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Callous and calculated

Netflix CEO’s comments show disregard for children’s well-being

A scene from the second season of 13 Reasons Why Netflix

Callous and calculated

The CEO of Netflix acts like he couldn’t care less about the potentially disastrous consequences of 13 Reason Why Season 2.

During the company’s annual shareholder meeting June 6, CEO Reed Hastings responded to backlash against the violent teen drama by saying, “13 Reasons Why has been enormously popular and successful. It’s engaging content. … It is controversial. But nobody has to watch it.”

The show’s first season told the story of a teenage girl’s suicide and included a graphic scene of her cutting her wrists. The latest season depicts a young man being sexually assaulted and then plotting a school shooting in revenge. It came out on Netflix the same day that a high school shooter in Santa Fe, Texas, killed 10 people. Netflix canceled that evening’s premiere party but not the show itself.

“For the health and welfare of children, I challenge Mr. Hastings immediately to rethink his callous response that ‘nobody has to watch it,’” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council. “He is ostensibly proclaiming that financial gain for Netflix trumps the real-life consequences of his programming.”

Those real-life consequences include a 26 percent surge in Google searches for “How to kill myself” after the first season aired. Mental health experts say depictions of suicide on TV don’t necessarily drive teens to kill themselves, but they have a multiplied negative effect on viewers already struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Hastings is technically right that nobody has to watch a show like 13 Reasons Why, but who does he expect to stop vulnerable teens from tuning in? Most parents of teens do not police what their children do on the internet. A 2016 Pew study of adults with 13- to 17-year-old kids found 84 percent of them allowed their child unrestricted internet access via a mobile device. Responsibility for protecting children from harmful content has fallen on the content providers themselves, something Netflix seems to ignore.

The Parents Television Council started an online petition to get 13 Reasons pulled from the streaming service. And viewers can influence Netflix programming another way: Watch more of the shows that are safe for kids. Netflix collects hoards of data on what viewers watch and uses it to determine future shows. Take House of Cards, the dark political drama starring Kevin Spacey that was one of Netflix’s first original megahits.

“It was a calculated bet because we knew Netflix members like political dramas, that they like serialized dramas, that they are fans of Kevin Spacey, that they like David Fincher,” company spokesman Joris Evers told PBS NewsHour in 2014.

Not everything on Netflix is harmful. It’s the platform that revived VeggieTales, after all. By watching more family friendly shows, viewers can make a statement that they want more of what’s good and less of … whatever 13 Reasons is.

A scene from Walden

A scene from Walden University of Southern California Game Innovation Lab

Bringing the outdoors in

A new video game gives users a simulated outdoors experience based on the Henry David Thoreau book Walden. Players have to survive in an open world similar to that of Minecraft but with vistas that mirror the actual Walden Pond in Massachusetts, where Thoreau lived in a simple cabin for more than two years.

The University of Southern California Game Innovation Lab released the game for computers in 2017 and for PlayStation 4 just last month. Why not just go outside and commune with nature in person? Lovers of the game say it helps those who don’t have easy access to the great outdoors. Teachers especially like it because it helps their students appreciate nature and practice skills such as observing and journaling.

Common Sense Education named it one of the top educational technology tools of 2017. “It’s rare to be so moved and permanently transformed by a work of art; that this game manages to (re)create these experiences is a triumph,” declared a Common Sense review of the game. —L.L.

A scene from Walden

A scene from Walden University of Southern California Game Innovation Lab

Seeing red

The European Union’s highest court ruled Tuesday that shoe designer Christian Louboutin has a valid trademark on his footwear’s iconic red soles. His shoes have sported the bright red soles since 1993, when Louboutin grabbed an assistant’s nail polish and slathered it on the bottom of a high heel. The scarlet shoe bottoms became a status symbol for celebrities and others who could afford a pair of heels for at least a few hundred bucks a pop.

Louboutin has struggled to get courts to protect his design because EU law doesn’t allow trade marks of something’s intrinsic form. You can’t protect a shoe’s sole because every shoe has one, the reasoning goes.

But the European Court of Justice ruled that painting the sole red was a distinct enough design to warrant protection. The case now goes back to a Dutch court, which likely will find the company Van Haren infringed on Louboutin’s trademark. —L.L.

Free to move

The NCAA this week approved a new rule to allow college athletes to transfer between schools without their coaches’ permission. Now athletes must notify their coaches but don’t have to get their blessing. The coaches will have two days to enter the students’ names into a database of athletes who can be recruited. Conferences can still make stricter rules about transferring. The old rule was supposed to curb illegal recruitment but restricted students’ freedom too much, critics said. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is WORLD’s executive editor for news. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kan.



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