May 10, 2013 by George Arnett
The press have been attacked pretty regularly for their depictions of young people. Last year, the Youth Media Agency-led #presschange4youth made a submission to the Leveson Inquiry highlighting many of the media’s problems. But looking below the (comment) line reveals some even more questionable views being published.
I decided to take the comments from three tabloid newspaper websites made in response to probably the biggest recent story featuring a youth under scrutiny – Kent’s Youth Police Commissioner Paris Brown resigning over her controversial tweets.
It is definitely worth saying that these are isolated examples of comments made on each page – many commenters are reasonable and measured – but I want to get at whether it is ok for these sorts of opinions to be hosted on articles about young people.
Firstly, the Mail on Sunday infamously broke the story with the “Is this foul mouthed self obsessed Twitter teen really the future of British policing?” What were the comments like on that newspaper’s website the MailOnline?
Brown got insults about her appearance:
Questions about her employment:
And just plain abuse:
Onto The Sun – Britain’s most read tabloid newspaper. On their story, some commenters were, again, quite insulting about Brown’s appearance:
Finally, the Daily Mirror’s article. This paper’s comment system is locked into Facebook – an interesting choice which many pundits have said leads to slightly less severe views being aired. But this one got through:
Done without thinking
When young people – particularly when it is one specific young person – are the subject of a controversial news article, is it right that abuse should be aired about that person relatively openly?
Susana Giner, Director of the Youth Media Agency, said: ”We need to ensure that young people are not open to public abuse online. It is unfair that young people can be called names and judged online by anonymous comments. All media need to be mindful of taking down negative responses as soon as possible or disabling the possibility of commenting on stories about young people under 18 in the first place.”
Social media bringing new possibilities and dangers
As Paris Brown has realised in these dramatic circumstances, teenagers have to be careful about what they post online. Anything controversial they may post might come back to haunt them when they approach the job market.
Natasha Turberville works with Online Youth Outreach to do digital education courses with both young people and teams who work with them. She is a qualified youth worker and she has blogged on how Paris Brown’s case could have ended very differently.
She told us: “The teens of today are the first generation experiencing that the things that you share between your friends that you share in conversation – stupid things that you’ve done as part of that growing up experience – they’re now living it online. This is the first generation of young people that are doing that.”
For Natasha the abusive way that some internet commenters spoke about Brown reeked of irony.
“They would never say that to her face. They feel free to be abusive – it’s abuse because it’s safely on the computer. That behaviour is exactly the same as the thing that they are commenting on. I decide not to read them because they just makes me really angry.”
To test this out further I scraped the “latest ten comments” since late 2009 from articles on the MailOnline’s website that included the terms “Young Offender’s Institute”. I then removed any where I thought the young offender – or the young offender’s institute – did not seem to feature prominently in the story.
I have turned them into a word tree, a visualisation which allows you to put in any word and then get the words that follow on from it sequentially. For example, if you were to put in “young” (without the quotation marks), it would come up with every word that came after “young” in any of the comments.
The visualisation will only work on flash-enabled browsers such as Firefox (it will not work on Chrome unfortunately). It got a bit testy because some stories involved a younger offender and older offender being tried together, other stories saw non-juveniles being sent to YOIs – I decided to leave both those scenarios in because of their relationship to YOIs. You can check out the stories and the comments in full in the spreadsheet: Get the data.
Have a play and see if you can find anything interesting…
Some of the better results that I have come out with: