People filming fights

Opinion: Stop Filming Fights

6 mins read

Cover illustrated by Riona Faruqi

“America is a society that is addicted to violence.”

English Language Development and English Support teacher James Nelson

Indeed, from the mass market of guns to constant exposure of movies glorifying death and dismemberment, violence is ingrained in our culture. 

The infamous hammer fight video

Unfortunately, M-A is no exception to the glorification of violence, both in-person at fight scenes and on social media. For instance, the infamous “hammer fight” video taken this past May was reposted multiple times on Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Reddit by various accounts to their thousands, even millions of followers. The graphic video showed a student attacking another student with a hammer and getting maced. In fact, @PicturesFolders, an account on X that has 3.1 million followers reuploaded a video of the fight five months later, on October 14. As of October 18, this post has received 21.5 million views, 151.3 thousand likes, and 6727 reposts. 

The prevalence of recording fights reflects our desensitization and glorification of violence, and harms individuals involved in the altercations. 

Empathic concern and perspective taking decrease over time

Desensitization to violence can have harmful effects on teenagers’ cognitive development. A study by the University of Michigan published in 2010 found that college students were 40% less empathetic than students in the 1980s and 1990s, with the greatest decrease after social media apps like Facebook rose in popularity. The study explained how virtual environments allow people to create a buffer between themselves and others, making it easier to ignore and inflict pain and suffering. Social media’s accessibility clearly intensifies the glorification of violence.

Even though social media apps claim to regulate content, it is not always effective. 95% of teens report having seen a video of a physical altercation on social media. The Tech Transparency Project team from Campaign for Accountability set up four accounts posing as two 9-year-old and two 14-year-old boys. The researchers created playlists consisting entirely of gaming videos and then analyzed the videos recommended by Youtube’s algorithm. They found that Youtube fed the four accounts violent content, including videos of guns and shootings. Campaign for Accountability’s executive director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “This is just the latest example of Big Tech’s algorithms taking the worst of the worst and pushing it to kids in an endless pursuit of engagement.” 

Yet, many fight pages, which clearly violate these guidelines, still thrive. The Social Media Victims Law Center explains that innocent individuals engage with violent content because it is what social media algorithms promote. Platforms feed users content based on what they had liked, shared, or commented on in the past. 

Sophomore Toa Walker confirmed the attention that fight pages get from M-A students. He said, “The fight videos quickly got a lot of likes. People were commenting on them saying, ‘We want some more videos.’” 

Senior Taylor Spackman watched the fight videos, explaining, “I thought they were really funny and enjoyed them, but then I feel it’s worrisome that people have hammers on campus. I watched the videos because people were talking about them.” 

According to Nelson, “Posting fights on social media encourages students to fight so that they can be celebrities on Instagram posts.” 

Campus aide Julena Alvarez stated that there were weekly fights at school last year. Instead of breaking up a fight, the majority of M-A students are filming on their phones. Alvarez said, “Kids would rather just watch people have their faces eaten gladiator-style.” 

Kids would rather just watch people have their faces eaten gladiator-style.

Similarly, campus aide Victor Jimenez Cocio said, “Students get riled up and are eager to see who is fighting and why they’re fighting.” 

According to psychiatrist Charles M. Johnson, people feel an adrenaline rush when viewing violent situations, which fills us with a sense of excitement. Watching fight videos is a way for people to live vicariously through those fighting and release some of their anger without any consequences. Nelson said, “By watching more real violence between real people, the more we increase our appetite for it. The violence is now a real possibility for us, and we can now envision ourselves engaging in that activity. It makes violence both more real and immediately possible to achieve.” 

Events that are likely to be traumatic to the people in the videos are posted without their consent, creating a negative and inerasable digital footprint that will possibly affect their futures. 

Administrative Vice Principal Nicholas Muys expressed his concern for the relationship between violence and technology, saying, “I do worry that we will continue to perpetuate this idea that violence is entertainment if we continue to post, document, and treat fights like a commodity to be traded and posted for clicks. It just seems really dehumanizing and insensitive and something we should all avoid.” 

Muys added that school fights are an extremely serious matter as many students face legal issues, disciplinary problems, and possible expulsion.  

By filming fights, students are unknowingly exploiting people during an extremely vulnerable moment. Nelson added, “Most of the fights that I see are not between two people who want to fight. They are between two or more people who are pushed beyond their limits and can find no other outlet besides fighting. Because they are pushed too far, they make bad decisions like bringing weapons to school, and then they use them and are filmed. In some cases, they are filmed being badly beaten, having their hair ripped out, and publicly disgraced.” 

Therapists state that students whose fights have been posted online suffer intense shame and embarrassment. This can result in damaged self-esteem, poor academic performance, and increased isolation, causing many to refuse to return to school. 

Alvarez commented on how students would rather watch a fight than help out, saying, “They don’t realize that if someone were to really get hurt and it leads to a death, everyone’s involved because no one decided to stop it when it got really bad.” 

Muys said, “Being a bystander in a fight just feels kind of voyeuristic, gross, and unhelpful. It’s contrary to our community values of empathy and looking out for each other.” 

In addition to harming the students appearing in the videos, filming fights also damages the school’s reputation. Muys said, “Fight videos make us look like an unsafe place, which we’re not, and it creates the sense that there’s stuff like this happening constantly here, which is not the case. Social media feeds on itself, and then creates this kind of unhealthy and unrealistic narrative of what we are as a school.”

Alvarez explained, “Last year was the year we got famous where Snooki [TV personality Nicole Polizzi] came in and commented on one of the M-A fights.” However, this attention does more harm than good. “Having a celebrity come in and say something brings down the value of the school and also the community around it,” said Alvarez.  

Not only does recording fight videos have repercussions for students, but it can also cause harm to teachers.

Not only does recording fight videos have repercussions for students, but it can also cause harm to teachers. Nelson explained, “Videos of fights [often] involve teachers breaking up the fight, which could be taken out of context and defame the teacher. If the videos don’t involve teachers, they could be presented as evidence of negligence on the part of the school for not getting involved.” 

Not only is recording fights inconsiderate, it is also breaking school rules. Filming fights violates the California Education Code, which states that a student who “aids or abets” the infliction of physical injury to someone else is subject to suspension. Posting fights is a form of aiding physical injury, as Muys said, “[By filming], students are keeping the fight going, or in some ways facilitating it, especially if it gets posted with the intent to perpetuate a conflict.” 

The M-A Student Handbook also prohibits students from filming fights, stating that they cannot take pictures of students or staff against their consent. 

M-A students will face disciplinary repercussions if they are caught filming fights. Muys said, “If we can identify whose camera it actually got filmed on, then there are consequences for that person. We have suspended students for posting inflammatory things on social media.” 

Instead of filming, Cocio advises students to help out the people involved in the fight. He said, “Try to de-escalate the situation. If it’s your friends, just try to calm them down. Or walk away from the situation.” 

Muys encouraged students to let a staff member know if a fight is happening. He added, “We don’t want to tell students to get into the fight and try to stop it. But if there’s something that they can do to either verbally deescalate and not encourage the fight, then they should do that.” 

Muys said, “If getting the phone out is students’ first impulse, I urge them to really think about why they’re doing that and what they hope to accomplish through that. What are they feeding and for whose benefit?”

If getting the phone out is students’ first impulse, I urge them to really think about why they’re doing that and what they hope to accomplish through that. What are they feeding and for whose benefit? 

As seen through the popularity of fight pages, students are willing to ignore the severity and implications of school violence in the pursuit of fame and an adrenaline rush. We should seriously consider why we, as a society, are able to find entertainment in suffering and pain. We should learn to use technology responsibly instead of abusing its ability to spread and circulate horrifying moments. 

Jolene is a senior at M-A and this is her second year in journalism. She looks forward to writing more opinion pieces about controversial topics this year. In her free time, she enjoys running track and listening to music.

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