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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Human nature at its worst

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

There is a clip of two local girls "play fighting" in a high school classroom. They pull hair, pretend-slap and giggle, but fairly quickly, it turns nasty and both are calling each other the filthiest names they can think of. There is no attempt to hide the girls' faces or voices. If one of these kids is family to you, you'd know her in an instant and you'd know how she spent her day at school.

In the expansive and terrifying new frontier of the information age, private things become public property with no principal or president or Mama or judge to make folks behave. The video-sharing site YouTube.com was launched barely four months ago and has gone "viral" a term used to describe mass distribution without mainstream marketing. Kids tell each other to check out something cool or weird or freaky on YouTube. People send links to everybody in their e-mail address book. The word gets out in online communities and the two girls fighting, the guy relieving himself in the snow and the countless clips of skateboard mishaps are viewed around the world.

Some say video posted on the site fueled the ongoing tension between Farrington High School and Campbell High students. There certainly is a lot of taunting on the site. That and more.

Forbes labeled YouTube "Raw and Random," and that pretty much nails it.

There are nature videos such as the volcano erupting or a tarsier from the Philippines. There are dance competitions and capoeira demonstrations. There are pirated clips from American Idol and Saturday Night Live. But for the most part, the content plays to the worst of human nature. It is bawdy, prurient, mean-spirited and small.

One of the most popular clips recently shows a guy packing his girlfriend on a motorcycle. When he speeds up, she flies off. Real high-minded stuff.

Viewers can leave anonymous comments about each video. Talk about putting a match to gasoline. Like the old-school slam books, anything written anonymously is usually nasty. Comments posted about video of a Hawai'i high school beef go on and on about the racial backgrounds of the students and the lack of real physical damage done in the fight.

There are numerous warnings and safeguards and "keep it clean" "make sure your parents know you're on YouTube" reminders on the site, but nevertheless, it's a free-for-all.

In a news release from YouTube, CEO Chad Hurley is quoted as saying, "Along with connecting users with videos from friends and family, YouTube is delivering entertaining, authentic and informative videos across the Internet. Users are documenting news events as they happen, filming quirky videos about their interests and sharing first-hand accounts of their travels."

Sure. In the highest use of the thing. But that's not how it's being used.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.