School fights going viral: What used to be small-scale incidents are now public events online

SMARTPHONES CLENCHED in hands and voices raised, the excited chatter and jeers only get louder when somebody’s head hits the floor.

If you haven’t seen this happen, be sure to check Snapchat for the uploads.

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At schools around the country, what once were small-scale disagree­ments are now becoming public events that are recorded, posted, watched and commented on. The popularity of online fights has left school officials and others trying to figure out how to shift the trend.

“We live in an age where every­one wants to be Facebook famous,” said Jason Matlock, the director of operational and security services for Minneapolis Public Schools. “… And unfortunately with fights, that seems to be an easy, quick way to get a lot of clicks and likes and attention.”

The ability to record fights and share them over social media has given fighting a broader reach and a longer lifespan in the minds of students. This is what Matlock refers to as “positive reinforcement.”

Chandra Morris, a freshman at Minneapolis South High School, said she has seen videos surface on a consistent basis.

Sasha Cotton, a youth violence prevention coordinator with the city of Minneapolis, also has noticed this new-age platform for violence.

“Social media has been an issue since I started my career, and that’s been fifteen years, going as far back as chat rooms and Myspace,” Cotton said. “As long as social media has been around, social media has been a tool that has made bigger problems for violence.”

Matlock and Cotton have tried to prevent fights involving school-age students (on and off of campuses) by trying to divert students from situa­tions where fights normally happen.

Cotton gave one example, citing St. Patrick’s Day 2015, when a large group of teenagers and young people arrived in downtown Minneapolis and ran through the streets, blocked traffic and got into fights—what Cotton called an “eruption of vio­lence.” This led to extra precautions taken this year to ensure the same thing did not happen.

“Being strategic, we have youth outreach workers both in Minneapolis and in St. Paul and (we are) engaging those youth outreach workers who work in our schools …” Cotton said. “(We are) deploy­ing them to really be engaging with young people and be talking with them and trying to de-escalate issues before they become a police matter.”

A relatively small amount of students engage in fights on school property (approximately 8 percent, according to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report). But Matlock and Cotton would like to build relationships with students before they reach that point.

“First, (teachers) have to talk to their students and listen to their stu­dents,” Matlock said. “That’s a huge thing. Adults have to make sure they are including the students in what they are doing.”

This intervention is especially important for reaching students raised in violence-prone environments and in a culture where fighting essentially becomes social media entertainment, according to experts.

“If my parents physically fight or my dad hits my mom in order to get her to do what he wants, then I, in turn, learn a dynamic of power and control: ‘I hit people to get them to do what I want,’” Cotton said. “And hitting in the classroom becomes bullying in the bathroom, and bullying in the bathroom can often lead to robbery and these gang fights that we’re seeing, gang involvement, and it just exacerbates from there.”

Morris, the freshman, said suspending students who fight isn’t the answer. She also urged groups involved in fighting to go to counseling to work through their issues—instead of fighting.

“I don’t like fighting, I don’t think it is a sufficient way to get through your problems, but people find it entertaining,” she said. “That’s why they record it. …

“And I think that is kind of negative, but that is something that people do nowadays. And it’s sad, but it’s what people do.”