- PUBLISHING FIGHTING videos for entertainment purposes are normalising public violence, claims anti-fighting campaigner
- THE SUN and the MailOnline regularly show graphic videos of people fighting
- EXPERTS CLAIM the stories are run often without condemnation or justification
- ANTI-FIGHTING CAMPAIGNER Jacob Dunne, who once committed a one-punch kill believes it normalises violence and fuels more
- HE BELIEVES that those involved in public fighting are more likely to do the same at home when frustrated
- THE CEO of Refuge believes violence should never be “glamourised for clicks”
- JACOB DUNNE: “Whenever I see a fight going on and someone gets knocked out my heart sinks”
AN ANTI-FIGHTING CAMPAIGNER who once killed someone with a single punch has spoken out against tabloids who regularly post violent videos online as a source of entertainment, saying that they “normalise violence.”
Publications such as the MailOnline and The Sun regularly post articles with headlines such as: “Crowds watch as shirtless men brawl in the centre of Dublin.”
Often, the articles are accompanied by a graphic video of the incident with no condemnation of the acts taking place – and little public-interest justification.
Jacob Dunne went to back up a friend who was in a fight on a night out in 2011.
He punched the young man that his friend was in the altercation with, and that singular punch took his life.
Dunne served a two-and-a-half-year custodial sentence before leaving prison homeless and unemployed.
Two months after coming out of prison, Dunne’s probation officer suggested he take up restorative justice.
The parents of the man Dunne had killed made it clear that they wished to ask him a few questions about that July night.
After months of letters, the parents ended up helping Dunne to get his life back on track.
They didn’t meet face to face until after Dunne had received a place at university to study criminology.
It was through their involvement in his life that Dunne realised he had to go on and achieve things.
Dunne has since written a book about his story and advocacy for restorative justice.
Dunne says that he’s surprised that this tabloid practice hasn’t been called out more frequently called out before.
As he highlights, publishing violent videos does not serve to inform or educate the public unless the police are appealing for information.
“I do feel that they go a long way to normalising violence and I’m actually surprised that more people haven’t called it out before. I’m not sure how this reporting serves to inform or educate. Outside of appealing for information, I find it quite hard to see how it serves the public in any way unless they point out that these fights can lead to terrible consequences.”
These articles generate a high level of traffic for the MailOnline and The Sun, he continued.
As far as Dunne is concerned though, these videos advertise the idea of turning to violence rather than allowing people to talk through their problems.
“There is clearly a market for it, people like watching fighting but I think we have to separate the lines between condemning fighting on the streets between people who don’t know how to conduct themselves in a way where they can talk through their problems as opposed to jumping straight into a fight.”
Another reason that these widely shared videos are damaging is that if violence is moralised amongst men in public, there is a realistic chance that they will resort to violence at home when frustration boils. This can lead to domestic abuse incidents.
“I think if you’re naturally exposed to fighting and it being normalised I think it wouldn’t be too much of a generalisation to say those people are more likely to resort to violence whenever they’re frustrated, whether that’s when they’re with their parents, with a partner, as a way to just automatically respond to feeling frustrated or betrayed or angry.”
Another person to speak out against this practice and highlight the link between the normalisation of violence and domestic abuse incidents is Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge.
This is a charity that provides support to women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.
“It is concerning that graphic images of violence against women and girls are being shared online and by the media – a practice which is seemingly increasingly normalised. ‘How can we ever achieve gender equality if violence against women is trivialised and seen as commonplace in films, TV shows and the media? It is crime and should be treated like crime – not glamourised with grotesque and gratuitous images of violence simply being used to gain clicks.”
Headlines such as “Shocking moment Maccies security guard batters woman who threw drink over him” are going to be very distressing for victims of domestic abuse to come across on social media.
It also doesn’t serve to condemn violence against women, according to experts.
This article suggests that The Sun are appealing for information to aid the police, even though the police have already arrested a man on suspicion of assault.
A former Sun journalist told Byline Investigates that the paper may struggle to find a valid justification to run violent videos.
He said: ‘These videos often show fights in pubs, on the street, at the side of the road and even outside people’s houses.
‘In some cases, there may be justification in running a video like that, such as an appeal for witnesses by the police.
‘Or the victim has spoken out and is trying to tell his or her story.
‘When I see them, I’m left feeling numb. They are very depressing. They are soul-deadening.
‘However, editors think they will trigger an emotional response in readers, or shock them, which is of course very important for a Sun or MailOnline story.’
For someone with Jacob Dunne’s past, coming across violent videos on social media and the internet regularly can be damaging.
Whilst his situation is not common, there are many others who have been involved in violent incidents in the past who don’t wish to see videos such as: “Moment two groups of bare-chested men hurl deckchairs at each other.”
“I try to avoid it now, to be honest, but there’s so much out there.
“If I see it I make the conscious decision not to watch it just because it can just be quite distressing for me and it can ruin my day.”
Videos of groups of men fighting almost in a recreational manner are particularly damaging as it perpetuates the idea that this is an acceptable hobby or pastime. The manner in which some of these articles are written also encourages discussions about the entertainment value of the fighting.
Within the article titled: “Rival English and Scottish soldiers punch and kick each other in vicious Euro 2020 brawl at army base to the sounds of bagpipes”, there is a section where they include comments from social media about the fight. One of these comments reads: “Something beautiful about bagpipes playing as somebody is getting a kicking.”
Whilst these types of violent videos are shared far and wide by news organisations with millions of readers, fighting will seem normal and acceptable to many people and can lead to more situations like Jacob Dunne’s, where people don’t understand the consequences of resorting to violence as soon as they enter a disagreement. Similarly, whilst men continue to resort to violence against other men, violence against women and children from those same men will continue to occur.
Hacked Off Director of Policy Nathan Sparkes said: “Newspapers must act to ensure that gratuitous portrayals of public disorder such as these are covered more responsibly in future. Publishers must also respect the privacy of individuals captured in these pictures and videos, the vast majority of whom have done nothing wrong and yet risk being identified from them.
“Footage of graphic violence is the sort of content which children should be protected from through the Government’s promised online safety laws, yet the Government plans to create a huge loophole in the proposed legislation to let newspaper publishers off the hook. Examples of content like this show why online safety laws which exempt newspaper publishers are not fit for purpose.”
Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247 is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit http://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday).
Jacob Dunne is an author and educator facilitating important conversations around criminal justice, education and mental health. He presented The Punch series for radio 4 which won best factual series at this years ARIAS awards. He is a former Longford scholar and received a first class honours in Criminology.
He is currently writing his first book ‘Right From Wrong’ to be published in early 2022 which he hopes will shine a light on the reforms needed to break an endless cycle of criminality and hopelessness.