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Hateful content? Teaching kids to question their ‘influencers’

YouTube gamer PewDiePie has the enemy in his sights. He shoots but the enemy runs away and dives behind a car. He fires again but doesn’t hit him. Frustration wells up and the gamer utters an offensive racial epithet. In the world of online videos such moments are unfortunately a part of everyday life. Even YouTube’s biggest stars are not immune.

PewDiePie – real name Felix Kjellberg – has over 58 million subscribers and 16 billion views of his videos. He has also been accused of anti-Semitism.

What effect do such videos have on minors? “In the marketing language, many YouTubers are ranked as ‘influencers,’” says Kristin Langer from an initiative in Germany that looks at the impact of media on young people. The term influencer is appropriate, she says. “Children and adolescents are often very open and susceptible to influence at the age when they consume videos through this channel.”

How big the problem is is an open question. For every YouTuber who propagates racist or sexist views there are probably ten completely harmless video stars – and an increasing number who take a stand against hateful speech. “On YouTube there are basically all the opinions you find in society,” says media awareness educator Bjoern Friedrich. Much of what may seem like hate videos are actually adolescent provocation that’s not meant to be taken seriously – not unlike with hip-hop, Friedrich argues. “In youth cultures, often anything that’s not ‘politically correct’ has a certain coolness,” says Miro Dittrich from the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.

If a video is considered offensive the defence is often that it was meant as satire. However, the concern is that some people will take the provocation seriously. “Especially for YouTubers with a large audience there are always viewers who don’t understand such irony,” Dittrich says. Parents need to educate their children to regard critically what they see on YouTube and elsewhere on the net.

To do that, it’s imperative that they know what kind of content the kids are looking at – even if it’s hard to watch. Even completely harmless videos can be difficult viewing for older generations but it’s necessary to view them, Friedrich says: “If it’s possible and the child allows it, you should at least occasionally look at them.”

And if the videos show problematic content? Then you need to discuss them with your children – and not just issues like racism but also about how things like gender roles are shown in some videos. Ideally, parents should be able to educate their children about what’s really unacceptable on the internet, not just content that’s misguided satire or unreflective provocation.

When it comes to things like racism, how fruitful the ground it falls on when it comes to children depends on their environment – namely, the tone of conversation and the diversity of opinions they encounter in their daily lives. “As a parent, I don’t have to know every single statement, even when it would be good to get a concrete picture of it,” Langer says. “But I can communicate the attitude that one should treat each other respectfully.” – dpa

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