“Look at this one,” she remembers hearing them say.
Former Waseca High School student Nathaniel Galvan said he watched the videos with some buddies between classes and in the library and outside of school over students’ phones. The images are now burned in his conscience, he said.
“I’m not exactly sure how the popularity started,” said Galvan, now 20. “It’s so easy to access them with smartphones … It’s only, like, a click away.”
Teachers can’t watch students every minute, he said.
School superintendent Thomas Lee said he wasn’t aware of students watching such videos in school.
Ashley Wobschall, 21, said one of her Waseca friends posted a link to a Taliban beheading on Facebook once. She didn’t watch it, she said. She’d already seen one years earlier when older kids were watching a different beheading. “It’s around,” she said.
Charged: corrupting morals
One shock site, which the Star Tribune is choosing not to name, recently ranked as the 6,181st most popular website in the United States, according to Alexa.com, a website that measures Internet traffic. The site’s audience is mostly male and about one-third American. It is viewed mostly from people’s homes
The site’s owner, based in Edmonton, Canada, was charged last summer with corrupting morals after he hosted a video of a man stabbing and dismembering a 33-year-old man.
On the website, the founder calls it a “reality news website” and maintains that people have a duty and responsibility to know the truth about what humans do to others. “Many people seem to live in a fantasy. The seem to look at the world through the rose tinted sunglasses which makes them weak, vulnerable and oftentimes dangerous. To wake people up to the reality, [the site] was created,” the site says.
It contains warnings about content and says viewers must be 18 to use it. As for children who might watch, the founder argues that children could stumble upon horrific accidents in real life. “… every effort was taken to ensure that children won’t find their way to [the site], however parents need to do their part and monitor their children’s activities while on the Internet,” the site says.
Drawn to the sites
Many experts agree that screen violence has an effect on life violence, but they caution against placing the blame squarely on videos.
Dr. Michael Brody, chair of the Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said screen violence is reinforcing and can contribute to an atmosphere of violence and strange behavior. But videos can’t be labeled a cause, he said.
“I think people who have these ideas or are fascinated by it are obviously going to seek these particular sites and it’s going to give them some type of validation,” Brody said.
Gewirtz, the Minnesota professor, said she knows of at least one school shooter who had never shot a gun before opening fire on classmates. But he had been playing first-person shooter video games for years, she said.
The vast majority of kids who play the games aren’t violent, though.
“You have healthy kids who watch video games, violent media. All kids are curious,” Gewirtz said. “In general, with healthy well-adjusted kids, with parents who are able to help them process these kinds of things, exposure per se to violent media won’t turn a child into a killer … The kids who are most vulnerable are the kids who already have an underlying vulnerability to psychosis or depression or serious conduct problems or psychopathy.”