Why do youths post videos of bad behavior online?
Young adults in a digitally connected world could be tempted for social, mental and behavioral reasons to display even their most sinister actions online, as was the case with a video discovered by Chicago police showing the torture of a Crystal Lake man with a mental illness.
A search for notoriety or status, the desire for instant gratification, a disconnect from the consequences of offline reality, groupthink and adrenaline in a heated moment all could have led the four young suspects to record their actions on Facebook Live, say experts in mental health and youth online behavior.
"Someone who's twisted enough to commit a crime like that, or is in a terrible enough mental state, might also be hoping for some kind of notoriety," said Devorah Heitner, author of "Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in their Digital World." "They also may just get additional enjoyment from documenting the crime and believe it adds to their victim's suffering."
The video also could have been a display of bravado as the perpetrators seek some kind of online reinforcement of their sense of self, said Scott Adair Cox, clinical program director at Barrington Youth and Family Services.
"They want to allow others to see what they're doing and have a positive or fear-based reaction," Cox said.
While "likes" and shares can come instantly online, what doesn't come is nonverbal cues and facial reactions -- the true interpersonal moments that help people stay grounded, said Kristin Kauke, a social worker at Creekwood Associates in St. Charles who leads a Fox Valley branch of a national mental health awareness effort called Campaign to Change Direction.
"This generation grew up in a very different environment" of constant social media, Kauke said. "A lot of their social communication is done not through talking; it's posting and such. By doing that you can be a little bit removed from your audience. You don't have to be held as accountable to that other person's reaction."
Youths today also can lose a sense of balance, peace and compassion for the self because of the stress of being constantly connected, Kauke said. That develops into a mindset in which young people have trouble with the idea of "do no harm" to others, which could lead to anti-social and detrimental behaviors, she said.
Kane County Judge Clint Hull said he and other judges are working to teach teens about the dangers of innocent online behavior turning to cyberbullying, harassment or child porn through a program called Worries of the World Wide Web, which the Illinois Judges Association soon will be taking statewide. The program reminds teens that posts they might think are private can be recovered by a search warrant during criminal investigations and that online behaviors can have consequences in the real world.
Hull said evidence from texts, posts or videos shared online used to be rare until about three years ago; since then, the judicial system has seen an increase in criminal behavior being recorded and posted on the internet by people, including defendants themselves.
Author Heitner said all social media users have a responsibility in this, too. When bad behavior makes its way online, she said, everyone who sees it can soften its blow by being thoughtful about what they post, forward and share.
"It's something we shouldn't feed into," she said. "We shouldn't make them notorious by sharing this widely."