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Pro-Trump & Russian-Linked Twitter Accounts Are Posing As Ex-Democrats In New#WalkAway from this deceptive propaganda campaign Astroturfed Movement



Sledge and 817 others

Caroline O.Follow
#Feminist. Behavioral Scientist. Advocate. Wonk. Liberal in my politics & my use of snark.
Jul 5
Pro-Trump & Russian-Linked Twitter Accounts Are Posing As Ex-Democrats In New Astroturfed Movement
As pundits, politicians, and other Very Serious People spent last weekend admonishing “the left” for not being civil enough in their approach to pushing back against the Trump administration’s cruel policy of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents, a peculiar and carefully crafted narrative began to take shape on social media. A closer look at this emerging narrative—a self-described “grassroots movement” of former Democrats fleeing the party—revealed an astroturfed campaign driven by pro-Trump Twitter users and amplified by automated and Russian-linked accounts.
The surge of tweets started on Saturday, June 23, when news broke that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had been quietly asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, VA, the night before. The social media campaign really took off the next day, after Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said in a speech that administration officials who support Trump’s policies should expect to face pushback when they go out in public.
Most of the tweets were strikingly similar, and the vast majority pushed a very familiar narrative. Using the hashtag #WalkAway and claiming to be former Democrats, social media users shared their stories of leaving the Democratic party after being turned off by the “hate” and “division” of “the left.” Many of them cited the incidents involving Sanders and Waters as examples of the “intolerance” and “bullying” that supposedly drove them to support Trump after years—in some cases, decades—of voting for Democrats.
Tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway. (With the exception of one tweet sent on 6/23/2018, the above examples were all sent on 6/24/2018).
If this sounds familiar, there’s good reason for that—it very much echoes the “civility” debate playing out right now among the Very Important Thinkers and on the opinion pages of the Very Serious Newspapers. The basic narrative is one that we’ve heard countless times before, but this time it’s being exploited by a new cast of characters, and, at least in some cases, with the intent to deceive.
The primary functional goal of an astroturfed campaign like this one is to manipulate public opinion by gaming online algorithms to amplify certain content and push it onto people’s social media feeds and to the top of search engine results.
The high volume of tweets associated with this campaign is also indicative of an effort to drown out real, reasoned debate between humans and replace it with content that pushes fringe or extreme viewpoints into the mainstream, ultimately hijacking and derailing public discourse. This particular psychological operation also aimed to use issues like race and sexual orientation to widen existing divides and promote infighting within the progressive movement.
Finally, astroturfed social media campaigns like the “WalkAway Movement” aim to create manufactured consensus, or the illusion of popularity, so that an idea or position without much public support appears more popular and mainstream than it actually is.
Below, I present the anatomy of this astroturfed movement, starting with its origins and moving on to its artificial sources of amplification, the shaping of its narrative, and the boost it got from far-right and Russian media platforms including Breitbart and RT. I also discuss the potential functions of a psychological operation such as this one, as well as the lessons—and warnings—it offers as we head into the 2018 midterms and beyond.
The Anatomy Of An Astroturfed Movement
The “WalkAway Movement” officially started in May 2018, with posts dating back to May 19 on the group’s Facebook page. (Unofficially, the blueprint for this campaign has been in the works for quite some time.) Since its creation, the Facebook page has also added a public group for members to post content. As of June 30, the Facebook page had nearly 12,000 followers and the public group had almost 19,000 members. That breaks down to an average of 266 new followers a day and 422 new group members every day—quite a lot for a brand new “grassroots” movement.
WalkAway Facebook page and group.
A short time later, the campaign jumped over to Twitter, with user @usminority (“The Unsilent Minority”) spearheading the movement, or at least spearheading the public face of the movement. One of the first tweets that gained significant traction appeared on May 31, and was obviously meant to elicit the attention of influential Trump supporters (11 such accounts were tagged in the tweet). A handful of other tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway were widely circulated over the next couple of weeks, including one on June 11, one on June 14 and another on June 16, when Trump supporter Wayne Dupree joined in. All of those tweets garnered thousands of retweets and “likes.”
Early tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway.
Artificial Amplification
At that point, nothing about the hashtag would have been particularly noteworthy to the casual observer, besides the fact that it was pretty clearly manufactured by Trump supporters.
That all changed on the weekend of June 23, when a flood of tweets using the hashtag suddenly appeared within a span of just a few hours. Even more remarkable than the sheer volume of tweets and the speed at which they appeared was the engagement rate associated with each tweet, which ranged from several hundred to several thousand times the average Twitter engagement rate.
Engagement rates are calculated by looking at the number of likes, replies, retweets, and mentions received relative to your total following. There’s debate over the best formula to use, and a lot of factors can influence engagement rates, but in general, large Twitter accounts tend to have average engagement rates below 1 percent, or one reaction for every 100 Twitter followers. For accounts with smaller followings, this tends to be somewhat higher (i.e., for an account with 100 followers, an average of just two reactions per tweet would result in a 2 percent engagement rate). Of course, there are exceptions to the rule—some tweets go viral and far exceed the expected engagement rate—but exceptions to the rule are just that: exceptions.
In the case of the “WalkAway Movement,” every tweet was a deviation. The vast majority of (early) tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway were sent by accounts with less than 100 followers (many with less than 25), which in itself is an aberration and indicates that many of these accounts were likely created or repurposed recently, possibly for the explicit goal of amplifying this hashtag. Most of the tweets sent by these accounts had far more than 100 likes and retweets—and that’s not even looking at other types of reactions.
Low-follower, high-engagement tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway. Screenshots taken June 24, 2018.
So what do those numbers look like when expressed as engagement rates? Absolutely off-the-charts.
A sample of these tweets is pictured below, with the number of engagements and the engagement rate associated with each tweet displayed on the bottom row. The average engagement rate for tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway was over 500 percent, with many exceeding 1000 percent and some even reaching rates of 3000 to 4000 percent and above. I’ve tracked a lot of hashtags—including organic and non-organic movements—and I’ve never seen anything even close to this. This is not what a viral hashtag campaign looks like; this is what a manufactured and artificially amplified digital operation looks like.
Engagement rates for tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway ranged from 400% to over 4000%. Average engagement rates on Twitter are typically in the single digits.
Bots, Trolls, and Russian-Linked Accounts
Over the next several days, the hashtag was been picked up and amplified by Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations, as evidenced by its prominent position on Securing Democracy’s Hamilton 68 dashboard, which tracks activity in a network of 600 such accounts. These accounts include human users, bots, “trolls,” cyborgs (accounts that are automated some of the time and human-controlled at other times), and media accounts for propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik.
Early in the morning on June 25, #WalkAway appeared as a trending hashtag on Hamilton 68. Trending hashtags are measured by the percent increase in usage by accounts in the network, and are indicative of a new and rising trend. Later that morning, #WalkAway jumped into the top 10 hashtags overall, as measured by the number of times it was used in the past 48 hours by the accounts monitored by Hamilton 68. Over the next several days, #WalkAway climbed from the 7th most popular hashtag among accounts linked to Russian influence operations (on June 25) to the #1 hashtag (on June 30), where it has remained through the time of this writing (the early morning hours of July 5).
Left: June 25 at 12:30 a.m. EST. Center: June 25 at 11:31 a.m. EST. Right: June 26 at 4 a.m. EST
Left: June 28 at 8:30 a.m. EST. Right: June 29 at 2:24 a.m. EST
Left: June 30 at 11 p.m. EST. Center: July 1 at 5:15 a.m. EST. Right: July 2 at 5:15 a.m. EST
In addition to being amplified by accounts linked to Russian influence operations, the “WalkAway Movement” also got a boost from Russian propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik.
On June 28, Sputnik featured a segment about the campaign on its “Fault Lines” radio show. On July 3, RT promoted a video showcasing the movement on its YouTube page, and, a short time later, published an article about the campaign on its website (archived link). The founder of the “WalkAway Movement,” Brandon Straka, even did an exclusive interview with RT this week.
Russian propaganda outlet RT promoted the #WalkAway movement on multiple platforms, and even featured an interview with the founder.
The #WalkAway hashtag has also been among the top hashtags tweeted by accounts classified as bots and trolls by software developer Christopher Bouzy’s Bot Sentinel tool. In the network of bots and trolls tracked by this tool, #WalkAway emerged as the #2 hashtag on June 25 and quickly jumped to the top spot, where it remains as of July 2.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone using the hashtag is a bot.* There are obviously humans participating in this astroturfed campaign, but their tweets are being amplified by automated accounts, artificially expanding their reach and creating the impression that the “movement” is larger than it actually is. This also has the effect of gaming algorithms so that the hashtag and associated keywords appear as “suggested search terms” on platforms like Google, YouTube, and Twitter, while URLs associated with the campaign get pushed to the top of search engine results.
*Even after explicitly stating that not all #WalkAway tweets were sent by bots, people taking part in the “WalkAway Movement” will still claim that this article called them all bots. This strawman is used as a defense every single time I track a bot-pushed hashtag. So let me state clearly for the record: This article is not implying that all of the people tweeting under this hashtag are bots.
#WalkAway was among the top hashtags tweeted by bots and trolls for the duration of last week, starting on June 25. (Left: June 25 at 11:30 a.m. EST. Right: July 2 at 2:45 a.m. EST).
The Narrative
To get a broad view of what topics people using the hashtag were tweeting about, I looked at the hashtag cloud associated with #WalkAway. Hashtag clouds provide a visual representation of popular hashtags used along with the initial search term, and thus can provide important insight into topical themes and patterns of conversation.
Across time, conspiracy theory-related hashtags—including #QAnon, #QArmy, #Q, #TheGreatAwakening, and #DeepState—all featured prominently in #WalkAway hashtag clouds. Pro-Trump hashtags, like #MAGA and #Trump, were also among the most consistent and common themes—another giveaway that this movement of self-declared “former Democrats” was actually a creation of Trump supporters posing as ex-Democratic voters.
Hashtag clouds associated with #WalkAway on June 25 (Left & Center) and June 26 (Right).
As seen above, in the hashtag cloud on the far left, Maxine Waters also featured prominently in tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway.
When I looked at the hashtag cloud for #MaxineWaters, I found that the reverse was true, as well: There was such a significant degree of overlap between the two keywords that #WalkAway appeared independently in the #MaxineWaters hashtag cloud. Piggy-backing on trending topics is a common tactic used to boost the visibility of hashtags and/or keywords.
Hashtag cloud associated with #MaxineWaters on June 25.
Over the next several days, the narrative associated with the hashtag #WalkAway began to take shape. While pro-Trump and conspiracy theory-related hashtags still appeared in the cloud, issues related to race and LGBTQ rights became much more prominent over time. Criticisms of the Democratic party, the DNC, and specific Democratic politicians also became a central theme in the #WalkAway narrative, but the messages were extremely repetitive—almost as if some of them had been scripted prior to dissemination.
Hashtag cloud associated with #WalkAway on July 2.
Other prominent narratives associated with the #WalkAway movement include:
Portraying the Democratic party as “sick,” “crazy,” and as the symbol of corruption, hate, division, and destruction.
Framing progressive values as anti-American.
Accusing Democrats of treating Blacks as “slaves” and “second-class citizens.”
Rehashing the 2016 Democratic primary election.
Phrases such as, “I was a lifelong Democrat,” “I’ve always voted for Democrats,” “I voted for Obama,” “Today’s Democratic party is not the party I joined X years ago,” “I didn’t leave the Democratic party—the Democratic party left me,” and “The Democratic party no longer represents me.”
Using identity politics … to attack “the identity politics of the left.”
Exploiting existing divisions around issues like immigration, and amplifying the extremes. In some cases, this also involved misrepresenting positions and statements, such as claiming that Maxine Waters called for violence or equating #AbolishICE with calling for open borders.
Many of these narratives are reflected in the tweets below. Additionally, as seen in this sample, memes and other visual imagery were commonly featured in tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway.
Tweets from June 25 through June 30.
A randomly selected sample of tweets using the hashtag #WalkAway.
Cross-Platform Coverage
In a short span of time, the “WalkAway Movement” had made its way onto all of the major social media platforms, including Pinterest (in multiple countries), Instagram, and YouTube (in addition to Twitter and Facebook).
It also jumped off of social media and onto traditional websites, making headlines first in The Patriot Post (on June 15), then nearly two weeks later in the Epoch Times (June 28), Legal Insurrection (June 30), Breitbart (July 1), and, as mentioned previously, RT (July 3).
Patriot Post article (June 15); Epoch Times (June 28)
Legal Insurrection (June 30); Breitbart (July 1)
By the early morning hours of July 2—just one day after the Breitbart article was published—the link was already the 4th highest trending URL and the #4 most-shared URL overall on Hamilton 68, demonstrating the close ties between Breitbart and channels of Russian influence. The overlap between Russian media and far-right American media is a phenomenon that I’ve also documented in previous articles.
Breitbart’s article about the “WalkAway Movement” was quite popular among Twitter accounts linked to Russian-influence operations. (July 2)
As the hashtag campaign gained momentum on social media, it also started to influence Google’s search algorithm. By June 26, the first suggested search term for the three characters “#Wa” was “#WalkAway” (and the fourth suggested search term was “#WalkAwayMovement”). On July 2, simply typing the word “walk” into Google’s search engine yielded “walk away movement” as the third result. This eventually produces a feedback loop—as people click on the search terms and subsequent results that come up first, Google registers the traffic and pushes the search result higher, making it more visible and driving more traffic.
Suggested search terms on Google were produced in a private browser to ensure that my own search history did not influence the algorithm and subsequent results. (Left: June 26. Right: July 2).
The “WalkAway Movement” is yet another example demonstrating that digital manipulation and disinformation are not platform-specific problems, and thus cannot be solved with platform-specific solutions. While certain fixes — like developing more sophisticated methods of detecting automated accounts and limiting the creation of new bot networks — would absolutely reduce the potential for manipulation via social media, ultimately these are human problems that will only be solved by bolstering our own human defenses.
Weaponized Social Media
It’s tempting to brush this off as a stunt, largely because that’s exactly what it looks like. The narrative—“I was a Democrat/progressive for my entire life but I decided to abandon my values and switch parties when the least popular, least qualified, and most unprincipled Republican president in modern American history took office”—is patently absurd, and some of the testimonials-by-tweet are, quite honestly, laughable. Furthermore, most of the accounts tweeting under the hashtag are either brand new or didn’t even bother to delete the evidence that they were already Trump supporters before “joining the movement” to walk away from the Democratic party.
However, while we can all acknowledge that the “WalkAway Movement” is not, in fact, going anywhere, that doesn’t mean we should discount the tactics or ignore what this astroturfed movement represents.
I Watched Over 100 Covert Russian Propaganda Videos On YouTube — Here’s What I Saw

The videos encouraged African Americans to stock up on guns and stay home on election day — and that was just the…

For one thing, there is reason to believe that this psychological operation — and to be clear, that’s what this is — represents a trial run for future social media manipulation efforts. I am not going to discuss all of those reasons, but based on the publicly available evidence alone, many characteristics of the “WalkAway Movement” suggest that there may be more going on than meets the eye. As I’ve written about previously, information warfare involves much more than “fake news” and propaganda.
Weaponizing information, disseminating it on social media and other platforms, and artificially amplifying it are among the most visible manifestations of information warfare, but there are more insidious methods that are not necessarily apparent to the casual observer. Developing effective methods of digital manipulation requires an understanding of the target population — and what better way to understand the nuances of a target population than embedding yourself amongst them and running a trial to gauge responses? This could be achieved by exploiting an existing online movement or hashtag, or by manufacturing a new one explicitly for intelligence gathering purposes.
Intelligence gathering during this type of trial run could include methods such as surveillance, profiling, social network mapping, and sentiment analysis, as well as more traditional techniques like message testing. Social media not only provides vast troves of publicly available information, but also yields dynamic streams of data that can be manipulated (as in an experiment) for the purpose of intelligence gathering. If you want to know how a particular population or subgroup will respond to specific messages, the easiest way to find out is to craft and disseminate those messages to the target group, and watch how they respond.
The same is true for studying patterns of interaction, group dynamics, and other social behaviors. For example, if you want to know how to engage a certain type of user, testing out different Twitter profiles or communication styles would likely yield important insight for future efforts. On a similar vein, if you want to cause chaos or just generally stir up trouble, figuring out how to provoke other users—and determining which users are most receptive to provocation—would be extremely helpful. This is a great reason to heed the advice, “Don’t engage the trolls.”
Russia’s Troll Factory Just Launched A New Website Targeting Americans

Might be a new direction in information warfare

The “WalkAway Movement” also provides a glimpse into the issues and methods that are likely to be used in future psychological operations and disinformation campaigns, particularly as we approach the 2018 midterm elections. While many of the issues—race and racism, LGBTQ rights, immigration, etc—are the same ones that were used by Russia during its 2016 influence operation, they are being wielded in a different manner two years later.
Although Russia did target the left in 2016, there are reasons to believe that the left will be the target in 2018—meaning, the primary target. This doesn’t mean we won’t see a repeat of 2016 tactics targeting Trump supporters and right-wing voters, but rather that these tactics may be used as a supplement to those aimed at left-leaning voters. Thus, the “WalkAway Campaign” should serve as a warning to Democratic voters, who need to be prepared not to walk into the traps that are being and will be set.
Consider, for example, that at the same time Russian-linked Twitter accounts were amplifying #WalkAway and joining Trump supporters in reprimanding Democrats for a supposed lack of civility, they were also boosting the hashtags #AbolishICE and #MaxineWaters. In other words, they were working both sides of divisive issues and amplifying the most polarizing positions (and in some cases, intentionally misrepresenting those positions) in an apparent effort to erase the middle ground, discourage reasoned discourse, and make it seem like compromise is either not possible or not desirable.
Consider also that this took place amid nationwide outcry over Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which led to the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their parents. The heartbreaking pictures and gut-wrenching sounds of children sobbing and crying out for their parents even touched a nerve with some of those who might be inclined to support Trump’s immigration policies. Clearly, diverting the public’s attention away from this cruel policy and the human suffering it caused would be of interest to Trump. And you know what would be a way to distract from that? Amplifying a hashtag that is all-too-easy to misrepresent (#AbolishICE), thereby allowing Trump to shift the debate to Democrats calling for “open borders” (even though ICE is not the agency that enforces our borders), while also conveniently exacerbating existing divisions over immigration within the Democratic Party.
Democrats need to be aware that these strategies will be used with increasing frequency, intensity, and sophistication as the 2018 midterms draw nearer. There is an alarming degree of hubris among some non-Trump voters, who seem to believe that Trump supporters are uniquely susceptible to social media manipulation, disinformation, and other types of information warfare. While it’s true that Democrats and other non-Trump voters have more readily accepted the evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and has continued its effort to sow chaos and discord in American society, this has not necessarily translated into preparedness—and you can be sure that political operatives in Russia and in the U.S. have taken note of this.
How Russian & Alt-Right Twitter Accounts Worked Together to Skew the Narrative About Berkeley

#Antifa and #Berkeley were hot topics last weekend in America — and in Russia

That brings us to what may be the most important takeaway: Russia clearly still sees Trump supporters as potential accomplices — witting or unwitting — in its ongoing efforts to sow chaos and division in American society. Likewise, after nearly two years of warnings from the U.S. intelligence community, Trump supporters clearly aren’t taking the threat of Russian interference seriously. While most of the people involved in the “WalkAway Movement” likely had no idea that Russia was also involved in pushing the campaign, the founder of the movement was obviously aware and apparently saw no problem with it, even going as far as sitting for an interview with one of the most well-known channels of Russian propaganda. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he is “working with Russia” and it certainly doesn’t prove anything about his intent. However, it does show that Trump’s continued attempts to deny and downplay the threat posed by Russian influence operations are having an impact on his supporters.
Instead of taking the threat seriously, his supporters view Russia as a potential friend and ally, and apparently don’t see anything wrong with accepting help from a Kremlin-funded propaganda outlet.
While the “WalkAway Movement” isn’t likely to convince—not to mention convert—many people, it offers important insight for those interested in understanding psychological operations aimed at manipulating and influencing social media users. This includes people who are interested in developing better defenses against manipulation, as well as those who want to develop more effective methods of manipulation.
Perhaps the most important observation is how quickly Russian propaganda outlets and Russian-linked social media accounts took notice of the campaign and started promoting it. While not exactly surprising, this tells us that Russia is still actively monitoring U.S. social media and looking for opportunities to amplify narratives that are aligned with the Kremlin’s goals.
Similarly, the “WalkAway Campaign” also shows that Russian interests are still very closely aligned with far-right U.S. media outlets and pro-Trump social media users, indicating that we will likely see continued cooperation (witting or unwitting) in the future. This is also a reflection of Trump’s failure to condemn Russia’s interference in our elections and society, which appears to have given his supporters the impression that it’s not something to be taken seriously.
Russian Propaganda On Reddit

A deep dive into content posted by 944 accounts run out of Russia’s Internet Research Agency

The fact that #WalkAway — a hashtag that was clearly amplified by Russian-linked and automated accounts — remains an active and trending topic on Twitter also tells us that the platform is still highly susceptible to manipulation, and has a long way to go if it wants to minimize the influence of bot-driven operations. In this case, the subject matter wasn’t inherently problematic, but artificial amplification of any content on a wide scale is cause for concern. When automated accounts are used to “like,” share, and post material, they end up gaming algorithms and pushing content onto social feeds when it otherwise wouldn’t be there. The result is that rational debate between humans is replaced by soundbites, arguments, and content designed to amplify extreme or polarizing positions. The use of automated accounts can also help create false impressions of popularity, support, or opposition, and can ultimately even influence news cycles and shape public perceptions on a mass scale.
With midterm elections approaching, we should all be prepared to see more frequent and more sophisticated efforts aimed at manipulating our information space and distorting our perceptions of reality. Dark money in politics is bad enough, but the dark arts it funds take insidious influence to a whole new level.

Elizabeth Warren Responds to President Trump’s ‘Creepy’ Comment About Testing Her DNA

By Darlene Superville / AP

9:47 PM EDT

(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Elizabeth Warren is suggesting President Donald Trump’s comment about him personally administering a DNA test to her to prove her Native American heritage is “creepy.”

She tweeted Monday that the president makes “creepy physical threats” about women who scare him, including her.

“He’s trying to do what he always does to women who scare him: call us names, attack us personally, shrink us down to feel better about himself,” the Massachusetts Democrat responded on Twitter after Trump made the comment during an appearance in Georgia. “It may soothe his ego – but it won’t work.”

Warren, who is seen as a potential 2020 challenger to Trump, appears to have taken a page out of his political playbook, striking back almost instantly at the president who continues to ridicule her claim of Native American ancestry. Trump relishes a good fight, those close to him have said, and will hit back twice as hard when he’s been attacked.

A sharp critic of Trump, Warren wasted little time going after him on Monday.

She opened the day by releasing DNA test results that provide some evidence of a Native American in her lineage, though the ancestor probably lived six to 10 generations ago, according to the analysis. Trump has ridiculed her as “Pocahontas” over the ancestry claim.

In July, the president offered to donate $1 million to her favorite charity if a DNA test proved her Native American bloodline.

On Monday, he first denied ever making such a promise, then said later that “I’ll only do it if I can test her personally.”

“That will not be something I enjoy doing either,” he added.

Warren tweeted that Trump is a “cowardly elitist” and she “won’t sit quietly for Trump’s racism” so she took the test.

“I took this test and released the results for anyone who cares to see because I’ve got nothing to hide. What are YOU hiding, @realDonaldTrump?” she wrote. “Release your tax returns – or the Democratic-led House will do it for you soon enough. Tick-tock, Mr President.”

Warren was referring to the Nov. 6 election, when Democrats hope to regain control of the House, which would put them in position to examine and possibly publicly release Trump’s returns.

Trump has bucked decades of precedent by refusing to release his income tax returns during the 2016 presidential election, as well as after taking office.

Hooked at Birth: Are Smartphones and Other Mobile Devices Transforming the Next Generation of Humans?

I first heard that wretched sound seven years ago.
It was a quiet Saturday with my family in Houston, Texas in 2010 and I was busy talking baseball with my older brother. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my one-year-old nephew sprawled belly-down on the wood floor, his face lit by the faint incandescent glow from my brother’s iPad
My nephew was playing a simple game featuring colorful vanishing blobs. Nobody had explained the rules to him, but he organically and effortlessly tapped orb after orb — the cha-chinging sound of coins marking his success. He was a natural.
It was as if those simple rudimentary actions functioned at a primal, instinctual level. I looked away without thinking much of it.
Not long after that, my brother called over, alerting us that dinner was ready. He walked over to my nephew, gently leaned down, and clasped the device in his hand.
It’s difficult to accurately describe the sound I heard next. A high pitch shriek violently escaped my nephew’s throat and brought me to attention. His shrill cry sounded like an alarm clock bashing between my ears. I looked over to see a spontaneous fountain of thick tears pouring down his smooth baby skin, now reddened with anger. What stood out the most in that moment,however, was the insatiable gut wrenching howl that persisted long into the night once my nephew’s young mind understood he would not be getting the device back.
At just fifteen-years-old, I could not adequately process the meaning of this scene. Now, I recognize that this Saturday in 2010 as my first exposure to a generation that may be growing up addicted to inescapable mobile devices. My nephew, like so many other infants his age, was hooked on screens.
Hooked at Birth
Parents, psychologists, educators, and pundits have sounded concerns about smartphone dependency since the release of the original iPhone in 2007, but researchers are only beginning to have enough data to assess their worries. Their findings are troubling: Prolonged phone use and social media exposure has been linked to an increase in anxiety and depression rates in teens, putting nearly every child growing up today at risk.
In a 2017 study conducted by Common Sense Media, researchers found that 98% of children under the age of eight live in a home with some type of mobile device and 78% live in a home with a tablet.
While these statistics may seem unimpressive to today’s standard, one finding particularly stands out. 42% of children today under the age of eight own their own tablet device. Six years ago, that number was a mere 1%. Many of them, like my nephew, now grow up with these devices as a constant companion.
With record numbers of teenagers and young adults experiencing chronic, debilitating anxiety, some fear this newest generation may be even worse off, and headed at break-neck-speed towards a societal mental health crisis.
Data Source: Common Sense Media
“Addict” or Innovator?
The terms, “phone addiction,” “internet addiction,” and, “phone dependency” are used frequently in common conversation, but there is no consensus surrounding official criteria for device-induced mental illness.
In a 2012 article for Psychology Today, child psychiatrist Victoria L. Dunckley used the term, “Electronic Screen Syndrome,” or ESS, to describe a multitude of device-related impairments on children’s social and behavioral performance. She points to the overly stimulating nature of modern devices as a factor to the continued rise in attention deficit disorders and childhood neuroticism, which is a personality trait of being easily agitated and not easily calmed. Over the course of her practice, Dunkley wrote that she witnessed a notable difference in children’s moods. Symptoms would include irritability, low frustration tolerance, social immaturity, poor eye contact and excessive tantrums.
“ESS can occur in the absence of a psychiatric disorder and mimic it,” Dunckley wrote. “Or it can occur in the face of an underlying disorder, exacerbating it.”
Dunckley aligns with scholars like Nicholas Kardaras, Executive Director of The Dunes addiction treatment center in East Hampton, N.Y.. In his 2016 book, “Glow Kids,” he found a bevy of research suggesting a link between device-viewing and increases in specific behavioral and emotional issues in young people.
“We’re now beginning to see the clinical byproducts of our modern age.” Kardaras wrote. “Increased ADHD, tech addiction, mood and behavioral disorders, psychosis — all as a result of our new and wonderous screen technologies.”
Kardaras argues that as iPads and other mobile devices become more integrated in early childhood development, we may be faced with more cases of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and a lower standard for attention. The overly stimulating nature of screens functions like a drug. The first flashy, eye-catching graphics on a screen may easily catch someone’s attention. But to maintain their attention over time, the image needs to increase its level of stimulation. Just like drug users, Kardaras argues that by viewing stimulating devices frequently, children quickly develop a tolerance.
“The hyperstimulated child needs ever-increasing levels of visual stimulation to continue to stay engaged,” Kararas wrote.
While neither phone addiction nor internet addiction are currently recognized as mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, some countries outside the U.S. are taking note.

A 2015 report by South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family found that 14.6% of South Korean student showed symptoms of either internet or phone addiction. To put that in perspective, The World Health Organization estimates that both drug and alcohol addiction worldwide afflicts less than 6% of people.
South Korea currently treats people for a number of device related mental illness, including video game addiction. Seeing a crisis developing, the country even crafted legislation which prevents children under the age of 16 from accessing video game website between midnight and 6 a.m..
A Renewed Interest
Phone dependency leapt back into the public eye earlier this year, due in large part to the Atlantic article “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation” by Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University.
The article, which spawned a flurry of follow up pieces at Slate, PBS, New York Magazine and others, made bold claims of the damaging affects of devices on young people. Based on research and firsthand interviews with young people, Twenge suggests that teenagers today have less sex, take less risk, and avoid social interaction mainly because young people no longer need to leave home. Their social life can be found nearly entirely on their phones.
Twenge claims that while teens today experience a remarkably safer real world experience, it’s at the expense of their mental health.
“More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been,” Twenge wrote “They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills. Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable.”
Indeed, depression and anxiety rates among American youth have increased in tandem with mobile device proliferation. A 2016 study published in the journal Pediatrics shows a 2.8% increase in teens reporting a major depressive episode between the years 2005 and 2014 — and those are just the teens who came forward. Due to the stigmatization of speaking openly about mental health difficulties, that number could be even higher.
More recently, a study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science went as far as to explicitly identify screen use as a major contributor to symptoms of depression and suicidal thought. Between 2010 and 2015, teens who responded “yes” to three or more categories of depressive or anxious thought increased from 16 to 22%.
Since people who were teens between 2010 and 2015 are now college-aged, I spoke to several undergraduate students at NYU to get their takes on phone dependency. On one of the last warm days of fall, I asked Gallatin senior Brian Greco to walk me through his daily routine.

Brian told me that every day, he has to pry open his heavy eyelids from a night’s sleep. He’s greeted by the blankness of his ceiling and aching stiffness from his body at rest. At this point, Brian’s phone enters his day. (about two to three seconds in) It will remain with him for the rest of the day. Sometimes, he says he doesn’t even get past opening his eyes.
“I am ashamed to admit that there are times when I wake up, my eyes are not even fully open yet, and I am already scrolling through checking the notifications that I missed from the evening,” Greco said, laughing as if admitting something he felt was not quite right.
“[My phone] is generally with me unless I am in dinner or in class,” Brian said, beginning to stammer. With a sigh, he admitted, “Well, even when I am in class, I guess.”
I also spoke to Dan Dao who graduated from the College of Arts and Science in 2014. His day also starts by swiping through his phone. As we sat in his downtown studio apartment, Dan described his morning ritual: checking Instagram and Facebook, reading Apple News, and meticulously maintaining his personal online brand.
“I think I would characterize my relationship with my phone as kinda dependent,” Dan said. “For both personal and professional reasons, I am always on my phone.”
I asked Dan how much of his phone usage could be categorized as work-related and personal. He started to say about 50/50 before cutting himself off mid sentence and correcting himself.
“There is really no separation [between work and personal phone use] for a lot of people who work in creative fields now.”
I noticed that while our personal experiences and relationships with mobile devices are different, Brian, Dan, and I share one key area. As Brian put it,“ My phone is with me probably the entire day.”
And we are not alone. In a recent study at Baylor University, students self-reported spending the majority of their day connected to their device. Male participants reported spending over eight hours per day on their phone. Women were even higher at 10 hours.
Whether for social satisfaction or job requirements, young people are increasingly expected to be “on call” all the time. While Dao and Greco both admitted they couldn’t imagine life without the constant connection of a device, they each accepted their dependency like fate, with bemoaning unease.
But of course, not all people agree there’s a link between screen time and mental illness. One of these people is College of Arts and Science junior, Abigail Weinberg. As I spoke with her on the seventh floor of 20 Cooper Square, she voiced skepticism over the fundamental assumptions made in Twenge’s Atlantic article and the cries of phone dependency more generally.
“I think some people are definitely addicted to their phones,” she told me. “But I don’t think it is an overwhelming phenomena that we necessarily need to be worried about.”
Abigail sees drawing connections between technology and anxiety as an overly simplified explanation. She said that she owned a smartphone throughout high school, but does not think it radically affected her social life.
“I was still really excited to be in the world,” Abigail said. “[Adolescence is] the time when you break away from being just a tween. That’s when you start having real-life-experiences, and I think that people still want to have those real-life-experiences.”
When asked why she thought some people get addicted to their phones while others do not, Abigail pondered for a moment, gently aligning the brim of her bright blue baseball cap with the center of her denim overalls.
“I think it varies from person to person,” she said.
Abigail described growing up in Massachusetts, the daughter of two baby boomer parents. In her household, phones were prohibited from the dinner table.
“It was no question — no phones,” she said. “If you wanted to look at your phone, then you would have to go somewhere else, but you weren’t having dinner with the family.”
Looking back, Weinberg said that this discipline probably contributes to her ability to go hours without checking her phone.

Maybe Abigail is right and the methods of tech-parenting discipline instilled on children plays a major role in how future adults interact with devices. Or maybe some people are more prone to addiction than others, and phones are simply one object of many that turns pleasure to pain.
While I’m not sure who’s right, one thing seems certain. Devices benefit everyday society at an exceptional cost. Only by recognizing how these devices work and affect our physical and psychological development can we make informed decisions for ourselves and our children. We cannot escape a technology-centered world, but this does not mean we have to be shackled by it.
Today, my nephew has an iPad and an iPhone. From his ride to school to the moments before bed, he is engaged with technology. But he also isn’t afraid to take a tumble hustling in backyard soccer. Sure, he goes to Minecraft camp — but he also collects firewood for family excursions and spends his summer nights stoking flaming embers in the quiet Texas countryside.

Australia considers following US on Jerusalem embassy — SuMaC Post! Co. 2

PM Scott Morrison says he is “open” to recognising the city as Israel’s capital, but draws criticism. from BBC News – World

via Australia considers following US on Jerusalem embassy — SuMaC Post! Co. 2

Meghan Markle for Time Person of the Year — Lauren Nichole

Can I get a petition going for Meghan Markle for the Time Magazine’s Person of the Year? Listen, I don’t follow many celebrities so I don’t know if anyone else has ever been ridiculed as much as she has undeservingly. All I know is that every time I pop open Yahoo, I see story after […]

via Meghan Markle for Time Person of the Year — Lauren Nichole


Thus saith the Lord God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob Thus saith the Lord God unto thee of the Nations of the Middle East thus far the raging fire of conflict has be confined to but a few Nations of that region though thereby causing much suffering mainly borne by the civilian population especially doth […] […]


WhatsApp is getting a new update that might be VERY bad news for some people — Satoshi Nakamoto Blog

[ad_1] Messaging service WhatsApp is getting a new update that will change how the app handles deleted messages. Previously when a user deleted a message for everyone in a chat WhatsApp would continue to try and delete that message for all users, no matter how long it took. However the change has added a limit […]

via WhatsApp is getting a new update that might be VERY bad news for some people — Satoshi Nakamoto Blog

Immovable Force — The Maine Conservative Voice

The tactics that have been utilized against gun owners have filtered over into every corner of the political realm. The Left is desperate to undo every gain that the voters of the United States have earned in the last two years. Any semblance of ties to the conventions of decency and honest have been […]

via Immovable Force — The Maine Conservative Voice

Finance/Administrative Associate at Durfee Foundation — Entry Level Jobs for Social Impact

Fields: philanthropy, community development, social change, education, arts | Location: Los Angeles, California | Deadline: October 19, 2018

via Finance/Administrative Associate at Durfee Foundation — Entry Level Jobs for Social Impact

Finance/Administrative Associate at Durfee Foundation — Entry Level Jobs for Social Impact

Fields: philanthropy, community development, social change, education, arts | Location: Los Angeles, California | Deadline: October 19, 2018

via Finance/Administrative Associate at Durfee Foundation — Entry Level Jobs for Social Impact

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