Ether Net

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance. Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the latest GCHQ document we’re publishing today:

GCHQ’s “Chinese menu” of tools spreads disinformation across Internet

What appears to be an internal Wiki page detailing the cyber-weaponry used by the British spy agency GCHQ was published today by Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept. The page, taken from the documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, lists dozens of tools used by GCHQ to target individuals and their computing devices, spread disinformation posing as others, and “shape” opinion and information available online.
The page had been maintained by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) Covert Internet Technical Development team, but it fell out of use by the time Snowden copied it. Greenwald and NBC previously reported on JTRIG’s “dirty tricks” tactics for psychological operations and information warfare, and the new documents provide a hint at how those tactics were executed. GCHQ’s capabilities included tools for manipulating social media, spoofing communications from individuals and groups, and warping the perception of content online through manipulation of polls and web pages’ traffic and search rankings.

Inside the British Army’s secret information warfare machine”

They built bots and “sockpuppets” – fake social media accounts to make topics trend and appear more popular than they were – and swarmed together to overwhelm their targets. They started to reach through computers to change what people saw, and perhaps even what people thought. They celebrated each of their victories with a deluge of memes.


The lulz were quickly seized upon by others for the money. Throughout the 2000s, small PR firms, political communications consultancies, and darknet markets all began to peddle the tactics and techniques pioneered on 4chan. “Digital media-savvy merchants are weaponising their knowledge of commercial social media manipulation services,” a cybersecurity researcher who tracks this kind of illicit commercial activity tells me on condition of anonymity.


It’s like an assembly line,” he continues. “They prepare the campaign, penetrate the target audience, maintain the operation, and then they strategically disengage. It is only going to get bigger.”

A range of websites started selling fake accounts, described, categorised and priced almost like wine: from cheap plonk all the way to seasoned vintages. The “HUGE MEGA BOT PACK”, available for just $3 on the darknet, allowed you to
build your own bot army across hundreds of social media platforms. There were services for manipulating search engine results. You could buy Wikipedia edits. You could rent fake IP addresses to make it look like your accounts came from all over the world. And at the top of the market were “legend farms”, firms running tens of thousands of unique identities, each one with multiple accounts on social media, a unique IP address, its own internet address, even its own personality, interests and writing style.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

David Bowie interview with Jeremy Paxman (1999)

Bowie: Because I think that we, at the time up until at the least the mid 70s, really felt that we were still living under the… in the guise of a single and absolute created society where there were known truths and known lies and there was no kind of duplicity or pluralism about the things that we believed in.

That started to break down rapidly in the 70s and the idea of a duality in the way that we live. There are always two, three, four, five sides to every question. The singularity disappeared. And that I believe, has produced such a medium as the internet, which absolutely establishes and shows us that we are living in total fragmentation.

I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.

Paxman: It’s just a tool though isn’t it?

Bowie: No, it’s not! No, it’s an alien life form (laughs).

Paxman: It’s simply a different delivery system though? You’re arguing about something more profound.

Bowie: Oh yeah. I’m talking about the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can really envisage as the moment where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas about what mediums are all about.

Air Force research: How to use social media to control people like drones

“Containment control” model looks at how groups of influencers can manipulate people.

Facebook isn’t the only organization conducting research into how attitudes are affected by social media. The Department of Defense has invested millions of dollars over the past few years investigating social media, social networks, and how information spreads across them. While Facebook and Cornell University researchers manipulated what individuals saw in their social media streams, military-funded research—including projects funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Social Media in Strategic Communications (SMISC) program—has looked primarily into how messages from influential members of social networks propagate.

One study, funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), has gone a step further. “A less investigated problem is once you’ve identified the network, how do you manipulate it toward an end,” said Warren Dixon, a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering and director of the University of Florida’s Nonlinear Controls and Robotics research group. Dixon was the principal investigator on an Air Force Research Laboratory-funded project, which published its findings in February in a paper entitled “Containment Control for a Social Network with State-Dependent Connectivity.”

The research demonstrates that the mathematical principles used to control groups of autonomous robots can be applied to social networks in order to control human behavior. If properly calibrated, the mathematical models developed by Dixon and his fellow researchers could be used to sway the opinion of social networks toward a desired set of behaviors—perhaps in concert with some of the social media “effects” cyber-weaponry developed by the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ.

Soft Info-warfare

Military social network research has been ongoing over the past decade as part of the DOD’s efforts to leverage “open source intelligence” and use social network analysis (using mobile phone records, other electronic relationships, and physical-world relationships) to target manufacturers of improvised explosive devices and leaders of insurgent cells. Along the way, the research has shifted more toward “hearts and minds” goals than “search and destroy” ones.

DARPA launched its SMISC program in 2011 to examine ways social networks could be used for propaganda and what broadly falls under the euphemistic title of Military Information Support Operations (MISO), formerly known as psychological operations. Early in July, DARPA published a list of research projects funded by the SMISC program. They included studies that analyzed the Twitter followings of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber among others; investigations into the spread of Internet memes; a study by the Georgia Tech Research Institute into automatically identifying deceptive content in social media with linguistic cues; and “Modeling User Attitude toward Controversial Topics in Online Social Media”—an IBM Research study that tapped into Twitter feeds to track responses to topics like “fracking” for natural gas.

The AFRL-sponsored research by Dixon, Zhen Kan, and Justin Klotz of University of Florida NCR group and Eduardo L. Pasiliao of AFRL’s Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base was prompted by a meeting Dixon attended while preparing a “think piece” for the Defense Science Study Group. “I heard a presentation by a computer scientist about examining behaviors of people based on social data. The language that was being used to mathematically describe the interactions [between people and products] was the same language we use in controlling groups of autonomous vehicles.”

Examples of AI bots

Reddit: Every wonder why your insightful posts get stuck at 0? Why so many people seem so toxic on this forum? Why so many people laugh and joke about the kill shots? Why there is so much static and nonsensical noise that has nothing to do with anything?

It’s because at least 1 out of 3 of the comments and posts (probably more) on this platform are by AI bots and paid shills. The purpose of these Agents Smiths are to:

    Make conspiracies and theorists aka truth seekers look dumb ie “so you think _______?”; usually an extremely weak argument logically or attacking the user not argument

    Misdirect people ie through fake conspiracies like “no one died in las vegas”

    Frustrate posters\thinkers

    Make legit posters\thinkers leave via the above and things like #10

    Push agendas

    Make us fight against each other ie dems vs reps, trump vs biden, christians vs muslims, progressive\liberal, left\right, it’s all China, West\East (scapegoating when it’s really two heads of the same beast) – divide and conquer

    Make legit people like Kanye, Russell Brand seem like they’re in on it ie “so you think a millionaire will help us plebs?” (this ties into #8: hopelessness)

    Spew hopelessness and hate ie that” whistleblower is going to die” or “well we can’t do anything about it” or “people are so dumb”

    Make us passive ie “God\Jesus will protect us”, “Q\Trump will drain the swamp”, “looking forward until the timeline changes”

    Spread degeneration and perversion ie look at her milk jugs or something about penis

    Traumatize\frustrate\scare new\curious people – running them out of here, away from researching or discussing topics.

This list goes on and on but it’s a very sophisticated tactic and it is important not to be programmed by them. Don’t let bullshit comments invoke any anger or frustration. Don’t scroll too quickly only to find a comment that hits your confirmation bias and makes you lean the wrong way. IE when reading a post about the dangers of fluoride, one of these agents will post a comment that says “Well, children shouldn’t be swallowing toothpaste anyway so this is stupid.” If you’re already overwhelmed by the thought of a new world order out to get you, a comment like this is exactly what you’re subconscious wants… to flee instead of fight.

Sort posts by new, comments by top. Read them all, even the negative ones. Before fully mentally shelving a users comment or agreeing with their stance, check their history. Anyone with over 50k – 100k karma is pretty suspect since legit posts that will enlighten the masses will be purposely downvoted. If they post multiple times every 10 minutes, another HUGE red flag. Skim through a couple comments, do they seem like a nice person. Do they post on insightful subs? If they comment on sexual subs, thats usually a big red flag too. Lots of these accounts will post on very niche subs to make it seem like they’re just real people who are interested in paintball guns or cameras or fountain pens. If they post on spiritual forums, and seem like they’re trying to help others, thats a HUGE GREEN one! – unless they post constantly post bullshit about demons or sex.

Also next time you post or comment and the votes seem to be stuck at 0. Leave the post\comment on the active tab and hit refresh (f5 or swipe down on an app like RIF) – multiple times a second. You’ll notice it go up to 1 or 2 and then back to 0. If it’s really good, it’ll hit the 7-8-9s on the brink of hitting the next denominator of 10 and then drop back to 7-8-9 again. But do not despair! The reason why they do this is to make us feel hopeless. Trust that people like me and others that know how all of this works actually do see and read your posts and comments even though the manipulated statistics don’t reflect that.

Nearly half of all internet traffic came from bots last year, according to new research.

Figures from cyber security firm Imperva revealed a significant increase in automated and malicious web activity in 2022, with the proportion of human traffic falling to its lowest level in eight years.

The company noted that so-called “bad bots” were at their highest level since it started tracking the trend in 2013.

Bot activity is expected to increase even further this year, the researchers claimed, due to the arrival of generative AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard.

“Bots have evolved rapidly since 2013, but with the advent of generative artificial intelligence, the technology will evolve at an even greater, more concerning pace over the next 10 years,” said Karl Triebes, a senior vice president at Imperva.

My own personal interaction with a shill or bot (fake) account on LinkedIn posing as a real scientist at Saudi Aramco with multiple patents who has a specialty is graphene and nanotechnology.

Prince Rogers Nelson – Yahoo Internet Life Awards (1999)

One thing that I wanted to say is um…
Don’t be fooled by the internet
It’s cool to get on the computer, but don’t let the computer get on you.
It’s cool… it’s cool to use the computer, don’t let the computer use you.
Ya’ll saw The Matrix.

There is a war going on.
The battlefield’s in the mind.
And, the prize in the soul.
So, just be careful.
Be very careful.
Thank you.

Compulsive Internet Pornography Use and Mental Health: A Cross-Sectional Study in a Sample of University Students in the United States

The sustained rise in negative mental health reports among university students is a source of continued global concern, and investigation continues into potential contributors to this rise. This includes the increased prevalence of risky sexual behaviors. Related is the increased prevalence of pornography use. Our study sought to explore the potential relationship between compulsive use of pornography and mental health in university students.

Our results indicate that 56.6% of those surveyed reported lifetime pornography use, with a significantly higher proportion of males than females reporting such use. The majority of students reported accessing pornography through internet-related technologies. Additionally, 17.0, 20.4, and 13.5% of students reported severe or extremely severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress, respectively, with compulsive pornography use significantly affecting all three mental health parameters in both sexes. Exploratory Factor Analysis identified three factors suggesting emotional coping, dependence and preoccupation for the mCIUS items and three factors reflecting interoceptive, impotent, and extrinsic characteristics for the EmSS items. Regression analysis indicated that various demographics, items pertaining to reduced control and social impairment, and other variables pertaining to pornography use predicted mental health outcomes. Faith, morals and personal motivation were the primary variables reported to help reduce pornography use.

How Watching Porn Can Impact Mental Health

Instead of providing a healthy outlet for negative emotions, research shows that porn can actually be detrimental to mental health in the long-run.

Porn can impact mental health.

Many porn consumers use porn as a coping mechanism for when they’re feeling lonely, stressed, sad, or upset.

But instead of providing a healthy outlet for negative emotions, research shows that porn can actually be detrimental to mental health in the long-run. Let’s discuss.

Research has shown that the more porn someone consumes, the more likely they are to experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and social problems.

Research also shows that porn consumption is linked to lower self-esteem. In fact, it’s linked to lower self-esteem for both consumers and their partners.

Similarly, research suggests that both porn consumers and their partners tend to have poorer body image, as many seem to internalize the unrealistic body ideals displayed in pornography.

An important part of mental and emotional well-being is having healthy connections with others, yet countless studies indicate that porn can have serious negative effects on relational health, including:

    Less fulfilling relationships
    Increased relationship conflict
    Poorer romantic attachment
    2X the likelihood of later experiencing a breakup or divorce

While many porn consumers turn to porn when they’re feeling lonely, research shows that porn can ultimately fuel feelings of loneliness, feeding an unhealthy coping cycle.

When people turn to porn to make themselves feel better, it might actually be doing the opposite for their mental health. You deserve to have a happy, healthy lifestyle. You deserve better than porn.

Invest in your mental health—quit porn for good.

3 Surprising Effects of Pornography and Porn Addiction

It’s no great secret how pervasive pornography is in today’s society.

Thanks to a few simple clicks on a computer or smartphone, a vast array of fictitious and fantastical images and video clips can be accessed by nearly anyone the world over. While watching porn here and there is hardly something to be ashamed of, as with anything else in our lives, practicing moderation is key.

But is watching porn bad for you? Are there side effects of pornography?

From a biological sense, consuming porn triggers the release of dopamine within our adrenal system—which means following that pleasurable high can ultimately lead to negative consequences physically, psychologically, and within our personal relationships.

To make matters more concerning, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation and free-time that have resulted from shutdowns and economic changes may have led to more people than ever self-soothing with easily-accessible porn.

To be clear, there remain questions as to the conclusive effects that the watching of pornography has on men. This is mostly due to it being a relatively new area of focus, and more time is required for full understanding. However, each year adds more and more studies to the scientific archive, which have begun to offer clues.

What is indisputable however is how popular porn is; one survey found that 99% of its adult male participants reported watching porn at some point in their lives. On top of that, the pornographic industry is estimated to generate in excess of $100 billion every year.

Partially due to its popularity and accessibility, some men may be under the impression that pornography isn’t harmful, or that the supposed side effects of overconsumption are hardly of any danger in comparison to other more illicit sources of pleasure like hard drugs or gambling.

However, it’s the perception that porn isn’t harmful that can lead to the underestimation of the very real consequences of viewing too much porn.

Social scientists, psychologists, biologists, and neurologists have increased their attention toward its effects over the past two decades, and are beginning to understand what habitually watching porn does to the mechanics of our bodies and minds.

Like hard drugs or gambling, pornography consumption can represent an escape from reality, as a way to deal with stress, or even just a quick hit of dopamine at inopportune times. As such, each of these vices can easily lead to full-blown addiction.

It also means that over time, different and more frequent use is required to achieve the same “high” as tolerance is built up. Simple neurology tells us that the reputation of an act forges pathways in our brains; and repetition of the action involved becomes easier and easier each time.

However, pornography addiction also brings with it a destructive effect on personal relationships—especially with our partners.

Pornography addiction in men manifests itself within our relationships by way of decreased satisfaction in marriages and less emotional attachment to our spouse. Those suffering may quickly find themselves choosing porn over people or social events. Others report an overall feeling of numbness toward their everyday experiences and a prioritization of their next “hit” over their goals and ambitions.

Not having easy access to porn can have an effect on one’s mood, making them irritable or depressed—and may lead to risky and unnecessary behaviors like watching porn at work or in other public spaces.

Even if you don’t believe you’re addicted to porn, the danger is still apparent; PET scans of men who were diagnosed as addicts and those who were not show similar brain activity among both groups when viewing pornography. Furthermore, that activity was akin to what occurs when cocaine addicts view images of someone consuming the drug.

Pornography addicts must understand that removing feelings of shame or guilt is essential to begin recovery. Instead, approach treatment as though you’re tracking down a strange noise under the hood of your car. Once you recognize the biological processes behind the emotional issues at hand, it becomes a simpler matter to deal with and eventually overcome.

Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective

In 2006 world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple, and Netflix combined.[14] This is no casual, inconsequential phenomenon, yet there is a tendency to trivialize the possible social and biologic effects of pornography. The sex industry has successfully characterized any objection to pornography as being from the religious/moral perspective; they then dismiss these objections as First Amendment infringements. If pornography addiction is viewed objectively, evidence indicates that it does indeed cause harm in humans with regard to pair-bonding.[2] The correlation (85%) between viewing child pornography and participating in actual sexual relations with children was demonstrated by Bourke and Hernandez.[4] The difficulty in objective peer-reviewed discussion of this topic is again illustrated by the attempted suppression of this data on social grounds.[15] The recent meta-analysis by Hald et al. strongly supports and clarifies previous data demonstrating correlation with regard to pornography inducing violence attitudes against women.[10] With such strong correlative data, it is irresponsible not to address the likely possibility of causation in these regards. Reviewing this data in the context of current usage patterns is particularly concerning; 87% of college age men view pornography, 50% weekly and 20 daily or every other day, with 31% of women viewing as well.[5] The predictive effect of pornography on sexual behavior in adolescents has also been demonstrated.[6]

Certainly our role as healers suggests we can do more to investigate and treat human pathology related to this new entity of process or natural addiction, particularly given the growing weight of evidence supporting the neural basis of all addictive processes.

MindGeek: A deep dive on the secret monopoly of internet pornography and its dodgy criminal dealings

Who owns a monopoly on the internet pornography industry? Why are its owners kept secret and hidden behind a web of subsidiary companies? What are MindGeek’s ties to organized crime families?

Pornography, the erotic portrayal of sexually explicit content, has been feeding the base appetites of men since prehistoric times. The internet pornography of today, however, is a far cry from busty Upper Paleolithic Venus figurines and Athenian vases, or even your grandfather’s Playboy magazine. What young men have to contend with today is not a bodaciously-carved piece of rock or glossy centerfolds, but millions of free and instantly streamable videos of endless variety at their fingertips accessible at the typing of just four letters into Google.

On any given day, 68 million porn related search queries are generated, 116,000 of which are queries related to child pornography. 40 million Americans are regular visitors of porn sites. 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic. At any given second, over 28,000 people online are watching porn on the internet, and on average $3,000 per second is spent on porn sites. 87.5% of men and 28.5% of women aged 18-35 watch porn at least weekly.

These facts show quite clearly that this $16.9 billion per annum industry has driven its lascivious hooks firmly into young people. But what companies are reaping the profits from getting young people addicted to internet pornography?

Well, a more accurate question would be what company, in the singular. There is one behemoth, hydra-esque company that owns almost every popular porn streaming site: MindGeek. It may not surprise you to learn that MindGeek, being involved in such an industry, has been the subject of multiple lawsuits over the years since their founding in June 2004. Before we dive into the cases levied against MindGeek over the years for hosting non-consensual pornography and being complicit in child sex trafficking, let’s take a look at the history of the founding and operation of MindGeek since its inception.

Artificial Intimacy: How AI-Generated Pornography is Changing Society

It is a truism that internet adoption was primarily driven by the demand for pornography.

While some bloated stats exaggerate porn’s pervasiveness on the web, some sources indicate that 4 percent of all websites are porn and that 13 to 20 percent of all web searches are for adult content.

Our work at Emerj has nothing to do with adult content and everything to do with the use cases and implications of AI.

And that’s why the topic of adult content had to be covered.

My own research into generative AI goes back five years – and my first presentation on the topic goes back to a United Nations / INTERPOL event in 2018 (presentation deck here). Since then, we’ve interviewed OpenAI innovators like the creator of DALL-E 2, Aditya Ramesh, Microsoft Azure’s CTO, various officers of OpenAI – the creators of ChatGPT – and many others on the topic of generative AI.

Pornography will be a massive driver of adoption for AI-generated media (2-D and 3-D), and soon, nearly all adult content consumed online will be AI-generated. I take this almost as a given.

This will not be a moral argument for or against adult content. Nor will it showcase such adult content, though some links and non-pornographic demonstrations will be included for essential context.

The sole purpose of this article is to lay out what I consider an essential trajectory for the human condition. Also, to present some of the business and policy considerations we might bear in mind as the species itself is pulled increasingly inwards towards hyper-personalized virtual experiences.

In short, I’ll be arguing that studying generative adult content is vital because of its impending impacts:

    Altering human relationships: Human relationships will change radically as sexual arousal and gratification via AI-generated content become normal and socially acceptable.

    A stepping stone towards isolated, hyper-personalized experiences: Sexual satisfaction is a “canary in the coal mine” of human drives. When it is satisfied with generative AI, many other drives (relaxation, entertainment, etc.) will follow quickly. The first world will be immersed in isolated, hyper-personal experiences (programmatically generated everything).

The article itself is broken down into the following sections:

    Progressive developments of generative AI adult content: How generative AI content will likely evolve from deepfakes and image generation, towards a more completely immersive …

    Progressive implications – human sex and relationships: How the societal impacts of AI-generated adult content will progress over time, with attention paid toward how human relationships will change based on relationships with their drives and available technology to stimulate those drives.

    Policy considerations: As some changes appear inevitable, the article will offer some policy suggestions to regulate these changes in a way that prioritizes humanity – while still recognizing everything we now consider “sacred” rests on increasingly shakier ground as these technologies advance.

Something is Terribly Wrong With Many “Kids” Videos on YouTube

A great number of YouTube videos aimed at children contain creepy, disturbing, violent and sexual content. Some even border on child abuse. It is time to take a closer look at these videos that generate millions of views per day.

Warning: This article contains disturbing images … although they’re all taken from children’s videos.

There is no easier way to get small children to pipe down than handing them a tablet or a smartphone. Toddlers know how to launch YouTube, play videos and even navigate to other “recommended videos”. This keeps children silent and entertained for long periods of time – a luxury that busy parents greatly appreciate.

While most parents hear the children’s music playing in the background, they rarely watch the videos played by their children. When they do glimpse at the screen, they see a  character such as Spiderman or Princess Elsa and assume that everything is cool. But everything is not cool. There is something terribly wrong with some children’s YouTube videos and, often, those who create them do not have the best of intentions.

A great deal of these videos contains weird, disturbing, violent and even traumatizing content. They are insidiously mixed with other children’s videos, causing them to appear as “recommended videos” by YouTube and, therefore, easily accessible to children.

I am not talking about rare, obscure videos hiding in the depths of YouTube, I am talking about channels that cumulate billions of views.

Of course, the main motivation behind these videos is profit. All it takes is a few superhero costumes and a smartphone to create videos that can potentially generate lots of revenue.

However, some of these videos are simply not right. There appears to be a motivation that goes beyond profit. Some videos trick children into watching traumatizing content, others expose them to oddly “adult” situations. Even worse, some appear to cater to adults … who like to watch children. Here are some examples of the video cancer growing on YouTube (I won’t be linking to any of these videos or channels because I don’t want to help them get more hits).

Tricking Children

Some video channels use popular characters to trick children into watching violent and disturbing material

The Sexualization of Young Girls and Mental Health Problems

Mental Health in Girls

Girls, in general, experience more mental health issues than boys and sexualization often factors into the way girls identity themselves and measure their self-worth. When girls experience sexualization or objectification first-hand, it can stir up a wide-range of emotions. Depending on the severity of the instance, it can lead to anxiety, depression, or even PTSD.

The ongoing sexualization of young girls is perpetuating gender stereotypes and leading many girls to experience various health and mental health issues. Some of the most common include low self-esteem, anxiety, eating disorders, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.

Oftentimes these mental health issues are symptoms themselves, arising from girls internalizing the sexualization they receive from others. They likely don’t know what is going on, let alone how to address this outwardly.

Not knowing how to interpret the sexualized information they’re receiving about themselves and their bodies, girls may turn inwardly, inflicting harm on themselves to release the massive stresses they are experiencing.

The Choe Show (Episode 3)

Choe paints a portrait literally and figuratively of his guests. From the walls of his childhood home, Choe will talk to his guests as a motivational interviewer and compassionate listener. Episode 3 featuring Erica Garza author of “Getting Off.”

Streaming online

The Psychology of TikTok

How the popular social media app affects our brain, our behavior, and our mental health

How the algorithm hacks your brain

Forbes’ John Koetsier memorably deemed TikTok “digital crack cocaine for your brain.” He may not be wrong. According to a leaked data report in 2021, users spend an average of 89 minutes a day on TikTok. In his article, Koetsier interviewed Dr. Julie Albright and discussed how when we use TikTok, we are essentially drugging ourselves.

    “When you’re scrolling… sometimes you see a photo or something that’s delightful and it catches your attention,” Albright says. “And you get that little dopamine hit in the brain… in the pleasure center of the brain. So you want to keep scrolling.” — Digital Crack Cocaine: The Science Behind TikTok’s Success

This psychology is similar to what we see in dating apps, which I discuss in my article, “The Psychology of Dating Apps.” We receive a nice hit of dopamine when we find a video we like on TikTok, but because the algorithm serves us different videos throughout the day, it’s an uncertain outcome. This works because unpredictable rewards cause more activity in reward regions of the brain than rewards we know are coming.

Essentially, when on social media apps like TikTok, dopamine hits your brain in one of two ways:

    You receive an unpredictable reward, and your brain rewards you with a healthy dose of dopamine.
    Your brain adapts to the unpredictable reward system and preemptively rewards your anticipated risk.

Through this system, TikTok users can develop a Pavlovian feedback loop. Once a brain gets used to the neurological release, it learns to anticipate and reward the body for even just exposure to the source of that release. Nathalie Nahai reports that this is known as a dopamine loop. “It’s a sense of reward and seeking out more of the same to get an arousal hit.”

    Our brains grow and change based on our surroundings — we pride ourselves on being adaptable creatures.

According to Dr. Albright, “platforms like TikTok — including Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook — have adopted the same principles that have made gambling addictive.”
TikTok’s effect on attention span

Today, many media reports are circulating the idea that TikTok is causing negative long-term effects on the brain, especially in younger users, whose minds won’t reach full development until age 25.

Most articles, including John Koetsier’s Forbes piece, state that TikTok is lowering users’ attention spans. The Independent found that most users experienced shorter attention spans following extended use of the app, citing the ease, availability, and short time span of entertaining content.

However, many of the claims regarding shortened attention span come without the science to back it up — at least not when it comes to TikTok. Due to the newer state of the app, most evidence is circumstantial or anecdotal at this point.

But while TikTok may not be a truly substantiated culprit at the moment, we do know that social media use in general is lowering our collective attention span. A 2019 study found that news cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, with content turnover rates increasing year after year.

In general, any significant time on your phone is going to influence your brain function

But there are some effects that we’re already seeing

While much of the evidence of TikTok’s negative effects is anecdotal, or could be attributed to excess screen time in general, there are some interesting reports related to TikTok specifically.

The Wall Street Journal reported on a possible correlation between the rise of young girls presenting with symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome, and their exposure to popular Tourette’s videos on TikTok. This is notable because tics are often a symptom of mental distress, in addition to being a symptom of Tourette’s. So in this case, TikTok may not have caused a particular underlying illness, but instead changed the commonality and awareness of one of its symptoms.

Another aspect of TikTok is a product of its visual foundation. Plus-sized content creators are more likely to be flagged for inappropriate or sexual content over thinner counterparts with comparable posts, and the vast majority of TikTok’s top content creators are thin, young people. As with other visual apps like Instagram, this distorted lens of “normal” bodies can be problematic for users’ body image and self esteem, especially for teenagers.

TikTok can also lead to users misdiagnosing their mental health issues. Doctors have marked a distinct rise in young adults self-diagnosing with ADHD, OCD, and autism. And while raising awareness of these issues can be incredibly helpful, it holds the potential for harm when users self-diagnose with conditions such as Dissociative Identity Disorder. This can lead to misdiagnosis and incorrect treatment for the underlying cause of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

(Tik Tok like FaceBook and all social media is a weapon)

Drew Michael: Red Blue Green

Follows Drew Michael and his issues with relationships, social media, and comedy as therapy.

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