Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?

In this extract from his new book, Johann Hari, who took antidepressants for 14 years, calls for a new approach

In the 1970s, a truth was accidentally discovered about depression one that was quickly swept aside, because its implications were too inconvenient, and too explosive. American psychiatrists had produced a book that would lay out, in detail, all the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so they could be identified and treated in the same way across the United States. It was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the latest edition, they laid out nine symptoms that a patient has to show to be diagnosed with depression like, for example, decreased interest in pleasure or persistent low mood. For a doctor to conclude you were depressed, you had to show five of these symptoms over several weeks.

The manual was sent out to doctors across the US and they began to use it to diagnose people. However, after a while they came back to the authors and pointed out something that was bothering them. If they followed this guide, they had to diagnose every grieving person who came to them as depressed and start giving them medical treatment. If you lose someone, it turns out that these symptoms will come to you automatically. So, the doctors wanted to know, are we supposed to start drugging all the bereaved people in America?

The authors conferred, and they decided that there would be a special clause added to the list of symptoms of depression. None of this applies, they said, if you have lost somebody you love in the past year. In that situation, all these symptoms are natural, and not a disorder. It was called the grief exception, and it seemed to resolve the problem.

Then, as the years and decades passed, doctors on the frontline started to come back with another question. All over the world, they were being encouraged to tell patients that depression is, in fact, just the result of a spontaneous chemical imbalance in your brain it is produced by low serotonin, or a natural lack of some other chemical. Its not caused by your life its caused by your broken brain. Some of the doctors began to ask how this fitted with the grief exception. If you agree that the symptoms of depression are a logical and understandable response to one set of life circumstances losing a loved one might they not be an understandable response to other situations? What about if you lose your job? What if you are stuck in a job that you hate for the next 40 years? What about if you are alone and friendless?

The grief exception seemed to have blasted a hole in the claim that the causes of depression are sealed away in your skull. It suggested that there are causes out here, in the world, and they needed to be investigated and solved there. This was a debate that mainstream psychiatry (with some exceptions) did not want to have. So, they responded in a simple way by whittling away the grief exception. With each new edition of the manual they reduced the period of grief that you were allowed before being labelled mentally ill down to a few months and then, finally, to nothing at all. Now, if your baby dies at 10am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01am and start drugging you straight away.

Dr Joanne Cacciatore, of Arizona State University, became a leading expert on the grief exception after her own baby, Cheyenne, died during childbirth. She had seen many grieving people being told that they were mentally ill for showing distress. She told me this debate reveals a key problem with how we talk about depression, anxiety and other forms of suffering: we dont, she said, consider context. We act like human distress can be assessed solely on a checklist that can be separated out from our lives, and labelled as brain diseases. If we started to take peoples actual lives into account when we treat depression and anxiety, Joanne explained, it would require an entire system overhaul. She told me that when you have a person with extreme human distress, [we need to] stop treating the symptoms. The symptoms are a messenger of a deeper problem. Lets get to the deeper problem.

*****

I was a teenager when I swallowed my first antidepressant. I was standing in the weak English sunshine, outside a pharmacy in a shopping centre in London. The tablet was white and small, and as I swallowed, it felt like a chemical kiss. That morning I had gone to see my doctor and I had told him crouched, embarrassed that pain was leaking out of me uncontrollably, like a bad smell, and I had felt this way for several years. In reply, he told me a story. There is a chemical called serotonin that makes people feel good, he said, and some people are naturally lacking it in their brains. You are clearly one of those people. There are now, thankfully, new drugs that will restore your serotonin level to that of a normal person. Take them, and you will be well. At last, I understood what had been happening to me, and why.

However, a few months into my drugging, something odd happened. The pain started to seep through again. Before long, I felt as bad as I had at the start. I went back to my doctor, and he told me that I was clearly on too low a dose. And so, 20 milligrams became 30 milligrams; the white pill became blue. I felt better for several months. And then the pain came back through once more. My dose kept being jacked up, until I was on 80mg, where it stayed for many years, with only a few short breaks. And still the pain broke back through.

I started to research my book, Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, because I was puzzled by two mysteries. Why was I still depressed when I was doing everything I had been told to do? I had identified the low serotonin in my brain, and I was boosting my serotonin levels yet I still felt awful. But there was a deeper mystery still. Why were so many other people across the western world feeling like me? Around one in five US adults are taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem. In Britain, antidepressant prescriptions have doubled in a decade, to the point where now one in 11 of us drug ourselves to deal with these feelings. What has been causing depression and its twin, anxiety, to spiral in this way? I began to ask myself: could it really be that in our separate heads, all of us had brain chemistries that were spontaneously malfunctioning at the same time?

To find the answers, I ended up going on a 40,000-mile journey across the world and back. I talked to the leading social scientists investigating these questions, and to people who have been overcoming depression in unexpected ways from an Amish village in Indiana, to a Brazilian city that banned advertising and a laboratory in Baltimore conducting a startling wave of experiments. From these people, I learned the best scientific evidence about what really causes depression and anxiety. They taught me that it is not what we have been told it is up to now. I found there is evidence that seven specific factors in the way we are living today are causing depression and anxiety to rise alongside two real biological factors (such as your genes) that can combine with these forces to make it worse.

Once I learned this, I was able to see that a very different set of solutions to my depression and to our depression had been waiting for me all along.

To understand this different way of thinking, though, I had to first investigate the old story, the one that had given me so much relief at first. Professor Irving Kirsch at Harvard University is the Sherlock Holmes of chemical antidepressants the man who has scrutinised the evidence about giving drugs to depressed and anxious people most closely in the world. In the 1990s, he prescribed chemical antidepressants to his patients with confidence. He knew the published scientific evidence, and it was clear: it showed that 70% of people who took them got significantly better. He began to investigate this further, and put in a freedom of information request to get the data that the drug companies had been privately gathering into these drugs. He was confident that he would find all sorts of other positive effects but then he bumped into something peculiar.

Illustration
Illustration by Michael Driver.

We all know that when you take selfies, you take 30 pictures, throw away the 29 where you look bleary-eyed or double-chinned, and pick out the best one to be your Tinder profile picture. It turned out that the drug companies who fund almost all the research into these drugs were taking this approach to studying chemical antidepressants. They would fund huge numbers of studies, throw away all the ones that suggested the drugs had very limited effects, and then only release the ones that showed success. To give one example: in one trial, the drug was given to 245 patients, but the drug company published the results for only 27 of them. Those 27 patients happened to be the ones the drug seemed to work for. Suddenly, Professor Kirsch realised that the 70% figure couldnt be right.

It turns out that between 65 and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year. I had thought that I was freakish for remaining depressed while on these drugs. In fact, Kirsch explained to me in Massachusetts, I was totally typical. These drugs are having a positive effect for some people but they clearly cant be the main solution for the majority of us, because were still depressed even when we take them. At the moment, we offer depressed people a menu with only one option on it. I certainly dont want to take anything off the menu but I realised, as I spent time with him, that we would have to expand the menu.

This led Professor Kirsch to ask a more basic question, one he was surprised to be asking. How do we know depression is even caused by low serotonin at all? When he began to dig, it turned out that the evidence was strikingly shaky. Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is deeply misleading and unscientific. Dr David Healy told me: There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy.

I didnt want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldnt ignore it.

*****

So, what is really going on? When I interviewed social scientists all over the world from So Paulo to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London I started to see an unexpected picture emerge. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel were good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isnt meeting those psychological needs for many perhaps most people. I kept learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.

Lets look at one of those causes, and one of the solutions we can begin to see if we understand it differently. There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. Its a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are engaged in their work they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are not engaged, which is defined as sleepwalking through their workday. And 24% are actively disengaged: they hate it.

A
Antidepressant prescriptions have doubled over the last decade. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Most of the depressed and anxious people I know, I realised, are in the 87% who dont like their work. I started to dig around to see if there is any evidence that this might be related to depression. It turned out that a breakthrough had been made in answering this question in the 1970s, by an Australian scientist called Michael Marmot. He wanted to investigate what causes stress in the workplace and believed hed found the perfect lab in which to discover the answer: the British civil service, based in Whitehall. This small army of bureaucrats was divided into 19 different layers, from the permanent secretary at the top, down to the typists. What he wanted to know, at first, was: whos more likely to have a stress-related heart attack the big boss at the top, or somebody below him?

Everybody told him: youre wasting your time. Obviously, the boss is going to be more stressed because hes got more responsibility. But when Marmot published his results, he revealed the truth to be the exact opposite. The lower an employee ranked in the hierarchy, the higher their stress levels and likelihood of having a heart attack. Now he wanted to know: why?

And thats when, after two more years studying civil servants, he discovered the biggest factor. It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. When you are controlled, you cant create meaning out of your work.

Suddenly, the depression of many of my friends, even those in fancy jobs who spend most of their waking hours feeling controlled and unappreciated started to look not like a problem with their brains, but a problem with their environments. There are, I discovered, many causes of depression like this. However, my journey was not simply about finding the reasons why we feel so bad. The core was about finding out how we can feel better how we can find real and lasting antidepressants that work for most of us, beyond only the packs of pills we have been offered as often the sole item on the menu for the depressed and anxious. I kept thinking about what Dr Cacciatore had taught me we have to deal with the deeper problems that are causing all this distress.

I found the beginnings of an answer to the epidemic of meaningless work in Baltimore. Meredith Mitchell used to wake up every morning with her heart racing with anxiety. She dreaded her office job. So she took a bold step one that lots of people thought was crazy. Her husband, Josh, and their friends had worked for years in a bike store, where they were ordered around and constantly felt insecure, Most of them were depressed. One day, they decided to set up their own bike store, but they wanted to run it differently. Instead of having one guy at the top giving orders, they would run it as a democratic co-operative. This meant they would make decisions collectively, they would share out the best and worst jobs and they would all, together, be the boss. It would be like a busy democratic tribe. When I went to their store Baltimore Bicycle Works the staff explained how, in this different environment, their persistent depression and anxiety had largely lifted.

Its not that their individual tasks had changed much. They fixed bikes before; they fix bikes now. But they had dealt with the unmet psychological needs that were making them feel so bad by giving themselves autonomy and control over their work. Josh had seen for himself that depressions are very often, as he put it, rational reactions to the situation, not some kind of biological break. He told me there is no need to run businesses anywhere in the old humiliating, depressing way we could move together, as a culture, to workers controlling their own workplaces.

*****

With each of the nine causes of depression and anxiety I learned about, I kept being taught startling facts and arguments like this that forced me to think differently. Professor John Cacioppo of Chicago University taught me that being acutely lonely is as stressful as being punched in the face by a stranger and massively increases your risk of depression. Dr Vincent Felitti in San Diego showed me that surviving severe childhood trauma makes you 3,100% more likely to attempt suicide as an adult. Professor Michael Chandler in Vancouver explained to me that if a community feels it has no control over the big decisions affecting it, the suicide rate will shoot up.

This new evidence forces us to seek out a very different kind of solution to our despair crisis. One person in particular helped me to unlock how to think about this. In the early days of the 21st century, a South African psychiatrist named Derek Summerfeld went to Cambodia, at a time when antidepressants were first being introduced there. He began to explain the concept to the doctors he met. They listened patiently and then told him they didnt need these new antidepressants, because they already had anti-depressants that work. He assumed they were talking about some kind of herbal remedy.

He asked them to explain, and they told him about a rice farmer they knew whose left leg was blown off by a landmine. He was fitted with a new limb, but he felt constantly anxious about the future, and was filled with despair. The doctors sat with him, and talked through his troubles. They realised that even with his new artificial limb, his old jobworking in the rice paddieswas leaving him constantly stressed and in physical pain, and that was making him want to just stop living. So they had an idea. They believed that if he became a dairy farmer, he could live differently. So they bought him a cow. In the months and years that followed, his life changed. His depressionwhich had been profoundwent away. You see, doctor, they told him, the cow was an antidepressant.

To them, finding an antidepressant didnt mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place. We can do the same. Some of these solutions are things we can do as individuals, in our private lives. Some require bigger social shifts, which we can only achieve together, as citizens. But all of them require us to change our understanding of what depression and anxiety really are.

This is radical, but it is not, I discovered, a maverick position. In its official statement for World Health Day in 2017, the United Nations reviewed the best evidence and concluded that the dominant biomedical narrative of depression is based on biased and selective use of research outcomes that must be abandoned. We need to move from focusing on chemical imbalances, they said, to focusing more on power imbalances.

After I learned all this, and what it means for us all, I started to long for the power to go back in time and speak to my teenage self on the day he was told a story about his depression that was going to send him off in the wrong direction for so many years. I wanted to tell him: This pain you are feeling is not a pathology. Its not crazy. It is a signal that your natural psychological needs are not being met. It is a form of grief for yourself, and for the culture you live in going so wrong. I know how much it hurts. I know how deeply it cuts you. But you need to listen to this signal. We all need to listen to the people around us sending out this signal. It is telling you what is going wrong. It is telling you that you need to be connected in so many deep and stirring ways that you arent yet but you can be, one day.

If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.

This is an edited extract from Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, published by Bloomsbury on 11 January (16.99). To order a copy for 14.44 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99. It will be available in audio at audible.co.uk

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/07/is-everything-you-think-you-know-about-depression-wrong-johann-hari-lost-connections

It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech

For most of modern history, the easiest way to block the spread of an idea was to keep it from being mechanically disseminated. Shutter the news­paper, pressure the broad­cast chief, install an official censor at the publishing house. Or, if push came to shove, hold a loaded gun to the announcer’s head.

This actually happened once in Turkey. It was the spring of 1960, and a group of military officers had just seized control of the government and the national media, imposing an information blackout to suppress the coordination of any threats to their coup. But inconveniently for the conspirators, a highly anticipated soccer game between Turkey and Scotland was scheduled to take place in the capital two weeks after their takeover. Matches like this were broadcast live on national radio, with an announcer calling the game, play by play. People all across Turkey would huddle around their sets, cheering on the national team.

Canceling the match was too risky for the junta; doing so might incite a protest. But what if the announcer said something political on live radio? A single remark could tip the country into chaos. So the officers came up with the obvious solution: They kept several guns trained on the announcer for the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes of the live broadcast.

It was still a risk, but a managed one. After all, there was only one announcer to threaten: a single bottleneck to control of the airwaves.

Variations on this general playbook for censorship—find the right choke point, then squeeze—were once the norm all around the world. That’s because, until recently, broadcasting and publishing were difficult and expensive affairs, their infrastructures riddled with bottlenecks and concentrated in a few hands.

But today that playbook is all but obsolete. Whose throat do you squeeze when anyone can set up a Twitter account in seconds, and when almost any event is recorded by smartphone-­wielding mem­­bers of the public? When protests broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, a single livestreamer named Mustafa Hussein reportedly garnered an audience comparable in size to CNN’s for a short while. If a Bosnian Croat war criminal drinks poison in a courtroom, all of Twitter knows about it in minutes.

February 2018. Subscribe to WIRED.

Sean Freeman

In today’s networked environment, when anyone can broadcast live or post their thoughts to a social network, it would seem that censorship ought to be impossible. This should be the golden age of free speech.

And sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by alt-right trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake videos.)

Or let’s say you were the one who posted that video. If so, is anyone even watching it? Or has it been lost in a sea of posts from hundreds of millions of content pro­ducers? Does it play well with Facebook’s algorithm? Is YouTube recommending it?

Maybe you’re lucky and you’ve hit a jackpot in today’s algorithmic public sphere: an audience that either loves you or hates you. Is your post racking up the likes and shares? Or is it raking in a different kind of “engagement”: Have you received thousands of messages, mentions, notifications, and emails threatening and mocking you? Have you been doxed for your trouble? Have invisible, angry hordes ordered 100 pizzas to your house? Did they call in a SWAT team—men in black arriving, guns drawn, in the middle of dinner?

Standing there, your hands over your head, you may feel like you’ve run afoul of the awesome power of the state for speaking your mind. But really you just pissed off 4chan. Or entertained them. Either way, congratulations: You’ve found an audience.

Here’s how this golden age of speech actually works: In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure. It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google (which owns YouTube), and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.

These companies—which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free expression—have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen; they’ve come to dominate media distribution, and they increasingly stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business is mundane: They’re ad brokers. To virtually anyone who wants to pay them, they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs. They use massive surveillance of our behavior, online and off, to generate increasingly accurate, automated predictions of what advertisements we are most susceptible to and what content will keep us clicking, tapping, and scrolling down a bottomless feed.

So what does this algorithmic public sphere tend to feed us? In tech parlance, Facebook and YouTube are “optimized for engagement,” which their defenders will tell you means that they’re just giving us what we want. But there’s nothing natural or inevitable about the specific ways that Facebook and YouTube corral our attention. The patterns, by now, are well known. As Buzzfeed famously reported in November 2016, “top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.”

Humans are a social species, equipped with few defenses against the natural world beyond our ability to acquire knowledge and stay in groups that work together. We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them—in what the company’s first president, Sean Parker, recently called “a social-­validation feedback loop.”

Sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your lying eyes.

There are, moreover, no nutritional labels in this cafeteria. For Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, all speech—whether it’s a breaking news story, a saccharine animal video, an anti-Semitic meme, or a clever advertisement for razors—is but “content,” each post just another slice of pie on the carousel. A personal post looks almost the same as an ad, which looks very similar to a New York Times article, which has much the same visual feel as a fake newspaper created in an afternoon.

What’s more, all this online speech is no longer public in any traditional sense. Sure, Facebook and Twitter sometimes feel like places where masses of people experience things together simultaneously. But in reality, posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen by screen. Today’s phantom public sphere has been fragmented and submerged into billions of individual capillaries. Yes, mass discourse has become far easier for everyone to participate in—but it has simultaneously become a set of private conversations happening behind your back. Behind everyone’s backs.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of this invalidates much of what we think about free speech—conceptually, legally, and ethically.

The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out. They look like epidemics of disinformation, meant to undercut the credibility of valid information sources. They look like bot-fueled campaigns of trolling and distraction, or piecemeal leaks of hacked materials, meant to swamp the attention of traditional media.

These tactics usually don’t break any laws or set off any First Amendment alarm bells. But they all serve the same purpose that the old forms of censorship did: They are the best available tools to stop ideas from spreading and gaining purchase. They can also make the big platforms a terrible place to interact with other people.

Even when the big platforms themselves suspend or boot someone off their networks for violating “community standards”—an act that does look to many people like old-fashioned censorship—it’s not technically an infringement on free speech, even if it is a display of immense platform power. Anyone in the world can still read what the far-right troll Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet has to say on the internet. What Twitter has denied him, by kicking him off, is attention.

Many more of the most noble old ideas about free speech simply don’t compute in the age of social media. John Stuart Mill’s notion that a “marketplace of ideas” will elevate the truth is flatly belied by the virality of fake news. And the famous American saying that “the best cure for bad speech is more speech”—a paraphrase of Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis—loses all its meaning when speech is at once mass but also nonpublic. How do you respond to what you cannot see? How can you cure the effects of “bad” speech with more speech when you have no means to target the same audience that received the original message?

This is not a call for nostalgia. In the past, marginalized voices had a hard time reaching a mass audience at all. They often never made it past the gatekeepers who put out the evening news, who worked and lived within a few blocks of one another in Manhattan and Washington, DC. The best that dissidents could do, often, was to engineer self-sacrificing public spectacles that those gatekeepers would find hard to ignore—as US civil rights leaders did when they sent schoolchildren out to march on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, drawing out the most naked forms of Southern police brutality for the cameras.

But back then, every political actor could at least see more or less what everyone else was seeing. Today, even the most powerful elites often cannot effectively convene the right swath of the public to counter viral messages. During the 2016 presidential election, as Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg reported for Bloomberg, the Trump campaign used so-called dark posts—nonpublic posts targeted at a specific audience—to discourage African Americans from voting in battleground states. The Clinton campaign could scarcely even monitor these messages, let alone directly counter them. Even if Hillary Clinton herself had taken to the evening news, that would not have been a way to reach the affected audience. Because only the Trump campaign and Facebook knew who the audience was.

It’s important to realize that, in using these dark posts, the Trump campaign wasn’t deviantly weaponizing an innocent tool. It was simply using Facebook exactly as it was designed to be used. The campaign did it cheaply, with Facebook staffers assisting right there in the office, as the tech company does for most large advertisers and political campaigns. Who cares where the speech comes from or what it does, as long as people see the ads? The rest is not Facebook’s department.

Mark Zuckerberg holds up Facebook’s mission to “connect the world” and “bring the world closer together” as proof of his company’s civic virtue. “In 2016, people had billions of interactions and open discussions on Facebook,” he said proudly in an online video, looking back at the US election. “Candidates had direct channels to communicate with tens of millions of citizens.”

This idea that more speech—more participation, more connection—constitutes the highest, most unalloyed good is a common refrain in the tech industry. But a historian would recognize this belief as a fallacy on its face. Connectivity is not a pony. Facebook doesn’t just connect democracy-­loving Egyptian dissidents and fans of the videogame Civilization; it brings together white supremacists, who can now assemble far more effectively. It helps connect the efforts of radical Buddhist monks in Myanmar, who now have much more potent tools for spreading incitement to ethnic cleansing—fueling the fastest- growing refugee crisis in the world.

The freedom of speech is an important democratic value, but it’s not the only one. In the liberal tradition, free speech is usually understood as a vehicle—a necessary condition for achieving certain other societal ideals: for creating a knowledgeable public; for engendering healthy, rational, and informed debate; for holding powerful people and institutions accountable; for keeping communities lively and vibrant. What we are seeing now is that when free speech is treated as an end and not a means, it is all too possible to thwart and distort everything it is supposed to deliver.

Creating a knowledgeable public requires at least some workable signals that distinguish truth from falsehood. Fostering a healthy, rational, and informed debate in a mass society requires mechanisms that elevate opposing viewpoints, preferably their best versions. To be clear, no public sphere has ever fully achieved these ideal conditions—but at least they were ideals to fail from. Today’s engagement algorithms, by contrast, espouse no ideals about a healthy public sphere.

The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech.

Some scientists predict that within the next few years, the number of children struggling with obesity will surpass the number struggling with hunger. Why? When the human condition was marked by hunger and famine, it made perfect sense to crave condensed calories and salt. Now we live in a food glut environment, and we have few genetic, cultural, or psychological defenses against this novel threat to our health. Similarly, we have few defenses against these novel and potent threats to the ideals of democratic speech, even as we drown in more speech than ever.

The stakes here are not low. In the past, it has taken generations for humans to develop political, cultural, and institutional antibodies to the novelty and upheaval of previous information revolutions. If The Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will came out now, they’d flop; but both debuted when film was still in its infancy, and their innovative use of the medium helped fuel the mass revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the rise of Nazism.

By this point, we’ve already seen enough to recognize that the core business model underlying the Big Tech platforms—harvesting attention with a massive surveillance infrastructure to allow for targeted, mostly automated advertising at very large scale—is far too compatible with authoritarianism, propaganda, misinformation, and polarization. The institutional antibodies that humanity has developed to protect against censorship and propaganda thus far—laws, journalistic codes of ethics, independent watchdogs, mass education—all evolved for a world in which choking a few gatekeepers and threatening a few individuals was an effective means to block speech. They are no longer sufficient.

But we don’t have to be resigned to the status quo. Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still no seat belts, airbags, emission controls, or mandatory crumple zones. The rules and incentive structures underlying how attention and surveillance work on the internet need to change. But in fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter, while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is fundamentally mistaken. There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs—and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. In the 20th century, the US passed laws that outlawed lead in paint and gasoline, that defined how much privacy a landlord needs to give his tenants, and that determined how much a phone company can surveil its customers. We can decide how we want to handle digital surveillance, attention-­channeling, harassment, data collection, and algorithmic decision­making. We just need to start the discussion. Now.


The Free Speech Issue

  • “Nice Website. It Would Be a Shame if Something Happened to It.”: Steven Johnson goes inside Cloudflare's decision to let an extremist stronghold burn.
  • Everything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You: Doug Bock Clark profiles Antifa’s secret weapon against far-right extremists.
  • Please, Silence Your Speech: Alice Gregory visits a startup that wants to neutralize your smartphone—and un-change the world.
  • The Best Hope for Civil Discourse on the Internet … Is on Reddit: Virginia Heffernan submits to Change My View.
  • 6 Tales of Censorship: What it's like to be suspended by Facebook, blocked by Trump, and more, in the subjects’ own words.

Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and an opinion writer for The New York Times.

This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/free-speech-issue-tech-turmoil-new-censorship/

Here are the people who read the most fake news, according to a first-of-its-kind study

Ya, we know what this guy reads.
Image: Corbis via Getty Images

A new study confirms your worst fears about fake news in the U.S. — it’s widespread, skews pro-Trump, and is mostly consumed by your conservative uncle.

Oh, and fact checking hasn’t worked at all.

A group of academic researchers have published what they are calling the first scientific, data-based study of Americans’ exposure to fake news in the month surrounding the 2016 U.S. election. 

Combining survey responses and browsing histories of a representative sample of 2,525 Americans, the researchers found that one in four news consumers visited a fake news between Oct. 7 and Nov. 14, 2017. 

The report also studied the content itself. Fake news skewed almost entirely pro-Trump, and was consumed most voraciously by the most politically conservative Americans, according to the researchers.

The researchers noted that fake news did have an impact, with a sizable portion of conservative Americans over 60 consuming around one fake news story per day during the time period studied.

“These results contribute to the ongoing debate about the problem of ‘filter bubbles’ by showing that the ‘echo chamber’ is deep (33.16 articles from fake news websites on average) but narrow (the group consuming so much fake news represents only 10% of the public),” wrote the study’s authors.

Even worse, the survey showed that attempts to counter fake news aren’t working. Fact-checking websites like Snopes or PolitiFact are failing to reach fake news readers. The study’s authors found that literally none of people who read a fake news article read the corresponding de-bunk from a fact checking site.

Entitled “Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the consumption of fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign,” political scientists Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College, Andrew Guess of Princeton University, and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter published the study on Dec. 20, 2016. 

They define “fake news” as “factually dubious for-profit articles” and used a previously published study that classified fake news websites and articles to inform their own categorization. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump regularly uses the term “fake news” to describe unfavorable coverage of his administration from legitimate news outlets.

Though the study’s data was gathered from October 7 – November 14 in 2016, the study comes at a time when fake news continues to dominate conversation at the highest levels of the media. 

The New York Times’ new publisher A. G. Sulzberger wrote in a letter to readers Monday that “misinformation is rising and trust in the media is declining as technology platforms elevate clickbait, rumor and propaganda over real journalism, and politicians jockey for advantage by inflaming suspicion of the press. Growing polarization is jeopardizing even the foundational assumption of common truths, the stuff that binds a society together.” 

Social media companies, most notably Facebook, continue to face scrutiny and censure for their role in spreading misinformation.

The study aims to answer questions about specifically who consumes fake news, the political bent of the news, and the extent of its dissemination. But it also examines the role of social media and whether fact checking reaches its intended readers. 

Facebook plays the largest role in leading readers to and disseminating fake news, and fact checking articles almost always fail to reach consumers of fake news. It does not tackle how fake news affected political perceptions or behavior, like voting.

Overall, the key findings of the study were:

  • 27.4 percent of Americans over the age of 18 – which translates to more than 65 million people – visited a pro-Trump or pro-Clinton fake news website during the time surveyed.

  • Fake news comprised 2.6 percent of all hard news consumed during that period.

  • Fake news skews conservative: of the average 5.4 fake news articles readers consumed, 5 were pro-Trump. 

  • There are more conservative fake news viewers than liberal ones: 65.9 percent of the 10 percent most conservative voters visited at least one pro-Trump fake news site.

  • 40 percent of Trump supporters and 15 percent of Clinton supporters visited at least one fake news article.

  • Americans 60 years and older read the most fake news.

  • People were more likely to visit Facebook immediately prior to reading a fake news article than any other social media site, including Twitter, and even Google and GMail.

  • Only half of the people who had visited a fake news website had also visited a fact-checking site. 

  • None of the fake news readers saw a fact check article specifically debunking a piece of fake news they had consumed.

Yikes.

Despite this bleak picture of the reach of fake news, especially amongst older and conservative Americans, the study characterizes fake news as more of a supplement to an already polarized media diet.

“In general, fake news consumption seems to be a complement to, rather than a substitute for, hard news,” the authors write. “Visits to fake news websites are highest among people who consume the most hard news and do not measurably decrease among the most politically knowledgeable individuals.”

The authors also note the study’s limits: it only examined website visits, which exclude consumption on mobile devices and social media. Considering that as of July 2017, 85 percent of adults consume news on their smart phones “at least some of the time,” according to Pew, that’s a pretty huge exclusion. 

It would be desirable to observe fake news consumption on mobile devices and social media platforms directly and to evaluate the effects of exposure to misinformation on people’s factual beliefs and attitudes toward candidates and parties. Future research should evaluate selective exposure to other forms of hyper-politicized media including hyperpartisan Twitter feeds and Facebook groups, internet forums such as Reddit, more established but often factually questionable websites like Breitbart, and more traditional media like talk radio and cable news

Ya, that would probably be helpful to understanding the scope of the fake news problem in America. But if studies like this one serve as a sort of meta-fact check for the media and news consumers as a whole, according to this study, that information is unlikely to reach the readers who should know about it most. So it’s definitely a good idea to familiarize yourself with how to spot and fight fake news ASAP.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2018/01/02/fake-news-scientific-study/

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop faces new false advertising claims

Nonprofit group Truth in Advertising claims Goop is exploiting women by marketing products as having the ability to treat diseases and disorders

Goop, the lifestyle and publishing company founded by Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow, is facing new criticisms from an advertising watchdog for making false claims promoting almost 50 products, including a Carnalian crystal claimed to treat infertility and the now-infamous jade vaginal egg promoted as preventing uterine prolapse.

The new claims against Goop were lodged with two California district attorneys connected to the California Food, Drug and Medical Task Force by Truth in Advertising (Tina), a nonprofit group that says it conducted an investigation into Goop for using unsubstantiated, and therefore deceptive, health and disease-treatment claims to market many of its products.

In addition, the group drew attention to claims that walking barefoot cures insomnia and that the companys signature perfume improves memory and can work as antibiotics.

Bonnie Patten, the groups executive director, said that marketing products as having the ability to treat diseases and disorders not only violates established law but is a terribly deceptive marketing ploy that is being used by Goop to exploit women for its own financial gain.

Tina said it had contacted Paltrows firm earlier this month to remedy the deceptive marketing. It noted that Goop had since made limited changes and called on California authorities to look into the matter further.

Last month, Goop published a letter defending its unorthodox health practices. Being dismissive of discourse, of questions from patients, of practices that women might find empowering or healing, of daring to poke at a long-held beliefseems like the most dangerous practice of all.

In the latest salvo against the company, the adverting watchdog listed dozens more products it says Goop makes claims for that are unsubstantiated, and therefore deceptive, health and disease-treatment claims to market many of its products.

The complaint also listed Goops essential oils claimed to help tremendously with chronic issues from anxiety and depression to migraines; Goops Black Rose Bar, brilliant for treating acne, eczema and psoriasis; Goops Eau De Parfum: Edition 02, said to contain ingredients that improve memory, treat colds and work as antibiotics; and Goops Aromatic Stress Treatment that treats the nerves (its been shown to help alleviate panic attacks).

In June, Paltrow, 44, conceded on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that she is sometimes baffled by the unconventional products and practices her brand promotes. Asked about the practice of earthing walking barefoot she ventured theres some sort of electromagnetic thing that were missing. Its good to take your shoes off in the grass.

Paltrow eventually conceded: I dont know what the fuck we talk about!

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/24/gwyneth-paltrows-goop-faces-new-false-advertising-claims

Facebook’s original video is something publishers are actually excited for

Virtually Dating" is a five-episode series produced by Cond Nast Entertainment.
Image: conde nast entertainment

For all of Facebook’s big talk about video, it was still just part of the almighty News Feed.

Publishers hoping to capture a moment of a user’s attention looked for thumb-stopping moments, which gave rise to a new and not-terribly compelling format of video that remains endemic to Facebook.

Watch is something different. Facebook’s new original video program features TV-like shows made by media companies. Perhaps most importantly, the shows are showcased in a brand new section of the social network.

That’s enough to convince publishers, who have spent years contorting to fit into Facebook’s plans, that Watch could be big.

“We are really excited,” said Dawn Ostroff, president of Cond Nast Entertainment, which is producing a dating show with a virtual reality twist for Watch. “This is a new opportunity, a new type of content. [Facebook’s] trying to open up a whole new area for content makers.”

Oren Katzeff, Tastemade‘s head of programming, offered similar excitement. The food-focused media company has created six shows for Facebook Watch.

“Were able to be a part of appointment viewing, and thats huge,” Katzeff said

That enthusiasm is quite unlike how publishers have previously behaved when asked about their work with and on Facebook. Typically, there’s a roll of the eyes, a sigh, and a list of grievances.

“The problem with Facebook’s entire ‘news team’ is that they’re glorified client services people,” the head of digital operations at a major news outlet told Mashable at F8, the company’s annual developer conference in April.

Now, there’s a new sense of hope among the media industry. Facebook’s massive scale has always tempted publishers, but revenue has been elusive. Facebook’s new program, with its emphasis on quality content and less on thumb-bait, seems ready-made for high-end ads. These original shows, in concept, also compete with what’s available live on TV and bingeable on Netflix and Huluplatforms that most publishers haven’t cracked.

“I think it is where people will go to watch on-demand programming and live news, and I intend Cheddar to be the leading live news player on Watch,” Jon Steinberg, CEO of business news show Cheddar, wrote in a private Twitter message.

Facebook’s Watch platform

Image: facebook

Simultaneously, there’s little stress for publishers about potential revenuefor now. Facebook has guaranteed minimum earnings for each episode, according to an executive at a participating publisher who could not be named since financial discussions are private. Facebook not only pays a licensing fee to publishers but also will split revenue from mid-roll ads.

It’s not the first time Facebook has cut checks for publishers to support video efforts. Last year, Facebook paid publishers, including Mashable, to produce live videos, requiring a minimum number of minutes streamed per month. (Mashable is also a Watch partner.)

But Facebook’s live video effort was slow to start, and publishers didn’t reap in rewardsespecially when it came to the return of their investments, several participants told Mashable.

It wasn’t all their fault or Facebook’s. For one, Facebook users weren’t really used to going to the site or the app for live video. Since then, Facebook has released several products, including a redesigned version of the current video tab and a TV app, both of which better support the new ecosystem. Publishers’ series will be spotlighted on the Facebook’s new tab for shows, for example. The experience is slowly being rolled out to users over the next month.

Participating publishers are going all in.

Tastemade produced six shows over the last few months and is still wrapping up a couple. Three are food focused: Kitchen Little, Struggle Meals, and Food To Die For. Two are more home and lifestyle: Move-In Day and Safe Deposit. The sixth is a late-night comedy show with celebrity interviews, hosted by an animated taco, called Let’s Taco Bout It.

“Tomas grew up as a Taco, and he had adopted parents, and his life goal has been to discover who his true parents are. He tries to relate with his guests,” Katzeff said.

Tomas Taco

Image: tastemade

What’s exciting here is not just an animated taco, but the fact that these publishers are well positioned to scale these tacos… err video series.

Maybe an animated taco won’t appeal to all 2 billion of Facebook’s users, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. Unlike TV, these shows aren’t locked into specific networks with a specific time-slot. Rather, they can be directed to actual people, based on their interests (Facebook likes) and demographic information.

“With Facebook Watch, the era of audience parting has truly arrived,” wrote Nick Cicero of Delmondo, a Facebook media solutions partner for video analytics.

Unlike TV, Facebook has a built-in platform for conversation. Ostroff of Cond Nast Entertainment said she believed Facebook greenlighted Virtually Dating, a show where blind dates take place in a virtual reality world, for the Watch platform because of the potential for online conversation.

“If it works, it was something that could go viral or a show that everyone could weigh in on,” Ostroff said. “Were excited about learning, learning how the viewer and the consumer is going to use [Watch]. Whats going to succeed and whats not.”

No one is saying it’s been easy. Several publishers told Mashable they have been careful to make sure they are staying in budget. They also noted that it is still a testone that they will be closely monitoring. Now that the shows are near launch, publishers said they will need to focus on promotion.

Watch “is really great for those who were actually able to get into the program,” said Jarrett Moreno, cofounder of ATTN, which has created Health Hacks starring Jessica Alba and We Need to Talk with Nev Schulman and Laura Perlongo.”It’s a priority for Facebook. They’ve emphasized that.”

A priority, for now.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/12/facebook-watch-original-video-publishers-pitchfork/

Stop children bingeing on social media during holidays, parents urged

Childrens commissioner says too much time is spent online as she launches five a day campaign

The childrens commissioner has warned parents that they must intervene to stop their children overusing social media and consuming time online like junk food.

As web use reaches record highs among children, Anne Longfield has attacked the new methods social media giants are using to draw them into spending more time staring at tablets and smartphones. In an interview with the Observer, she said that parents should step up and be proactive in stopping their children from bingeing on the internet during the summer holidays.

Launching a campaign to help parents to regulate their childrens internet use, she said time online should be balanced in the same way that parents regulate their childrens diets. Its something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food, she said.

None of us as parents would want our children to eat junk food all the time double cheeseburger, chips, every day, every meal. For those same reasons we shouldnt want our children to do the same with their online time.

When phones, social media and games make us feel worried, stressed and out of control, it means we havent got the balance right. With your diet, you know that, because you dont feel that good. Its the same with social media.

Her warning comes after a report said that children in all age groups are spending ever-longer periods online. The internet overtook television as the top media pastime for British children last year, according to the media regulator Ofcom. Children aged five to 15 are spending 15 hours a week online.

Last year the time three- and four-year-olds spent online increased from six hours 48 minutes to eight hours 18 minutes a week, while 12- to 15-year-olds now spend more than 20 hours online.

Facebook
Facebook Photograph: Thomas White/Reuters

Longfield said children should be helped to understand that sites encourage them to click on another game or video based on what they had just played. She had been pressuring Facebook to make it easier for children to report things they are worried about or switch off certain features.

She also criticised a feature on Snapchat, known as the Snapstreak, that she said encouraged children to increase their internet use. A streak is created when friends share photos over three consecutive days, but it is destroyed if a day is missed. Longfield compared the feature to a chain letter.

You find children saying to parents that they have 30 people that they have to do every day and if they dont, they drop the streak, and everyone will see, she said. And then does that mean they dont like me any more? Its almost like chain letters. There are children who say they cant not be online, and I think thats really worrying.

I want Facebook and all the other social media companies to be as proactive as they can about creating a good place and a safe place for kids to be. At the same time I want them to stop using the algorithms and the targeting that get kids addicted all those things that we know can be very stressful and very destructive. However, it doesnt mean that parents themselves can step aside and wait for that to happen.

Longfield said it was not helpful to recommend an absolute time limit on how long children should be online. Instead, she is announcing a digital five-a-day campaign, designed to advise parents and children on a healthy online diet. Rather than switching off the wifi, parents should help children to use their internet time to learn new skills, interact positively with friends and be creative.

Were not saying its parents fault, or that they should tell their children what to do, because ultimately this is part of life. All of those kids will have grown up with that being the normality. But we do think there is a role here for parents to step up, to stop waiting for others to come up with the solution, be that government or [social media] companies. We want [children] to feel informed, confident and empowered, and have the confidence to say, no, Im not going to do that. That same confidence we want for children, we want for parents, too.

She said Facebook and other social media giants are not coming forward at quite the speed I would like them to on making it easier to protect children.

There is so much more they could do, she said. These are clever, clever people, who know their industry well, their tech abilities well. They can do things if they want that I dont even know exist, and there are some very good examples of them using their expertise, for example by spotting people who have suicidal tendencies. But they are not doing [enough] yet.

Snapchat and Facebook declined to comment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/aug/05/children-bingeing-social-media-anne-longfield-childrens-commissioner

Turkish activists decry attack on press freedom as journalists stand trial

Charges include claims that Cumhuriyet journalists helped the separatist Kurdistan Workers party and Glen movement

The trial of 17 reporters and executives from Cumhuriyet, one of Turkeys last standing opposition newspapers, is set to begin on Monday with rights activists decrying the continuing muzzling of free speech in one of the worlds largest jailers of journalists.

The charges include accusations that the newspapers journalists aided the separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the Fethullah Glen movement, which is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated last years coup attempt, and complaints of irregularities in the elections of the organisations board of executives.

Rights activists say the trial is an assault on freedom of expression and the accusations are absurd, because Cumhuriyet, the countrys newspaper of record that is committed to secularism, has long warned of the dangers of the Glen movement, which itself has long been at odds with the PKK.

They argue that the other charges are an attempt at replacing the newspapers board of directors with government appointees more pliable to the ruling partys influence.

I have been a journalist for a long time and have dealt with this for a long time, said Aydn Engin, a veteran journalist with Cumhuriyet who is also standing trial on Monday, but had been released for health reasons. I will say that I am ashamed and in agony for my country because of these irrational accusations, he said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoan and his ruling Justice and Development (AK) party have, for years worked to dismantle or co-opt Turkeys free press. That crackdown has accelerated in the year since last Julys coup, with more than 150 journalists believed to be behind bars in Turkey, the highest in the world ahead of China and Egypt.

As of March this year, 173 media outlets had been shut down, including newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites and news agencies. More than 2,500 journalists have been laid off as part of the closures and 800 have had their press cards revoked, according to the Republican Peoples party (CHP), the main opposition bloc.

The government has also exerted pressure on media outlets that do not toe the official line by pressuring advertisers not to do business with them and pursuing cases of defamation, or by slapping them with large, unpayable fines. After media outlets that once belonged to the Glen movement were seized, the government-appointed trustee boards that have transformed those newspapers and TV stations into a loyalist press.

These loyalist media outlets are often referred to as penguin media because a TV station that was fearful of antagonising the government during the Gezi protests of 2013 aired a documentary about penguins instead of broadcasting the protests.

That threat of a trustee board hangs over Cumhuriyet, a newspaper that was founded in 1924 and is the only serious newspaper in circulation that is vehemently opposed to government policies. It has described the crackdown after the coup in which the government dismissed or detained tens of thousands of civil servants, police and military officers, academics, judges and journalists as a witch-hunt, and has repeatedly criticised Erdoan as an authoritarian attempting to destroy democracy.

Erdoan has described democracy as a train before, said Engin, referring to a quote by the president that described democracy as a train that one can get off from once you reach you destination. Its going to be worse for Cumhuriyet. Maybe it will be a shut down, a quick and painless death, or we will suffocate slowly.

The newspaper has also joined calls for a ceasefire and peaceful resolution to the conflict with the PKK at a time when the government had opted for a security-focused response amid heightened tensions. The former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, is in exile after being prosecuted for a 2014 article that revealed the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) was sending weapons across the border into Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid, a story that the authorities say was leaked by Glenist conspirators.

On Monday, a week of hearings is expected to begin in the Cumhuriyet case against 17 of the newspapers journalists and executives. The case will commence with a reading out of the indictment and opening defense statements, and they expect for the presiding judge to decide whether to release the defendants on bail by Friday.

This trial offers the government another opportunity to change course in its campaign against Turkeys independent media, said Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer with P24, an organisation that advocates for press freedom and supports Turkish journalists on trial. Journalism is not a crime. Prosecutors should stop dressing up legitimate criticism as terrorism and harassing journalists through the courts.

Blent zdoan, the managing editor of Cumhuriyet, said in an interview with the Guardian that the trial was not just about press freedom, but about the governments campaign in the aftermath of the coup more broadly.

Its not just a struggle for free press, he said. Our arrested colleagues are people of a high moral and intellectual calibre. Its for everyone who lost their jobs, those who have been on hunger strike. Theyre struggling for both of us. Thats why I believe its a new start.

The arrest of journalists has earned Ankara criticism from abroad. Late last month, the UN human rights councils working group on arbitrary detentions issued a legal opinion arguing that the arrest of the Cumhuriyet staff contravened the universal declaration of human rights and was arbitrary. The panel of experts called on the Turkish government to release the journalists.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/24/turkish-activists-decry-attack-press-freedom-journalists-stand-trial

Popular social media sites ‘harm young people’s mental health’

Poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety

Four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young peoples mental health, with Instagram the most damaging, according to research by two health organisations.

Instagram has the most negative impact on young peoples mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young peoples feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact.

The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate childrens and young peoples body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

The findings follow growing concern among politicians, health bodies, doctors, charities and parents about young people suffering harm as a result of sexting, cyberbullying and social media reinforcing feelings of self-loathing and even the risk of them committing suicide.

Its interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people, said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which undertook the survey with the Young Health Movement.

She demanded tough measures to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young peoples mental health and wellbeing. Social media firms should bring in a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been using it a lot, while Instagram and similar platforms should alert users when photographs of people have been digitally manipulated, Cramer said.

The 1,479 young people surveyed were asked to rate the impact of the five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people cited its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories, notably awareness and understanding of other peoples health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

However, the leader of the UKs psychiatrists said the findings were too simplistic and unfairly blamed social media for the complex reasons why the mental health of so many young people is suffering.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives.. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media good and bad to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.

Young Minds, the charity which Theresa May visited last week on a campaign stop, backed the call for Instagram and other platforms to take further steps to protect young users.

Tom Madders, its director of campaigns and communications, said: Prompting young people about heavy usage and signposting to support they may need, on a platform that they identify with, could help many young people.

However, he also urged caution in how content accessed by young people on social media is perceived. Its also important to recognise that simply protecting young people from particular content types can never be the whole solution. We need to support young people so they understand the risks of how they behave online, and are empowered to make sense of and know how to respond to harmful content that slips through filters.

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel worried and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

May, who has made childrens mental health one of her priorities, highlighted social medias damaging effects in her shared society speech in January, saying: We know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, just over one in 10 young people said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.

In February, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, warned social media and technology firms that they could face sanctions, including through legislation, unless they did more to tackle sexting, cyberbullying and the trolling of young users.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-sites-harm-young-peoples-mental-health

Gwyneth Paltrow launches Goop as glossy Cond Nast magazine

Actor turned wellness guru who introduced world to vaginal steaming is to bring Goop brand to volatile magazine market

Gwyneth Paltrow, having conquered the worlds of acting, macrobiotic cookery and high-end fashion, is to launch a quarterly magazine published by Cond Nast. The magazine, named Goop after Paltrows lifestyle brand, will be available on newsstands from September.

The magazine will focus on wellness a trillion-dollar industry of which Paltrow has long been at the vanguard.

From its inception as an email newsletter in 2008, Goop has urged readers to take care of themselves, expensively, under the strapline urge the inner aspect. Goop has given advice on therapy, parenting, mysticism, sex, fashion, beauty, and kale-centric clean eating plans, many of which have been called into question by medical professionals.

Over the years many of Goops more unusual lifestyle suggestions vaginal steaming, sex bark, conscious uncoupling have won global headlines. Last year, its Christmas gift guide included a selection of crystals handpicked by the house shaman and a yurt costing $8,300.

Goop magazine is just the latest high-profile move in Goops recent, aggressive, expansion. Last week it was announced that Paltrow would host a one day wellness summit in Los Angeles in June with workshops and services including aura photography, crystal therapy and energy-boosting intravenous drips.

Earlier this month, the brand launched Edition 02, an artisanal $165 perfume with ingredients described as mystical, clairvoyant and homeopathic. Last September, it launched its own clothing line, Goop Label, selling blazers for $695 and shirts for $195.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/apr/28/gwyneth-paltrow-launches-goop-glossy-conde-nast-magazine