutting – reveals that these videos have a wide audience. Researchers found a total of ~5,000 self-mutilation-themed videos on YouTube. The top 100 videos were viewed over 2 million times. About 80% of these videos were freely available for public viewing, with no protection nor security level. Most also did not warn of graphic content. The same videos were rated positively by viewers, and selected as favorites over 12K times.

The doctors conducting the study expressed concern that the videos tone and apparent popularity “may foster normalization” of these acts and “may reinforce the behavior.”

Self-mutilation, most often cutting, is a wide-spread phenomenon among teens. According to the study’s authors, about 14-24% of youth and young adults engage in this behavior, clinically known as “nonsuicidal self-injury” or NSSI.

CNN also reported on this study. CNN’s mental health expert, Dr. Charles Raison of Emory University, describes NSSI as a “young person’s affliction.” He further comments that “one in ten will kill themselves” and that “a lot of people will outgrow this behavior.”

However, not all experts view Internet sharing of the cutting experience as negative. Time Magazine reports that Marilee Strong, author of “A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain,” sees the YouTube videos as a kind of online support group. “It’s been a huge resource for people who have this secret shame that drives them to cut,” she says. “To be able to reach out to other people and have virtual support groups has been a tremendous healing tool.”

Psychologist Tracy Knight, an associate professor at Western Illinois University, also sees the potential for YouTube videos showing self-harm to have a positive impact. “It makes it open for social discussion … in a way that was not possible when it was a secret,” he is reported as saying.

This echoes comments made by online child protection and social media expert Anne Collier on this blog, when she commented that “social media are really helping us by making those social dynamics, which have been present all along, more visible, more visible to adults than they’ve ever been. What we see there can be disturbing, but it can  also be helpful – for getting to the bottom of what’s going on in peer groups, gathering evidence, research, and so on. This can help solve relational problems going on offline as well as online.” 

At a minimum, parents and mental health professionals should be aware of the YouTube videos. In their “Conclusions,” the study’s authors state their concerns that “normalization” of self-injury behaviors could trigger other young people and encourage the behavior. They also suggest that YouTube should post links to positive resource sites along with videos, when keywords like “self-injury” or “self-harm” are searched on their site.

YouTube has reportedly removed or blocked most of the 100 videos cited by AAP in their study.

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