/ 20 May 2014

School-fight websites incite further violence, say experts

Given that the Middle East conflict dominates world agenda
Given that the Middle East conflict dominates world agenda

Violence at schools will only get worse if it is seemingly rewarded by websites that publish videos and pictures of fights involving pupils, experts said on Thursday.

“No one should be encouraged to keep sites like these active, sites that will only make violence at schools worse,” candidate attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Kay Mahonde, said on Thursday.

The Mail & Guardian looked at a site with the address schoolfights.co.za last week and a sister Facebook page which collected and published videos of pupils physically attacking other pupils and teachers as well as parents attacking other parents.

The site was down on Tuesday but the Facebook page explained why this had happened: “Please note that the www.schoolfights.co.za website is currently down due to overwhelming interest. We’ll be back up and running ASAP. Please like the Facebook page to stay updated!”

The page mostly had supportive comments. One person even commented on the page: “This is my new favourite Facebook page!”

Negative comments about the Facebook page seen by the M&G last week appeared to have been deleted by Tuesday.

‘Better to be safe than sorry’
In response to one commentator, an administrator for the page replied: “No … we don’t want violence in schools. That is wrong. What we want is parents, teachers and the elders to be aware of what is happening. It might look like we doing a bad thing but the whole country is now talking and that’s the first step to fixing it.”

Another comment by the administrator said: “The media likes to spin stories. We did want to pay for exclusive content but we would never buy videos from children or minors. We have decided to take away the video submissions completely so we don’t even tempt them. Better to be safe than sorry.”

Questions sent by the M&G to an email address on the site went unanswered.

Violence like this should never be rewarded and publicised, Mahonde said.

“Adolescents are at a time in their lives when they will do almost anything to be cool so if they think a site like this will make them cool then the problem will only get worse,” she said.

The website featured stories with headlines like: “Check out these two Afrikaans dads trying to knock each other out while their sons watch on!” and “Watch: two SA schoolboys fight over a cheating girlfriend”.

Non-violent problem solving
Catherine Ward, associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Cape Town, said the valorisation of violence by the site was “disturbing”.

“We all have the capacity for aggression in us but most of us learn alternative ways to solve problems, like managing our anger through self-calming, and finding ways to talk about the problem as well as through realising that those non-violent approaches are much better in the long run,” she said.

But this website sets a norm of violence for dispute resolution, not a norm of non-violence.

“Successful approaches to ending violence and bullying at school take a whole-school approach to ending it – for instance, everyone in the school from principal to youngest learner knows the policy and endorses it, and the school enforces it. That’s the way to build not only a non-violent school, but an academically productive school.”

‘Aggressive tendencies’
Mahonde said schools should not just address violence among its pupils by punishing them.

“If a pupil exhibits aggressive tendencies then you need to give that pupils psycho-social support like counseling to try to find out what the cause of the aggression is.”

Ward said data collected in a study by UCT and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention’s work show that “while South African schools can be dangerous places for our young people, their homes are often more dangerous”.

The study was launched in 2013 and aims to determine the national incidence and prevalence study on child and adolescent safety in South Africa.

Ward said South Africa did not “have a good handle on what kinds of dangers face children around the country, and our current study of child safety will give us the first national figures on this”.

“We’ll know, for the first time, how many children face what kinds of dangers in South Africa, and what factors increase or decrease that risk. We’ll be able to report this at national level, and also at provincial level, and our data should be very useful for service planning, for the departments of education, social development and health.”

Data from the fieldwork would be analysed by January next year and the findings released by March.