Shock content on the InternetResponding correctly to disturbing depictions of violence online

Shocking, gruesome and disgusting images and videos are easily disseminated on the internet. The phenomenon itself is not new. However, there are now more readily available distribution channels for these images. And the risk of being unintentionally confronted with these images has also changed and presumably increased thanks to social media platforms and messenger services. What do adults need to know about this topic and how can they help children and young people?

Children and young people can be confronted with drastic violent content in different ways. In the report 'Gore in transition', identifies some of the distribution channels. First of all, it is important to note that the vast majority of major platforms prohibit drastic depictions of violence and shock content. This means that it is not absolutely impossible for such content to be disseminated there. However, it is usually quickly recognized and deleted.

Nevertheless, there are a number of ways in which children can be made aware of such content on social media. According to the report, a typical approach is to only show individual parts of a video and leave out the drastic part.

Alleged warnings against certain recordings are also popular. These include so-called "Don't google ..." challenges. These consist of an urgent warning not to enter certain search terms into a search engine or image search. For example, the title of a well-known shock video.

There are also so-called reactions to many relevant videos. These reactions consist of people filming themselves watching the video in question. The drastic content itself cannot be seen, only the disgusted or shocked reaction of the person filming themselves.

In all of these examples, it would be difficult for platforms to delete the content. This is because they do not contain any prohibited images and therefore there is no reason to remove them. Nevertheless, this type of discussion also leads to disturbing content being disseminated. It goes without saying that urgent warnings, for example, also arouse curiosity. In some cases, links to the videos are provided or they can easily be found in the comments. If you know how to use a search engine, you can find many sites within seconds that specialize in drastic content and on which the relevant recordings can be viewed.

Why do children and young people consume such content?

  • A taste for the forbidden: The shocking images and videos get the adrenaline pumping. After all, dying and death are still taboo topics in society. Children and young people also test their own limits when watching such content, which is a normal aspect of growing up.
  • Social aspect: Consuming this content together can strengthen group cohesion. Approaching shocking images together can be experienced as a shared adventure.
  • Coping with trauma: Children and young people who have fled armed conflicts use this content to try to understand and process their own traumatic experiences.
  • Test of self-control: Some people hope that confronting themselves with gruesome media content will give them a kind of self-assurance that they are in control of their own emotions. 

How can adult caregivers provide support?

Unfortunately, problematic and disturbing content can always be found on the internet. There is no absolute protection against content that is unsuitable for children and young people. Therefore, focus on education and an open conversation to support young users in dealing with such disturbing images.

If children and young people turn to adults of their own accord, they need to talk. In such cases, let the child tell you what happened and try to put yourself in their shoes - without judging them. Show interest in the child's motives, ask questions and think together about what the child could do. Also let the child know that you think it is good that they are coming to you with such problems. This will increase the likelihood that they will also turn to you in the future.

Specific tips

  • Avoid accusations: Make sure you keep an open attitude during the conversation and do not judge the child too quickly. You can certainly convey that you do not approve of the content consumed, but avoid berating or belittling the child for their behavior.
  • Point out concrete options for action: Discuss what strategies are available to defend yourself against disturbing content. For example, delete photos and videos if you have been sent them. Drastic content can be reported to social media services or and You can also report and block accounts that spread this content.
  • Strengthen self-confidence: Sometimes problematic websites or individual content spreads when children or young people challenge each other as part of challenges and tests of courage ("Do you dare to look at this?"). Convey to the child that it is also courageous to say "no" and to stand up to peer pressure.
  • Providesupport in cases of fear and uncertainty: If the child is unable to sleep due to the content they have consumed, for example, try to comfort them and reassure them that it is safe. If the child is already older, you can consider together what strategies there are to help them calm down again - for example, thinking about something nice, looking at funny things, doing meditation and relaxation exercises, listening to calming music, etc.
  • Make devices childproof: There is no absolute technical protection against inappropriate content. Nevertheless, parental control programs can be a good addition to media education. If the parental control filter is switched on, for example, websites known to contain violent content can no longer be accessed. You can find information on safe settings at
  • Communicate a clear stance: Cruel content is highly problematic for a number of reasons. Showing wounded, dying or already dead people can violate their human dignity. In addition, such footage may contain prohibited depictions of violence and be harmful to the development of children and young people. These images should therefore not be distributed under any circumstances. Not even with supposedly good intentions, for example as a warning or to draw attention to abuses.
  • Make anonymous counseling services known: Children do not want to talk to their parents about all topics. You can help children to find help in this case too by making them aware of anonymous counseling services such as or Incidentally, the Nummer gegen Kummer also offers advice for parents.

For schools and independent youth work

Project 6 of our teaching material App+on focuses on dealing with violent content. Under the title "Brutal videos - where is the delete thing?", the young people discuss their experiences with cruel depictions on the internet. They learn about possible behavior and create a rules poster for the class chat. You can order the teaching material or download it free of charge. The corresponding videos from the program App+on are available in the ZDF Mediathek.

Our article is based in part on the text "Problematic website shows dying people", which was published on 18.06.2024. We would like to thank our colleagues at for their support!