The power of online video is a force for good–and bad

The easy accessibility of internet video is transforming all aspects of education. Students are turning to YouTube for video tutorials on hard-to-master subjects, for example, and college administrators are using the site for help in recruiting.

But there’s a downside to the technology, too: The culture of instant fame that it fosters can be damaging for impressionable students, tempting them to record and publish increasingly outrageous exploits in their quest for notoriety.

In April, eight teenagers were arrested for beating Lakeland, Fla., teen Victoria Lindsay in an "animalistic attack" so they could make a videotape to post on YouTube. The videotaped beating sparked national outrage and prompted calls for video-sharing web sites to better police their content.

If that weren’t shocking enough, a 19-year-old college student killed himself in November during a live internet video feed on the web site Some members of his virtual audience encouraged him to do it, others tried to talk him out of it, and some discussed whether he was taking a dose big enough to kill himself, said an investigator with the Broward County, Fla., medical examiner’s office.

The student, Abraham Biggs, was not the first person to commit suicide with a webcam rolling. But the drawn-out drama–and the reaction of those watching–was seen as an extreme example of young people’s penchant for sharing intimate details about themselves online.

Montana Miller, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said Biggs’ very public suicide was not shocking, given the way teenagers chronicle every facet of their lives on sites like Facebook and MySpace. "If it’s not recorded or documented, then it doesn’t even seem worthwhile," she said. "For today’s generation it might seem, ‘What’s the point of doing it, if everyone isn’t going to see it?’"

Adding to the problem is the fact that YouTube recently began sharing advertising revenue with those who post videos to the site. A story in the New York Times revealed that, one year later, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the revenue their videos generate.

Related links:

Videotaped beating sparks national outrage

eSN TechWatch: Colleges on YouTube

Judge’s YouTube punishment makes matters worse

Internet video becomes a key part of college recruiting

Technology makes cheating ‘far more tempting’

Teen’s cyber suicide raises questions

YouTube videos are pulling in serious money

Need help with class? YouTube videos await