London

Appeal to YouTube latest move to rein in student street parties

London city officials are turning to YouTube for help as they try to curtail dangerous stunts during unsanctioned student street parties.

Like the Tide Pod challenge, city wants video sharing site to ban 'brewfing' videos

About 20,000 students crammed onto Broughdale Avenue during an unsanctioned Western University student street party last September. The city is speaking to YouTube about the dangers of posting videos that show students drinking on rooftops and taking part in other dangerous behaviour. (London Police Service)

In a move aimed at stopping increasingly dangerous stunts during unsanctioned off-campus street parties, City of London staff are speaking with YouTube about the dangers of distributing videos that show students drinking on rooftops and other high-risk behaviour.

It comes as Western University, police and city officials look to widen their approach to deal with the "fake homecoming" party on Broughdale Avenue that last September swelled in size to more than 20,000 people. Police have warned the party on the small residential street in Old North is leading to serious injuries and is becoming impossible to police. 

Orest Katolyk, the city's head of bylaw enforcement, said he's been in contact with YouTube about the danger of allowing videos to be posted on its site that show inebriated young people performing dangerous stunts.

Videos of students drinking on house rooftops — an activity sometimes referred to as "brewfing" — were posted during last September's street party. Some showed students jumping off rooftops and balconies and onto lawn furniture at ground level. 

​"We've contacted YouTube specifically to talk about videos that are posted that we consider dangerous in content," he said. "They have directed us to their recent policy updates on policies of harmful or dangerous content. These policies speak to videos that encourage dangerous or illegal activities that risk serious physical harm or death."

It won't be the first time Google, which owns YouTube, has been asked to address video content that shows or glorifies dangerous activity. 

Remember last year's Tide Pod challenge

Teens were sharing videos of themselves biting into the colourful laundry detergent capsules until YouTube and Facebook barred them. 

A similar problem cropped up in the past few weeks with the Bird Box challenge. Inspired by the Netflix film of the same name, the challenge prompted people to post videos of themselves performing challenging or dangerous tasks while blindfolded, including driving and walking through traffic. 

A YouTube spokesperson told CBC News they have a longstanding ban on content "which promotes harmful or dangerous activities." 

In its policies on harmful or dangerous content, YouTube now specifically bans videos that feature dangerous challenges and pranks.

Katolyk said the City is working with YouTube to make a case that videos of "brewfing" and other street party stunts are just as dangerous as the Bird Box or Tide pod challenges. 

"We have seen over the years numerous of these events occurring and being posted on various social media sites," he said. "And we have seen individuals quite seriously hurt by roof diving."

Katolyk said the city has pointed out specific videos to YouTube, and are waiting for the company to respond.

Western University professor Anabel Quan-Haase says while the city's intentions are good, blocking videos on one social media platform won't solve the entire problem. 

"Video today is shared on many platforms, I think Instagram actually would be a bigger one and Snapchat as one," she said. "I think a one-digital-medium approach will have a small effect on the overall sharing of these kinds of videos."

More unified approach to street parties

Up until last year, Western officials described street parties as a policing issue. After the police and others called on the university to do more, Western is now at the table with police and city officials to address what is now seen as a more complex, multifaceted problem that could take years to fully solve. 

Two new task forces have been formed to look at fixes to the problem. Also, Western says it will consider using its student code of conduct to punish students who break the law or put lives at risk during the street parties. 

"The goal is to make sure that no young life is lost at these events," said Katolyk. "We recognize that everyone has a role to play in this." 

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