YouTube and other social media platforms are walking a fine line, when it comes to new policies clamping down on content that depicts dangerous challenges and pranks, according to Virginia Tech professor of communication, Mike Horning.  

“I am sure that the companies feel some responsibility to make social media a better experience for people. However, they also want to avoid government regulation, and they want to attract advertising revenue,” said Horning. “So there is an incentive here to self-police things that pose a public risk, and there is also incentive to make sure that content on YouTube is attractive to advertisers.”

The so-called ‘Bird Box challenge’ inspired by the Netflix film in which users blind-folded themselves while performing tasks including driving, is the latest of dangerous prank video postings in recent years.

“Most of us don't want our children, in particular, to be exposed to these kinds of risky behaviors. However, the policy will likely raise new questions about where content crosses a line,” said Horning.

Quoting Horning

·         “It's always going to be difficult to police this type of content because it is hard to tell what kinds of trends will go viral. However, most of these social media companies have algorithms in place to monitor emerging social trends, and to identify them rather quickly.”

·         “While you won't ever be able to make social media free of this kind of thing, it is likely that companies will be able to shut them down before they get too far out of hand.”

·         “We have decades of media research on television that does show that in some cases people mimic the behaviors they see on TV. In that sense, it is not surprising to see that social media is also influencing some risky behaviors.”

About Mike Horning

Professor Horning teaches in the department of communication, in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. His research and expertise focuses on the intersection of politics and news reporting, along with the social and psychological effects of communications technologies.

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