September 11, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Immature brains behind microwave cat video

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

Shining the spotlight on kids who behave badly is always a delicate business. At one time or another, we all do something during our adolescence that sticks to our conscience for decades like gum on a hot sidewalk.

But really, a kitten in a microwave?

Captured on video and posted on Twitter?

Can someone please explain how anyone, anywhere, anytime could consider this not only fun, but a legitimate form of Internet entertainment?

"Anything that reduces the time between the thought and the action is a risk for kids," said Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media, a nationally renowned nonprofit that helps parents and children navigate the often perilous world of media and Internet technology.

Let's recap:

Last Thursday, two 15-year-old girls from South Portland uploaded a seven-second video to Twitter's new Vine -- a mobile app that, as Twitter put it during the roll-out in January, "inspires creativity."

They can say that again.

The two girls, whose names are not being released because they're juveniles, apparently thought it would be a hoot for one girl to take her family kitten, put it inside a microwave oven and hit the "on" button. Enter the second girl (possibly via a quick editing cut), who then opens the door and removes the kitten unharmed.

By Friday, the South Portland Police Department was awash in anonymous reports of the video on its email account, telephone tip line and Facebook page. At least one or two tipsters, according to Lt. Frank Clark, identified the clearly visible girls by name.

Police charged the girls with animal cruelty on Monday and brought the kitten to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, where a lottery will be held for the multitudes who want to adopt the newly named "Miracle." Not surprisingly, Clark has been fielding calls from media outlets and outraged citizens ever since.

What happens next is up to Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, who has yet to receive the final police report. But already, online reaction to the girls' colossally bad behavior ranges from armchair diagnoses of sociopathy to a torrent of suggested punishments.

One caller to the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday said the girls are even getting death threats.

"Obviously, we don't want anyone to take things into their own hands," Clark said in an interview. "This is something that's being handled appropriately by the appropriate people. We don't want anyone going over the line -- we take that very seriously as well."

In other words, people, let's all take a deep breath, step back and consider not only why these two young videographers might use a poor kitten as their prop, but also why they'd post it all online for every citizen of cyberspace to witness.

Back to Common Sense Media's Knorr, who spends a good chunk of her time blogging -- at www.commonsensemedia.org/blog – about the perilous nexus between an adolescent and her (or his) "send" button.

Knorr's assessment of what happened here, albeit from her organization's headquarters in faraway San Francisco: It's a lot easier for a kid to get in trouble today than it was before the Internet hijacked the life of the average American adolescent.

"It's not the technology that's bad," Knorr said. "But kids do act out using the technology -- and now the consequences of that are public. Now, everyone can see what they did."

Which, ironically, is often more a goal than a consequence.

"Justin Bieber got famous from releasing YouTube videos," Knorr noted. Conversely, she said, the "Rebecca Black – Friday" video, featuring a previously unknown California girl with (I'm being kind here) marginal talent, has become a YouTube sensation primarily because it's considered so over-the-top terrible.

(Continued on page 2)

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