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Media, Virality and Minors | Kieran Murphy

Kieran Murphy looks at the gender politics at play in the reaction to the video of the two Cork school girls fighting.

     If someone was told a few years ago that someone had gone ‘viral’ you’d be more concerned with foot and mouth disease but in these days it has taken on a different meaning- something that’s grown in popularity through being shared on social media sites. Most recently in Ireland there was a more sinister ‘viral’ video.

     The video in question was of two Cork school girls fighting in a field in Douglas surrounded by up to 50 onlookers and was viewed 30,000 times on Facebook and tweeted about by hundreds. The reaction from the school which the two girls went to was that it was ‘appalling and unacceptable’ and could damage the reputation of the school. Comments on TheJournal.ie were much less composed, describing them acting like ‘barbarians’ and one noted ‘in recent years that there’s an increase in violence from the fairer sex’.

     Fights in schools are by no means an uncommon occurrence, everyone has seen or at least heard of one in their lifetimes but very rarely does a video like this ever go ‘viral’, or make the news or even the front page of the Irish Examiner. A quick search of ‘School Fight’ on Youtube will return 768,000 results some have just as many if not more views of the Cork one, but how come these didn’t go viral? Why did the video go viral in the first place?

     One of the comments on the video could give a clue, ‘that there’s an increase in violence from the fairer sex’. It is of course not acceptable for anyone to be fighting, but because the two people involved just happened to be girls there seems to be a much more severe reaction from both the school and the public. While it may seem ludicrous to suggest that there is sexism at play in the reaction to the video, it is present. Would the video have gone viral if it was two boys fighting? Perhaps, but would it have been covered in national news? Probably not and it is the only such video to have made the news in recent memory. Is a fight even more so unacceptable when it’s between two girls, the ‘fairer sex’, and is that why the reaction is so severe?

     One could argue that it’s another form of ‘slut shaming’, where a woman is attacked for having sexual attitudes which society do not deem normal. Therefore, society felt the need to shame these two girls for fighting, an activity that’s not deemed normal for the ‘fairer sex’.

     Screenshots of the video were taken and published on the front page of the Irish Examiner but is this entirely appropriate? Minors cannot be named in the media if they’re involved in a criminal investigation so how is it acceptable to print images of the two girls fighting. Ironically the National Parents’ Council Post Primary spokeswoman Jackie O’Callaghan was quoted saying in the front page article “They … need to be made aware of the implications of social media and the fact that this is up on the internet forever.”

     While it was bad enough that the girls had to deal with the video going ‘viral’ online they must also contend with their images being published in national news media and a link to the video was provided on the news website TheJournal.ie, both news sources perceived to be reputable but have thrown out their ethics to provide their readers with the images and video for shock value. The video has since been taken down but images of it can still be seen on the Irish Examiner website where a sound recording of it is also available and the girl’s names can clearly be heard shouted. If the children are meant to be aware of the implications of social media, how are they ever going to learn if the media is acting in the same vein, is it a question of do what I say and not as I do?

     A big deal has been made by the school of the potential damage to their reputation but has anyone stopped to consider the reputation of the two girls in question? While it is important to make people aware of the problem of fights between teenagers being filmed could the Irish Examiner have reported on the matter without publishing photos of the fight, or TheJournal.ie provide a video for their peanut crunching readers? The people who recorded the video did not, nor did the bystanders who didn’t intervene and nor did the media who provided access and coverage of the video