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Some people like it when public officials respond to actual problems affecting their community. Some legislators, on the other hand, prefer to grandstand on hot-button issues that might not solve problems but could help win re-election.
New York State Senate Republicans this week
would make it a felony to commit violence for display on Internet
video sites. It’s unclear how this would change things for violent people, because
prosecutors can already bring felony charges against them, whether they’re
shooting video or not.
So what’s the point? Why do we need an Internet violence law that won’t
necessarily change criminal behavior? We contacted Joe Conway, a New York
senate staffer, to find out.
Conway said the legislation is meant as a response to controversial films,
like Bumfights, and other video
sometimes transferred through the Web that seem to glorify or incite
senseless violence. “Kids here in New York, in our state, are viewing this
stuff. Therefore, that’s an issue of concern to us,” he said.
Conway didn’t specifically blame Internet video providers, like YouTube, for
the proliferation of violent video. But he did say that Internet companies
could do more to keep violent video off the Web. “I think they’re headed in
the right direction. And like any company, they want to be recognized as
trying to do the right thing,” he said.
YouTube, for one, says it’s already doing the right thing. Asked about the
New York proposal, a company spokesperson said in an email that “real
violence is not allowed” on the site.
“Our community polices the site for inappropriate material, and users flag
content that they feel is inappropriate,” the spokesperson said. “Once
flagged, content is reviewed by our staff and usually removed from the
system within minutes if it violates our Community
Let’s face it: Society sometimes actually benefits when violent video is
spread through the Internet, and other media. One man’s video of the Rodney
King beating brought to light deep
racial tension in Los Angeles and produced clear evidence of police
brutality. And watchers were given a
chilling demonstration of how someone reacts when shot with a non-lethal
Taser when videos of two incidents of unruly students being publicly disciplined were posted online and widely publicized.
Obviously, New York’s Internet violence legislation affects only a
microscopic group of people: those really depraved souls who would stage an
assault to post video on the web. As for the rest of us, we can rightly
wonder about this law: Who really needs it?