Expert Commentary

The (non)violent world of YouTube: Content trends in Web video

2012 study in Journal of Communication showing how violence is less prevalent on YouTube than it is on network television.

YouTube (screenshot)

The user-generated content posted to YouTube and other video-sharing sites is sometimes criticized for its shallowness. But according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Communication, one charge that cannot be leveled at YouTube content is that it is relatively more violent. As the effects of violent media — including video game content — continue to be debated in the context of gun-related crime in America, such research provides new insights into how different media environments may be shaping norms and values.

The study, “The (Non)Violent World of YouTube: Content Trends in Web Video,” from researchers at Indiana University, begins by noting that about 70% of prime-time television shows contain displays of violence, a level that has stayed roughly constant for decades. The researchers set out to establish the general violence levels of videos uploaded to YouTube by analyzing the content of about 2,400 videos, totaling some 176 hours, on the platform in 2009; the study sampled content in the most-viewed and top rated categories, as well as among general, random content.

The study’s findings include:

  • About 13% of the YouTube videos surveyed contained violence: “Compared to television, the percentage of YouTube videos that contain violence is much lower.”
  • There were about 18.5 acts of violence per hour in the YouTube videos, but that average was highly skewed by a tiny proportion of violence-saturated videos (1.3%) that contained nearly half of all the violent acts observed. (The researchers note that “nearly all of the most heavily saturated videos were captures of video game play depicting fight or battle scenes.”)
  • Among user-generated amateur videos, only about 7% contained violence. Content uploaded by professionals featuring their own outlet’s media featured violence 23% of the time, while mainstream media (MSM) that was uploaded by amateurs featured violence 24% of the time.
  • The researchers note the following about the relative lack of violence on YouTube: “In the case of user-created videos (which contained the least amount of violence), the paucity of violence could be due to either a lack of interest in creating such content or to the higher production skills necessary to create violent scenes…. However, even when users were uploading content directly from MSM sources they were overwhelmingly choosing nonviolent content to upload.”
  • When violence is featured in YouTube videos, the treatment is often less “glamorized” or packaged as acceptable behavior: “Compared to television, there was much less justification, fewer positive reactions, and less humor associated with violence. In fact, negative reactions to violent acts were more common than positive reactions. This is a departure from the ‘heroic’ violence found so often in MSM.”

The study concludes that the values evidenced in new media communities may diverge sharply from those purveyed by corporate media: “It is clear from this study that when production is the responsibility of the masses rather than in the hands of the few, violence becomes a much scarcer commodity. Moreover, when violence is broached, it is generally less glamorized and less trivialized than the typical MSM treatment. Thus, the unregulated ‘Wild West’ of entertainment that is Web video may actually be more responsible in its treatment of aggression than traditional mainstream producers ever were.”

Tags: technology, youth, guns, telecommunications