During a meeting with state lawmakers this Thursday, Donald Trump suggested that the U.S. could curb violent atrocities such as the one that occurred in Parkland last week by crafting legislation that would limit children’s exposure to violence in entertainment. Shortly after the President’s comments, the Protect Family Rights Coalition (PFRC) released a statement meant to remind members of Congress that such a law already exists, and it’s time for them to “take immediate action.”
That law is the Family Movie Act, which gives parents the option to automatically skip violent content in movies. While giving parents more options for controlling their children’s entertainment seems like a good idea, movie studios disagreed. In their statement, the PFRC lamented that – due to a lawsuit filed by Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers – streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon can’t be forced to offer “sanitized” versions of their films and television shows.
Though the Family Movie Act was passed more than a decade ago, the conversation about filtering violent content for the benefit of children has resurfaced a week after the Parkland shooting that claimed 17 lives. At the outset of Thursday’s meeting, Trump initially sought to connect video games to violent tendencies, but the conversation soon became about what the president felt were shortcomings in the Motion Picture Association of America’s longstanding rating system.
“You see these movies, they’re so violent. And yet a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved,” said Trump. “And maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”
A rating system that categorizes movies based on violent and sexual content already exists, and beyond that, there is no scientific data supporting the idea that exposure to violent content in media is linked to violent tendencies in children or the prevalence of mass shootings. You could even say that Trump’s comments are, to use his term, fake news.
Inversely, there is a plethora of data that supports the idea that stronger gun control legislation and reducing children’s exposure to real-world traumatic violence can tangibly reduce violent and gun-related crimes. Despite the fact that movies seem to be getting more violent, across the board, teens themselves are actually less violent than ever.
The PFRC’s stake in the fight to censor entertainment content comes off, at best, a little disingenuous. Besides advocating for a stance that isn’t supported by any data, the coalition’s executive director Bill Aho is also the former CEO of ClearPlay, a streaming service oriented around parental control that allows parents to automatically filter violent or inappropriate content from ordinary movies.