Viral Violence and the Challenge for Public Safety

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As the screens we carry narrow our proximity to random and targeted acts of violence, many parents and families are rightfully questioning the impact viral violence has on shared perceptions of public safety and child health.

In pediatrics, we have long considered the link between media, violence and health.

We know kids who watch fake violence in movies or play violent characters in video games show signs of increased aggression. But what happens when the violence kids watch is real? Or when the cameraperson is only a teenager?

Today, youth can easily capture and consume real violence, in real-time, as a part of their daily routines – from snapping school violence, live streaming police violence, recording sexual violence, or sharing images of political violence. This is the new normal* and it’s more complex than the simple relationship between simulated exposures and aggression.

A child watching real violence from their cell phone now understands something tangible about the world; and a kid who records or shares violent imagery online can contribute to others understanding of the world. That elevation of the voices and experiences of youth can be extremely valuable. Indeed, in terms of activist’s movements like Black Lives Matter, the perspective of youth, magnified by social media, has become a national catalyst for police reform, criminal justice reform, and racial equity.

Yet, perpetual exposure to viral violence takes its toll – often manifest in feelings of victimization, grief, fear, intimidation, anger and sadness. And kids and teenagers may be most vulnerable to this kind of trauma because they are still developing the emotional and intellectual maturity to process troubling events. What is more, they rely on trusted adult figures to provide safe spaces in their life.

As we face these harrowing challenges, consider two thoughts:

1. While it’s okay to be protective, thoughtful and proactive regarding how youth experience and contribute to violent images online, we, as parents, caregivers, or providers, cannot simply turn a blind eye. While distressing, some images of violence advance our collective understanding, compassion, and empathy for the suffering that exists outside the walls of our private communities or our segregated social groups, and the privileges those spaces confer. In this way, confronting the visual of violence with a particular effort to center the interpretation of the events around the marginalized populations disproportionately affected, is the first step towards collective healing. And that healing begins with rigorous and vigilant public exploration of the ways systemic racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia and intolerance threaten public safety.

2. As we live-stream our lives, we open windows to the neighborhoods we live in, the spaces where our kids learn and play, and the ways we perceive and are perceived in the world. When we don’t like what we see on the other side of that window, it can be easy to hide discomfort or insecurity with blame or shame or to create narratives that distort the humanity we witness. But each time one of us resists the opportunity to understand the burdens or experiences of another, we all move further from the co-existence necessary to bring peace.

*This is a piece I wrote with my friend and colleague, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, that was published in the July 2016 Pediatrics. It is available for free online for the first week of publication.

I’m Back!

Hello lovely blog followers!

It has been quite a while and I must apologize for my lack of posts over the last few months. As you can see from the countdown at the bottom of this page…

It. Is. Finished.

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This is a selfie of me walking out of the hospital after my last overnight call!

I graduated y’all! I completed my pediatric residency June 30, 2013. But I spent the last few months before graduation finishing some projects that are very close to my heart and I want to share with you.

A colleague and I started the first, official blog of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Pediatrics! I have long felt that social media offers medicine a unique opportunity to let down our walls and share who we are and how we think, in the hope that we can build stronger connections with the communities around us. Medicine isn’t magic and the people who do it aren’t as mysterious as they may seem. And the more we share about what we do, the more what YOU do, and your values, and daily experiences can inform our practice.

Check out our site here!

In the next few weeks, I will be posting pieces I have written for the UCSF Department of Pediatrics blog here and share what I have been working on for so long! I’m also excited to get back to writing in this space and hope you guys continue to enjoy the journey with me!

UCSF’s New Department of Pediatrics Blog

My colleague, Jessica Schumer, MD, and I co-created what is now the first, official UCSF Department of Pediatrics Blog! Please join us at Peds by the Bay on our journey to discover:

  • The best use of social media to improve interdisciplinary communication between health professionals (providers, academic health centers, community practitioners and public health advocates).
  • A system to evaluate the impact of information sharing among a diverse group of learners.
  • The optimal use of social media platforms to improve child health.

And check out the awesome UCSF homepage article that describes our process to create the blog here!

The Public Voice

What does it mean to speak publicly about issues you care about?

If you tweet a link to an article you finding interesting, is that an implicit endorsement?

If I “like” your status update or change my profile picture to a red equal sign, am I a better friend or advocate?

What is the “like” currency and how is it contributing to the economy of change in our society?

Are we all a part of a movement or is the world just getting smaller and we’ve found a new place to put our trash?

What is happening to all the information we’re putting into social spaces? If twitter feeds are a library cataloging everything from congressional politics to scientific theory, is it sacrilege to post what you ate for breakfast? As curators in the age of information, what is our responsibility as architects of truth and reason? Where is the reasonable-check to make sure what we are creating is useful or even mildly entertaining? Are we becoming garbage disposals of recycled ideas, rapid consumers of information that won’t penetrate beyond the limits of the screens we view it on, only to forward the undigested remains along to our “friends”?

How does one go about changing the world anyway? Do you have to own what you feel in a forum of public opinion to be a genuine advocate? Do I have to bleed alongside my comrades in war-torn countries to be a kindred ally, or can I just re-tweet the rally cry? Is it safer to express controversial opinions online or more cowardly? By sharing our intimate thoughts and passions, are we building collective memories or creating new generations of voyeurs? Can social media really bring about social justice?

Should physicians speak publicly about the ways education, housing, environment, and local politics affects their patient’s health? If they do, will it matter?

Social media is the new land of opportunity, democratizing information and offering the promise of connection and synergy – where our collective vision for the future can transcend our individual ability to make it realized. But I am beginning to understand that my words here (in the internet cosmos) mean nothing if I don’t live them here (where I actually live and work and play). Perhaps if we hold ourselves to that standard of engagement as we share our worlds online, the weight of our words really will change the world. As it turns out, the public voice is nothing without public action.