Arquivo da tag: Adolescentes

The Facebook whistleblower says its algorithms are dangerous. Here’s why. (MIT Technology Review)

Frances Haugen’s testimony at the Senate hearing today raised serious questions about how Facebook’s algorithms work—and echoes many findings from our previous investigation.

October 5, 2021

Karen Hao

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate Committee October 5. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Sunday night, the primary source for the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files, an investigative series based on internal Facebook documents, revealed her identity in an episode of 60 Minutes.

Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the company, says she came forward after she saw Facebook’s leadership repeatedly prioritize profit over safety.

Before quitting in May of this year, she combed through Facebook Workplace, the company’s internal employee social media network, and gathered a wide swath of internal reports and research in an attempt to conclusively demonstrate that Facebook had willfully chosen not to fix the problems on its platform.

Today she testified in front of the Senate on the impact of Facebook on society. She reiterated many of the findings from the internal research and implored Congress to act.

“I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” she said in her opening statement to lawmakers. “These problems are solvable. A safer, free-speech respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible. But there is one thing that I hope everyone takes away from these disclosures, it is that Facebook can change, but is clearly not going to do so on its own.”

During her testimony, Haugen particularly blamed Facebook’s algorithm and platform design decisions for many of its issues. This is a notable shift from the existing focus of policymakers on Facebook’s content policy and censorship—what does and doesn’t belong on Facebook. Many experts believe that this narrow view leads to a whack-a-mole strategy that misses the bigger picture.

“I’m a strong advocate for non-content-based solutions, because those solutions will protect the most vulnerable people in the world,” Haugen said, pointing to Facebook’s uneven ability to enforce its content policy in languages other than English.

Haugen’s testimony echoes many of the findings from an MIT Technology Review investigation published earlier this year, which drew upon dozens of interviews with Facebook executives, current and former employees, industry peers, and external experts. We pulled together the most relevant parts of our investigation and other reporting to give more context to Haugen’s testimony.

How does Facebook’s algorithm work?

Colloquially, we use the term “Facebook’s algorithm” as though there’s only one. In fact, Facebook decides how to target ads and rank content based on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of algorithms. Some of those algorithms tease out a user’s preferences and boost that kind of content up the user’s news feed. Others are for detecting specific types of bad content, like nudity, spam, or clickbait headlines, and deleting or pushing them down the feed.

All of these algorithms are known as machine-learning algorithms. As I wrote earlier this year:

Unlike traditional algorithms, which are hard-coded by engineers, machine-learning algorithms “train” on input data to learn the correlations within it. The trained algorithm, known as a machine-learning model, can then automate future decisions. An algorithm trained on ad click data, for example, might learn that women click on ads for yoga leggings more often than men. The resultant model will then serve more of those ads to women.

And because of Facebook’s enormous amounts of user data, it can

develop models that learned to infer the existence not only of broad categories like “women” and “men,” but of very fine-grained categories like “women between 25 and 34 who liked Facebook pages related to yoga,” and [target] ads to them. The finer-grained the targeting, the better the chance of a click, which would give advertisers more bang for their buck.

The same principles apply for ranking content in news feed:

Just as algorithms [can] be trained to predict who would click what ad, they [can] also be trained to predict who would like or share what post, and then give those posts more prominence. If the model determined that a person really liked dogs, for instance, friends’ posts about dogs would appear higher up on that user’s news feed.

Before Facebook began using machine-learning algorithms, teams used design tactics to increase engagement. They’d experiment with things like the color of a button or the frequency of notifications to keep users coming back to the platform. But machine-learning algorithms create a much more powerful feedback loop. Not only can they personalize what each user sees, they will also continue to evolve with a user’s shifting preferences, perpetually showing each person what will keep them most engaged.

Who runs Facebook’s algorithm?

Within Facebook, there’s no one team in charge of this content-ranking system in its entirety. Engineers develop and add their own machine-learning models into the mix, based on their team’s objectives. For example, teams focused on removing or demoting bad content, known as the integrity teams, will only train models for detecting different types of bad content.

This was a decision Facebook made early on as part of its “move fast and break things” culture. It developed an internal tool known as FBLearner Flow that made it easy for engineers without machine learning experience to develop whatever models they needed at their disposal. By one data point, it was already in use by more than a quarter of Facebook’s engineering team in 2016.

Many of the current and former Facebook employees I’ve spoken to say that this is part of why Facebook can’t seem to get a handle on what it serves up to users in the news feed. Different teams can have competing objectives, and the system has grown so complex and unwieldy that no one can keep track anymore of all of its different components.

As a result, the company’s main process for quality control is through experimentation and measurement. As I wrote:

Teams train up a new machine-learning model on FBLearner, whether to change the ranking order of posts or to better catch content that violates Facebook’s community standards (its rules on what is and isn’t allowed on the platform). Then they test the new model on a small subset of Facebook’s users to measure how it changes engagement metrics, such as the number of likes, comments, and shares, says Krishna Gade, who served as the engineering manager for news feed from 2016 to 2018.

If a model reduces engagement too much, it’s discarded. Otherwise, it’s deployed and continually monitored. On Twitter, Gade explained that his engineers would get notifications every few days when metrics such as likes or comments were down. Then they’d decipher what had caused the problem and whether any models needed retraining.

How has Facebook’s content ranking led to the spread of misinformation and hate speech?

During her testimony, Haugen repeatedly came back to the idea that Facebook’s algorithm incites misinformation, hate speech, and even ethnic violence. 

“Facebook … knows—they have admitted in public—that engagement-based ranking is dangerous without integrity and security systems but then not rolled out those integrity and security systems in most of the languages in the world,” she told the Senate today. “It is pulling families apart. And in places like Ethiopia it is literally fanning ethnic violence.”

Here’s what I’ve written about this previously:

The machine-learning models that maximize engagement also favor controversy, misinformation, and extremism: put simply, people just like outrageous stuff.

Sometimes this inflames existing political tensions. The most devastating example to date is the case of Myanmar, where viral fake news and hate speech about the Rohingya Muslim minority escalated the country’s religious conflict into a full-blown genocide. Facebook admitted in 2018, after years of downplaying its role, that it had not done enough “to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”

As Haugen mentioned, Facebook has also known this for a while. Previous reporting has found that it’s been studying the phenomenon since at least 2016.

In an internal presentation from that year, reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, a company researcher, Monica Lee, found that Facebook was not only hosting a large number of extremist groups but also promoting them to its users: “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools,” the presentation said, predominantly thanks to the models behind the “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” features.

In 2017, Chris Cox, Facebook’s longtime chief product officer, formed a new task force to understand whether maximizing user engagement on Facebook was contributing to political polarization. It found that there was indeed a correlation, and that reducing polarization would mean taking a hit on engagement. In a mid-2018 document reviewed by the Journal, the task force proposed several potential fixes, such as tweaking the recommendation algorithms to suggest a more diverse range of groups for people to join. But it acknowledged that some of the ideas were “antigrowth.” Most of the proposals didn’t move forward, and the task force disbanded.

In my own conversations, Facebook employees also corroborated these findings.

A former Facebook AI researcher who joined in 2018 says he and his team conducted “study after study” confirming the same basic idea: models that maximize engagement increase polarization. They could easily track how strongly users agreed or disagreed on different issues, what content they liked to engage with, and how their stances changed as a result. Regardless of the issue, the models learned to feed users increasingly extreme viewpoints. “Over time they measurably become more polarized,” he says.

In her testimony, Haugen also repeatedly emphasized how these phenomena are far worse in regions that don’t speak English because of Facebook’s uneven coverage of different languages.

“In the case of Ethiopia there are 100 million people and six languages. Facebook only supports two of those languages for integrity systems,” she said. “This strategy of focusing on language-specific, content-specific systems for AI to save us is doomed to fail.”

She continued: “So investing in non-content-based ways to slow the platform down not only protects our freedom of speech, it protects people’s lives.”

I explore this more in a different article from earlier this year on the limitations of large language models, or LLMs:

Despite LLMs having these linguistic deficiencies, Facebook relies heavily on them to automate its content moderation globally. When the war in Tigray[, Ethiopia] first broke out in November, [AI ethics researcher Timnit] Gebru saw the platform flounder to get a handle on the flurry of misinformation. This is emblematic of a persistent pattern that researchers have observed in content moderation. Communities that speak languages not prioritized by Silicon Valley suffer the most hostile digital environments.

Gebru noted that this isn’t where the harm ends, either. When fake news, hate speech, and even death threats aren’t moderated out, they are then scraped as training data to build the next generation of LLMs. And those models, parroting back what they’re trained on, end up regurgitating these toxic linguistic patterns on the internet.

How does Facebook’s content ranking relate to teen mental health?

One of the more shocking revelations from the Journal’s Facebook Files was Instagram’s internal research, which found that its platform is worsening mental health among teenage girls. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” researchers wrote in a slide presentation from March 2020.

Haugen connects this phenomenon to engagement-based ranking systems as well, which she told the Senate today “is causing teenagers to be exposed to more anorexia content.”

“If Instagram is such a positive force, have we seen a golden age of teenage mental health in the last 10 years? No, we have seen escalating rates of suicide and depression amongst teenagers,” she continued. “There’s a broad swath of research that supports the idea that the usage of social media amplifies the risk of these mental health harms.”

In my own reporting, I heard from a former AI researcher who also saw this effect extend to Facebook.

The researcher’s team…found that users with a tendency to post or engage with melancholy content—a possible sign of depression—could easily spiral into consuming increasingly negative material that risked further worsening their mental health.

But as with Haugen, the researcher found that leadership wasn’t interested in making fundamental algorithmic changes.

The team proposed tweaking the content-ranking models for these users to stop maximizing engagement alone, so they would be shown less of the depressing stuff. “The question for leadership was: Should we be optimizing for engagement if you find that somebody is in a vulnerable state of mind?” he remembers.

But anything that reduced engagement, even for reasons such as not exacerbating someone’s depression, led to a lot of hemming and hawing among leadership. With their performance reviews and salaries tied to the successful completion of projects, employees quickly learned to drop those that received pushback and continue working on those dictated from the top down….

That former employee, meanwhile, no longer lets his daughter use Facebook.

How do we fix this?

Haugen is against breaking up Facebook or repealing Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from taking responsibility for the content it distributes.

Instead, she recommends carving out a more targeted exemption in Section 230 for algorithmic ranking, which she argues would “get rid of the engagement-based ranking.” She also advocates for a return to Facebook’s chronological news feed.

Ellery Roberts Biddle, a projects director at Ranking Digital Rights, a nonprofit that studies social media ranking systems and their impact on human rights, says a Section 230 carve-out would need to be vetted carefully: “I think it would have a narrow implication. I don’t think it would quite achieve what we might hope for.”

In order for such a carve-out to be actionable, she says, policymakers and the public would need to have a much greater level of transparency into how Facebook’s ad-targeting and content-ranking systems even work. “I understand Haugen’s intention—it makes sense,” she says. “But it’s tough. We haven’t actually answered the question of transparency around algorithms yet. There’s a lot more to do.”

Nonetheless, Haugen’s revelations and testimony have brought renewed attention to what many experts and Facebook employees have been saying for years: that unless Facebook changes the fundamental design of its algorithms, it will not make a meaningful dent in the platform’s issues. 

Her intervention also raises the prospect that if Facebook cannot put its own house in order, policymakers may force the issue.

“Congress can change the rules that Facebook plays by and stop the many harms it is now causing,” Haugen told the Senate. “I came forward at great personal risk because I believe we still have time to act, but we must act now.”

Punishing Youth (

AUGUST 09, 2012

Saturated Violence in the Era of Casino Capitalism


There is by now an overwhelming catalogue of evidence revealing the depth and breadth of the state sponsored assault being waged against young people across the globe, and especially in the United States. What is no longer a hidden order of politics is that American  society is at war with its children, and that the use of such violence against young people is a disturbing index of a society in the midst of a deep moral and political crisis.  Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a nation that fails to protect its youth, the violence used against American youth speaks to nothing less than a perverse death-wish, especially in light of the fact that As Alain Badiou argues, we live in an era in which there is zero tolerance for poor minority youth and youthful protesters and “infinite tolerance for the crimes of bankers and government embezzlers which affect the lives of millions.”  While the systemic nature of the assault on young people and its testimony to the rise of the neoliberal punishing state has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, youth in Canada and the United States are resisting the violence of what might be called neoliberalism or casino capitalism.  For instance, the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Quebec Protest Movement are demonstrating against such assaults while simultaneously attempting to educate a larger public about the degree to which American and Canadian public spheres, institutions, and values have been hijacked by a culture of spectacular and unrelenting violence—largely directed against youthful protesters and those marginalized by class and race, who increasingly have become the targets of ruthless forms of state-sanctioned punishment.

Put into historical context, we can see that collective insurance policies and social protections in the United States, in particular, have over time given way to the forces of economic privatization, commodification, deregulation, and hyper individualism now driving the ongoing assault on democratic public spheres, public goods, and any viable notion of equality and social justice. At least since the 1980s, the American public has witnessed the transformation of the welfare state by punitive workfare programs, the privatization of public goods and spaces, and a hollow appeal to individual responsibility and self-interest as a substitute for civic responsibility and democratic engagement. Embracing the notion that market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, a business-centered model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of the public values and interests, while insidiously criminalizing social problems and cutting back on basic social services, especially for young people, the poor, minorities, immigrants, and the elderly. As young people and others organize to protest economic injustice and massive inequality, along with drastic cuts to education, workers benefits and pensions, and public services, the state has responded with the use of  injurious violence, while the mainstream media has issued insults rather than informed dialogue, critical engagement, and suggestions for meaningful reform. Indeed, it appears the United States has entered a new historical era when policy decisions not only translate into an intentional, systemic disinvestment in public institutions and the breakdown of those public spheres that traditionally provided the minimal conditions for social justice and democratic expression, but are also merging with state-sanctioned violence and the use of mass force against the state’s own citizenry. I am not referring to the violence now sweeping the United States in the form of the lone, crazed gunman shooting innocent victims in colleges, malls, and movie theaters. As horrifying as this violence is, it does not fully equate with the systemic violence now waged by the state on both the domestic and foreign fronts.

On the domestic front, state violence in response to the Occupy movement in its first six months has been decisive and swift: “There have been at least 6705 arrests in over 112 different cities as of March 6, 2012.”  Similarly, in Montreal, Canada thousands of peaceful protests have been arrested while protesting tuition increases, increasing debt burdens, and other assaults on young people and the social state. What does it mean as young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy and articulate their vision of a fair and just world that they are increasingly met with forms of physical, ideological, and structural violence? Abandoned by the existing political system, young people are placing their bodies on the line, occupying shrinking public spaces in a symbolic gesture that also deploys concrete measures demanding their presence be recognized when their voices are no longer being heard. They have, for the most part, protested peacefully while trying to produce a new language, political culture, public institutions, and a “community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”  Young people are organizing in opposition to the structural violence of the state while also attempting to reclaim the discourse of the common good, social justice, and economic equality. Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same or that capitalism is the only ideological and economic system that can speak in the name of democracy, youth movements are calling for an end to poverty, the suppression of dissent, the permanent warfare state, and the corporate control of the commanding institutions of politics and culture.

Many of us have been inspired by the hope for a better future that these young people represent for the nation as a whole. Yet, of utmost concern is the backlash the protesters have faced for exercising their democratic rights. Surely, what must be addressed by anyone with a stake in safeguarding what little remains of U.S. democracy is the immediate threat that an emerging police state poses not just to the young protesters occupying a number of North American cities but to the promise of a real democracy. This threat to the possibility of a democratic social order only increases with the ascendancy of a war-like mentality and neoliberal modes of discipline and education which make it that much more difficult to imagine, let alone enact, communal obligation, social responsibility, and civic engagement.  Unless the actions of young protesters, however diverse they may be, are understood as a robust form of civic courage commensurate with a vital democracy, it will be difficult for the American public to resist an increase in state violence and the framing of protests, dissent, and civic responsibility as un-American or, even worse, a species of criminal behavior.

Stuart Hall suggests that the current historical moment, or what he calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,” has to be understood in terms of the varied forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such anti-democratic pressures and their provocation of the protests of young people in the United States and abroad have deepened an escalating crisis symptomatic of what Alex Honneth has termed the “failed sociality” characteristic of neoliberal states. In turn, state and corporate media-fueled perceptions of such a crisis have been used to stimulate fear and justify the creeping expansion of a militarized and armed state as the enforcer of neoliberal policies amid growing public dissent. Police violence against young people must therefore be situated within a broader set of categories that enables a critical understanding of the underlying social, economic, and political forces at work in such assaults. That is, in order to adequately address state-sponsored violence against young people, one should consider the larger context of the devolution of the social state and the corresponding rise of the warfare state. The notion of historical conjuncture—or a parallel set of forces coalescing at one moment in time—is important here because it provides both an opening into the factors shaping a particular historical moment and it allows for a merging of theory and strategy in our understanding of the conditions with which we are now faced. In this case, it helps us to address theoretically how youth protests are largely related to a historically specific neoliberal project that promotes vast inequalities in income and wealth, creates the student loan debt bomb, eliminates much needed social programs, eviscerates the social wage, and privileges profits and commodities over people.

Within the United States and Canada, the often violent response to non-violent forms of youth protest must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to extending violence and war through the entire society. As the late philosopher Tony Judt put it, “The United States is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society:  a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.”  The blending of the military-industrial complex with state interests and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current neoliberal project and  how different modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies, and economic configurations come together to shape its politics. Such considerations provide theoretical openings for making the practices of the warfare state and the neoliberal revolution visible in order “to give the resistance to its onward march, content, and focus, a cutting edge.” It also points to the conceptual value of making clear that history remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology.  It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible.

While there is always hope because a democratic political project refuses any guarantees, most Americans today are driven by shared fears, stoked to a great extent by media-induced hysteria. Corporations stand ready to supply a culture of fear with security and surveillance technologies that, far from providing greater public safety, do little more than ensure the ongoing militarization of the entire society, including the popular media and the cultural apparatuses that shape everyday life. Images abound in the mainstream media of such abuses. There is the now famous image of an 84-year-old woman looking straight into a camera after attending a protest rally, her face drenched in a liquid spray used by the police. There is the image of the 19-year-old pregnant woman being carried to safety after being pepper-sprayed by the police. There are the now all-too-familiar images of young people being dragged by their hair across a street to a waiting police van. In some cases, protesters have been seriously hurt. Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, was critically injured in a protest in Oakland in October 2011. On March 17, 2012, young protesters attempting to re-establish an Occupy camp at Zuccotti Park in New York were confronted by excessive police violence. The Guardian reported that over 73 people were arrested in one day and that “A woman suffered a seizure while handcuffed on a sidewalk, another protester was thrown into a glass door by police officers before being handcuffed, and a young woman said she was choked and dragged by her hair….Witnesses claimed police punched one protester several times in the head while he was subdued by at least four officers.”  Another protester claimed the police broke his thumb and injured his jaw. Such stories have become commonplace in recent years, and so many are startling reminders of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.

These stories are also indicative that a pervasive use of violence and the celebration of war-like values are no longer restricted to a particular military ideology, but have become normalized through the entire society.  As Michael Geyer points out, militarization in this sense is defined as “the contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence.” The war on terror has become a war on democracy, as police departments and baton-wielding cops across the 
nation are now being supplied with the latest military equipment and technologies imported straight from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Procuring drones, machine-gun-equipped armored trucks, SWAT vehicles, “digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers used in foreign wars,” is justified through reference to the domestic war against “terrorists” (code for young protesters) and provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations to become ever “more a part of our domestic lives.” As Glenn Greenwald confirms, the United States since 9/11 “has aggressively paramilitarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with paramilitary weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.”

With the growth of a new militarized state, it should come as little surprise that “by age 23, almost a third of Americans are arrested for a crime.”  In a society that has few qualms with viewing its young people as predators, a threat to corporate governance, and a disposable population, the violent acts inflicted on youth by a punishing state will no doubt multiply with impunity. Domestic paramilitary forces will certainly undermine free speech and dissent with the threat of force, while also potentially violating core civil liberties and human rights. In other words, the prevailing move in American society toward permanent war status sets the stage for the acceptance of a set of unifying symbols rooted in a survival-of-the-fittest ethic that promotes conformity over dissent, the strong over the weak, and fear over civic responsibility. With the emergence of a militarized society, “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks,” as violence becomes the first and most important element of power and a mediating force in shaping all social relationships.

The grave reality is that violence saturates almost every aspect of North American culture. Domestically, violence weaves through the cultural and social landscape like a highly charged electric current burning everything in its path. Popular culture has become a breeding ground for a form of brutal masculine authority and the celebration of violence it incorporates has become the new norm in America. Representations of violence dominate the media and too often parade before viewers less as an object of critique than as a for-profit spectacle and heightened source of pleasure. As much as any form of governance seeks compliance among the governed, the permanent war state uses modes of public pedagogy—practices of pedagogical persuasion—to address, enlist, and construct subjects willing to abide by its values, ideology, and narratives of fear and violence. Legitimation in the United States is largely provided through a market-driven culture addicted to consumerism, militarism, and spectacles of organized violence. Circulated through various registers of popular culture, cruelty and violence imbue the worlds of high fashion and Hollywood movies, reality TV, extreme sports, video games, and around-the-clock news media. The American public is bombarded by an unprecedented “huge volume of exposure to… images of human suffering.” As Zygmunt Bauman argues, “the sheer numbers and monotony of images may have a ‘wearing off’ impact [and] to stave off the ‘viewing fatigue,’ they must be increasingly gory, shocking, and otherwise ‘inventive’ to arouse any sentiments at all or indeed draw attention. The level of ‘familiar’ violence, below which the cruelty of cruel acts escapes attention, is constantly rising.”

When an increasing volume of violence is pumped into the culture as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other pleasure-seeking outlets, yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching violence loses its shock value. One consequence is that today’s audiences exhibit more than mere desensitization or indifference to violence. They are not merely passive consumers, but instead demand prurient images of violence in a way that fuels their increasing production. Spectacularized violence is now unmoored from moral considerations or social costs. It now resides, if not thrives, in a diverse commercially infused set of cultural apparatuses that offers up violence as a commodity with the most attractive and enjoyable pleasure quotient. Representations of torture, murder, sadism, and human suffering have become the stuff of pure entertainment, offering a debased outlet for experiencing intense pleasure and the thrill of a depoliticized and socially irresponsible voyeurism.  The consuming subject is now educated to take intense pleasure in watching—if not also participating as agents of death—in spectacles of cruelty and barbarism. After all, assuming the role of a first shooter in the age of video game barbarism has become an unquestioned badge of both pleasure and dexterity, leading potentially to an eventual employment by the Defense Department to operate Drone aircraft in the video saturated bunkers of death in some suburban west coast town.  Seemingly unconstrained by a moral compass based on a respect for human and non-human life, U.S. culture is increasingly shaped by a disturbing collective desire for intense excitement and a never-ending flood of heightened sensations.

Although challenging to ascertain precisely how and why the collective culture continues to plummet to new depths of depravity, it is far less difficult to identify the range of horrific outcomes and social costs that come with this immersion in a culture of staged violence. When previously unfamiliar forms of violence, such as extreme images of torture and death, become banally familiar, the violence that occurs daily becomes barely recognizable relegated to the realm of the unnoticed and unnoticeable. Hyper-violence and spectacular representations of cruelty disrupt and block our ability to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it is actually happening on the ground.  How else to explain the public indifference to the violence waged by the state against non-violent youthful protesters who are rebelling against a society in which they have been excluded from any claim on hope, prosperity, equality, and justice? Cruelty has saturated everyday life when young people, once the objects of compassion and social protections, are treated as either consumers and commodities, on the one hand, or suspects and criminals on the other.

Disregard for young people and a growing taste for violence can also be seen in policies that sanction the modeling of public schools after prisons. We see the criminalization of disadvantaged youth, instead of the social conditions which they are forced to endure. Behaviors that were once handled by teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for young people. Not only do schools take on the technologies and culture of prisons and engage in punishment creep, but young children are being arrested and put on trial for behaviors that can only be called trivial. There was the case of the 5-year-old girl in Florida who was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail because she had a temper tantrum; or the 13-year-old girl in a Maryland school who was arrested for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. Alexa Gonzales in New York was another student arrested by police—for doodling on her desk. There is more at work in these cases than stupidity and a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents, law enforcement officers, and politicians who maintain these policies. Clearly, embedded in these actions is also the sentiment that young people constitute a threat to adults, and that the only way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized, and subjected to forms of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provide a grim reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were once largely immune from this type of official violence.

Governing-through-crime policies also remind us that we live in an era that breaks young people, corrupts the notion of justice, and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the threat if not yet the reality of violence. A return to violent spectacles and other medieval types of punishment inflict pain on both the psyches and the bodies of young people. Equally disturbing is how law-and-order policies and practices in the United States appear to take their cue from a past era of slavery. Studies have shown that “Arrests and police interactions… disproportionately affect low-income schools with large African-American and Latino populations,” paving the way for these youth to move almost effortlessly through what has been called the school-to-prison pipeline.  Sadly, the next step one envisions for such a society is a reality TV franchise in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts, and sent to juvenile detention centers.  This is not merely barbarism parading as reform—it is also a blatant indicator of the degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to take delight in dehumanizing itself.

The prevalence of institutionalized violence in American society and other parts of the world suggests the need for a new conversation and politics that address what a just and fair world looks like. Young people and others marginalized by class, race, and ethnicity appear to have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism, and state terrorism. Until educators, intellectuals, academics, young people, and other concerned citizens address how a physics and metaphysics of war and violence have taken hold on American society and the savage social costs they have exacted, the forms of social, political, and economic violence that young people are currently protesting against as well as the violence waged in response to their protests will become impossible to recognize and act on. The American public needs to make visible and critically engage the underlying ideological, political, educational, and economic forces that embrace violence as both a commodity, spectacle, and mode of governing.  Such an approach would address the necessity of understanding the emerging pathology of violence not just through a discourse of fear or isolated spectacles, but through policies that effectively implement the wider social, economic, and political reforms necessary to curb the culture of violence and the institutions that are sustained by it.  There is a cult of violence in America and it is reinforced by a type of collective ignorance spread endlessly by special interests such as the National Rifle Association, politicians wedded to the largess of the military-industrial complex, and national entertainment-corporate complex that both employs violence and uses it to refigure the meaning of news, entertainment, and the stories America tells itself about its national identity and sense of destiny.  Violence is not something to be simply criminalized by extending the reach of the criminal justice system to the regime of criminals that now run the most powerful financial services and industries. It must be also understood as part of a politics of distraction, a poisonous public pedagogy that depoliticizes as much as it entertains and corrupts.  That is, it must be addressed as a political issue that within the current historical moment is both deployed by the neoliberal state against young people, and employed as part of the reconfiguration or transformation of the social state into the punishing state. At the heart of this transformation is the emergence of new form of corporate sovereignty, a more intense form of state violence, a ruthless survival of the fittest ethic used to legitimate the concentrated power of the rich, and a concerted effort to punish young people who are out of step with neoliberal ideology, values, and modes of governance.  Of course, these anti-democratic tendencies represent more than a threat to young people, they also put in peril all of those individuals, groups, public spheres, and institutions now considered disposable because that are at odds with a world run by bankers, the financial elite, and the rich.  Only a well-organized movement of young people, educators, workers,  parents, religious groups, and other concerned citizens will be capable of changing the power relations and vast economic inequalities that have generated what has become a country in which it is almost impossible to recognize the ideals of a real democracy.

Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex” (2007) and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed” (2008). His latest book is Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability,” (Paradigm.)

Teen Survival Expectations Predict Later Risk-Taking Behavior (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 1, 2012) — Some young people’s expectations that they will not live long, healthy lives may actually foreshadow such outcomes.

New research published August 1 in the open access journal PLOS ONEreports that, for American teens, the expectation of death before the age of 35 predicted increased risk behaviors including substance abuse and suicide attempts later in life and a doubling to tripling of mortality rates in young adulthood.

The researchers, led by Quynh Nguyen of Northeastern University in Boston, found that one in seven participants in grades 7 to 12 reported perceiving a 50-50 chance or less of surviving to age 35. Upon follow-up interviews over a decade later, the researchers found that low expectations of longevity at young ages predicted increased suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts as well as heavy drinking, smoking, and use of illicit substances later in life relative to their peers who were almost certain they would live to age 35.

“The association between early survival expectations and detrimental outcomes suggests that monitoring survival expectations may be useful for identifying at-risk youth,” the authors state.

The study compared data collected from 19,000 adolescents in 1994-1995 to follow-up data collected from the same respondents 13-14 years later. The cohort was part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), conducted by the Carolina Population Center and funded by the National Institutes of Health and 23 other federal agencies and foundations.

Journal Reference:

Quynh C. Nguyen, Andres Villaveces, Stephen W. Marshall, Jon M. Hussey, Carolyn T. Halpern, Charles Poole. Adolescent Expectations of Early Death Predict Adult Risk BehaviorsPLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (8): e41905 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041905

Psychological Abuse and Youth Anxiety and Depression (Science Daily)

Psychological Abuse Puts Children at Risk

ScienceDaily (July 30, 2012) — Child abuse experts say psychological abuse can be as damaging to a young child’s physical, mental and emotional health as a slap, punch or kick.

While difficult to pinpoint, it may be the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect, experts say in an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) position statement on psychological maltreatment in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Psychological abuse includes acts such as belittling, denigrating, terrorizing, exploiting, emotional unresponsiveness, or corrupting a child to the point a child’s well-being is at risk, said Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences and pediatrics of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and the Offord Centre for Child Studies. One of three authors of the position statement, she holds the David R. (Dan) Offord Chair in Child Studies at McMaster.

“We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behavior that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted,” she said, giving the example of a mother leaving her infant alone in a crib all day or a father involving his teenager in his drug habit.

A parent raising their voice to a strident pitch after asking a child for the eighth time to put on their running shoes is not psychological abuse, MacMillan said. “But, yelling at a child every day and giving the message that the child is a terrible person, and that the parent regrets bringing the child into this world, is an example of a potentially very harmful form of interaction.”

Psychological abuse was described in the scientific literature more than 25 years ago, but it has been under-recognized and under-reported, MacMillan said, adding that its effects “can be as harmful as other types of maltreatment.”

The report says that because psychological maltreatment interferes with a child’s development path, the abuse has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems and disruptive behaviour. “The effects of psychological maltreatment during the first three years of life can be particularly profound.”

This form of mistreatment can occur in many types of families, but is more common in homes with multiple stresses, including family conflict, mental health issues, physical violence, depression or substance abuse.

Although there are few studies reporting the prevalence of psychological abuse, the position statement says large population-based, self-report studies in Britain and the United States found approximately eight-to-nine per cent of women and four per cent of men reported exposure to severe psychological abuse during childhood.

The statement says pediatricians need to be alert to the possibility of psychological abuse even though there is little evidence on potential strategies that might help. It suggests collaboration among pediatric, psychiatric and child protective service professionals is essential for helping the child at risk.

Funders for the paper’s development included the Family Violence Prevention Unit of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Along with MacMillan, the statement was prepared by Indiana pediatrician Dr. Roberta Hibbard, an expert on child abuse and neglect; Jane Barlow, professor of Public Health in the Early Years at the University of Warwick; as well as the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Child Maltreatment and Violence Committee.

*   *   *

Emotion Detectives Uncover New Ways to Fight-Off Youth Anxiety and Depression

ScienceDaily (July 30, 2012) — Emotional problems in childhood are common. Approximately 8 to 22 percent of children suffer from anxiety, often combined with other conditions such as depression. However, most existing therapies are not designed to treat coexisting psychological problems and are therefore not very successful in helping children with complex emotional issues.

To develop a more effective treatment for co-occurring youth anxiety and depression, University of Miami psychologist Jill Ehrenreich-May and her collaborator Emily L. Bilek analyzed the efficacy and feasibility of a novel intervention created by the researchers, called Emotion Detectives Treatment Protocol (EDTP). Preliminary findings show a significant reduction in the severity of anxiety and depression after treatment, as reported by the children and their parents.

“We are very excited about the potential of EDTP,” says Ehrenreich-May, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UM and principal investigator of the study. “Not only could the protocol better address the needs of youth with commonly co-occurring disorders and symptoms, it may also provide additional benefits to mental health professionals,” she says. “EDTP offers a more unified approach to treatment that, we hope, will allow for an efficient and cost-effective treatment option for clinicians and clients alike.”

Emotion Detectives Treatment Program is an adaptation of two treatment protocols developed for adults and adolescents, the Unified Protocols. The program implements age-appropriate techniques that deliver education about emotions and how to manage them, strategies for evaluating situations, problem-solving skills, behavior activation (a technique to reduce depression), and parent training.

In the study, 22 children ages 7 to 12 with a principal diagnosis of anxiety disorder and secondary issues of depression participated in a 15-session weekly group therapy of EDTP. Among participants who completed the protocol (18 out of 22), 14 no longer met criteria for anxiety disorder at post-treatment. Additionally, among participants who were assigned a depressive disorder before treatment (5 out of 22), only one participant continued to meet such criteria at post-treatment.

Unlike results from previous studies, the presence of depressive symptoms did not predict poorer treatment response. The results also show a high percentage of attendance. The findings imply that EDTP may offer a better treatment option for children experiencing anxiety and depression.

“Previous research has shown that depressive symptoms tend to weaken treatment response for anxiety disorders. We were hopeful that a broader, more generalized approach would better address this common co-occurrence,” says Bilek, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at UM and co-author of the study. “We were not surprised to find that the EDTP had equivalent outcomes for individuals with and without elevated depressive symptoms, but we were certainly pleased to find that this protocol may address this important issue.”

The study, titled “The Development of a Transdiagnostic, Cognitive Behavioral Group Intervention for Childhood Anxiety Disorders and Co-Occurring Depression Symptoms,” is published online ahead of print in the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. The next step is for the team to conduct a randomized controlled trial comparing the EDTP to another group treatment protocol for anxiety disorder.

Namorados adolescentes usam violência como forma de comunicação (Fapesp)

Pesquisa FAPESP
Edição 188 – Outubro 2011
Humanidades > Psicologia

Tempos de cólera no amor

O refrão da música de Belchior renova-se a cada geração como uma maldição sem antídoto: “Minha dor é perceber/ Que apesar de termos feito tudo o que fizemos/ Ainda somos os mesmos e vivemos como nossos pais”. É o que revela a pesquisa Violência entre namorados adolescentes (lançada agora em livro, Amor e violência, pela Editora Fiocruz), feita entre 2007 e 2010 a pedido do Centro Latino-Americano de Estudos da Violência e Saúde Jorge Careli (Claves/Fiocruz) e coordenada por Kathie Njaine, professora do Departamento de Saúde Pública da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC). O projeto reuniu um grupo de 11 pesquisadores de diversas universidades para investigar a violência nas relações afetivo-sexuais de “ficar” ou namorar entre jovens de 15 a 19 anos de idade, a partir de um universo de 3,2 mil estudantes de escolas públicas e privadas de 10 capitais brasileiras. “Os jovens de hoje, ao mesmo tempo que recriam novas formas e meios de se relacionar, em que o ‘ficar’ e o uso da internet para interação amorosa e sexual são o novo, repetem e reproduzem modelos relacionais tradicionais e conservadores, como o machismo e o sentimento de posse, expressos em suas falas e no trato com o parceiro e a parceira”, afirma a pesquisadora. Talvez até com maior intensidade do que faziam nossos pais.

Praticamente, nove em cada 10 jovens que namoram praticam ou sofrem variadas formas de violência e para marcar território casais jovens recorrem à violência para controlar seus parceiros, e a agressão virou sinônimo de domínio nas relações amorosas desses adolescentes. “Creio que a violência vem se tornando uma forma de comunicação entre muitos jovens, que alternam os papéis de vítima e autor, de acordo com o momento e o meio em que vivem. Esses atos estão se banalizando a ponto de serem incorporados naturalmente na convivência, sem reflexão alguma sobre o que isso pode significar para a vida afetiva-sexual”, observa Kathie. “Os adolescentes adotam cada vez mais cedo a violência em diversos graus e começam a achar isso muito natural. Acreditam que para ter o controle da relação e do companheiro é preciso usar a violência.” Belchior continua profético ao afirmar “que o novo sempre vem”, ainda que nem sempre num registro positivo. Segundo o estudo, as garotas são, ao mesmo tempo, as maiores agressoras e vítimas de violência verbal e na categoria de agressões físicas, que incluem tapas, puxão de cabelo, empurrão, socos e chutes, os números revelam que os homens são mais vítimas do que as mulheres: 28,5% delas informaram que agridem fisicamente o parceiro; 16,8% dos meninos confessaram o mesmo. Em termos de violência sexual, o esperado acontece, porém há surpresas: 49% dos homens relatam praticar esse tipo de agressão, enquanto 32,8% das moças admitem o comportamento. Curiosamente, na opinião de 22% dos jovens de ambos os sexos, a violência é o principal problema do mundo de hoje, bem à frente da fome, da pobreza e da miséria. Quem disse que coerência é o forte dos jovens?

Isso se reflete igualmente em práticas que os jovens, em casa, abominam em seus pais, como a vigilância constante de hábitos e vestuários. Para dominar o parceiro, o adolescente busca controlar o comportamento do outro, as roupas que usa, os nomes na agenda do celular, os acessos a redes virtuais de relacionamento, as pessoas com quem conversa. “Como se não bastasse isso, surge um elemento novo: a ameaça de difamação do outro pela divulgação de fotos íntimas pelo celular ou via internet foram estratégias citadas pelos jovens como tentar evitar o fim do namoro, em especial por parte dos meninos”, conta a socióloga e pesquisadora da Fiocruz Maria Cecília de Souza Minayo, organizadora do estudo ao lado de Kathie. A violência em tom de ameaça (provocar medo, ameaçar machucar ou destruir algo de valor) vitima 24,2% dos jovens, um jogo sujo perpetrado por 29,2% dos entrevistados. De acordo com os dados, 33,3% das meninas assumem que ameaçam mais seus parceiros em relação a 22,6% dos meninos. “Os números se aproximam. Tudo sugere que existe um ciclo de vitimização e perpetração. As experiências permanentes de situações agressivas se traduzem no estímulo a relacionamentos conflituosos e no aprendizado do uso da violência para obter poder e amedrontar os outros. Esse comportamento aprendido e aceito interfere no lugar que o jovem ocupará na rede social e no seu desempenho nas relações afetivas e sexuais”, observa a médica Simone Gonçalves de Assis, pesquisadora do Claves/Fiocruz e outra das organizadoras do projeto.

Afetivas – “O complexo é que existe uma identidade que ultrapassa regiões e classes sociais quando observamos o comportamento dos jovens dessas 10 capitais. Há também similaridades entre os estudantes das redes de ensino público e privado. Nas relações afetivas dos jovens chamam mais a atenção as semelhanças do que os eventuais aspectos divergentes”, nota Kathie. Um aspecto que reúne todos é o novo formato das relações amorosas contemporâneas. “Elas são mais provisórias, temporárias. Desde os anos 1980 vem sendo bastante usada entre os jovens a expressão ‘ficar’ para caracterizar uma fase de atração sem maiores compromissos e que pode envolver de beijos a relações sexuais”, observa Maria Cecília. No “ficar”, notam as pesquisadoras, o amor não é pré-requisito e implica uma aprendizagem amorosa, um tipo de teste para um eventual namoro, relação vista como mais “séria” e, principalmente, mais pública, simbolizando a entrada do jovem na cena dos adultos em visitas aos pais do parceiro e no planejamento do tempo em conjunto e o sentimento de maior solidez na relação. “É, no entanto, tudo muito nebuloso e muitos jovens afirmam que, depois de ‘ficar’, não sabem se estão namorando ou não”, diz a autora. Nos dois estados existe o ciúme e o desejo de controlar o outro. “Por causa da iminência de serem acusados de ciúme, desconfiança e traição nas relações de namoro, muitos rapazes e moças justificam sua preferência pelo ‘ficar’, relação em que supostamente não existem amarras e há menos risco de se apaixonar e de se decepcionar”, nota Kathie. Ou, na fala de um entrevistado: “Eu mesmo não confio em ninguém. Eu posso pensar: eu não vou trair ela, mas ninguém sabe o que está acontecendo com ela”.

“São sempre reações antagônicas: compromisso versus não compromisso; longa duração versus pouca duração; intimidade sexual versus superficialidade sexual; envolvimento afetivo versus não envolvimento afetivo; exclusividade versus traição”, avalia a pesquisadora. “No entanto, se há uma persistência do machismo como um (anti) valor de longa duração, existem mudanças provocadas pelas mulheres, que se colocam numa posição de parceiras capazes de questionar e propor novas modalidades de relacionamento. Muitas adotam comportamentos ditos masculinos, como a agressão física e verbal”, observa Maria Cecília. No caso do sexo, inclusive. “Os meninos usam estratégias românticas para transar com as parceiras, com argumentos de que seria uma ‘prova de amor’. Muitas meninas reproduzem valores de subjugação, mas um número não desprezível delas toma a iniciativa e testa os garotos na sua sexualidade, humilhando os que não querem transar com elas”, completa. O “ficar” trouxe novidades também para os homossexuais e bissexuais: 3% e 1% dos rapazes, respectivamente, assumiram o comportamento. “Para os jovens que se engajam nessas relações, o ‘ficar’ serve como experimentação e confirmação da opção sexual. Por serem menos públicas, as relações do ‘ficar’ geram menos suspeitas e minimizam rejeições, assédios e violências até que o jovem esteja seguro de sua orientação sexual”, nota Simone. Mas, apesar do discurso renovado dos jovens que dizem “adorar amigos gays”, a realidade mantém o preconceito dos velhos tempos e é uma fonte de bullying entre colegas.

Outro aliado do “ficar” é a internet, vista como espaço mais livre e de maior comunicação para a organização de encontros, ampliando a possibilidade de experimentação das relações e forma de conhecer melhor o parceiro, se aproximar e travar amizades. Mas nem mesmo a ferramenta moderna consegue pôr fim ao combustível natural das brigas: o ciúme, considerado entre os jovens como algo natural entre pessoas que se amam. Incluindo-se os célebres “gritos”: algumas adolescentes usam essa estratégia para evitar a subjugação, adotando uma postura agressiva antes que os rapazes o façam. Eles, por sua vez, ao contrário do que pensam as mulheres, consideram que gritar não resolve problemas de relação. Nisso há um dado preocupante. “Observamos que o jovem que é vítima da violência verbal do parceiro tem 2,6 vezes mais chances de ter sofrido esse tipo de agressão por parte dos pais, comparado com quem não sofreu nenhuma forma de violência”, diz Kathie. “Os adolescentes elegeram a família como a principal referência para questões afetivo-sexuais. Os dados revelam, porém, que raramente os adolescentes procuram ajuda em situações de violência no relacionamento e apenas 3,5% dentre eles afirmaram ter solicitado apoio profissional por causa de uma agressão causada pelo parceiro.” Para Kathie, os profissionais nas escolas e os amigos precisam ser informados para ajudar no processo.

Agressão – “Grande parte dos rapazes e moças considera normal a agressão verbal e física na resolução de seus conflitos amorosos. Romper com essas práticas implica o questionamento sobre certos modelos de existência instituídos no campo social. É importante questionar a associação mecânica de características tidas como universais ao ‘ser homem’ e ao ‘ser mulher’, bem como criticar a desqualificação de um gênero em prol da valorização do outro”, avisa a pesquisadora. Os padrões de violência afetivo-sexual tendem a se reproduzir, porque são estruturais e estruturantes. “Atua-se muito pouco em relação a essa violência entre jovens e adolescentes. Eles costumam ficar em seus próprios mundos, as escolas geralmente não se envolvem no assunto porque julgam que isso não é de sua alçada. Os pais ou não têm tempo ou não acompanham verdadeiramente a vida dos filhos e a tendência é a reprodução dos padrões familiares e grupais”, analisa Maria Cecília. Segundo ela, há uma supervalorização de modelos de consumo, beleza, competitividade e poder, em detrimento de outros modelos, incrementada em grande parte pela mídia, o que provoca uma crise de valores na sociedade. “A juventude reflete de muitos modos esses valores. Mas eu tendo a achar que os jovens de hoje, no meio de mudanças profundas e aceleradas, não são piores que os de nosso tempo, nem ideológica, nem do ponto de vista do compromisso social”, acredita a autora. “Ao contrário: como sempre eles estão aí para realizar uma nova direção do mundo e nos surpreender, como vem ocorrendo, politicamente em vários países do mundo.” Na contramão, felizmente, dos nossos pais.