Demons on the Web
Posted by dlende on November 14, 2008
Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks makes the New York Times today! So finally a picture of the man! He is seated in the garden outside the Department of Psychiatry at the Universidad de Antioquia, where he now works in Medellin, Colombia.
The NYT piece Sharing Their Demons on the Web begins:
For years they lived in solitary terror of the light beams that caused searing headaches, the technology that took control of their minds and bodies. They feared the stalkers, people whose voices shouted from the walls or screamed in their heads, “We found you” and “We want you dead.”
When people who believe such things reported them to the police, doctors or family, they said they were often told they were crazy. Sometimes they were medicated or locked in hospital wards, or fired from jobs and isolated from the outside world.
But when they found one another on the Internet, everything changed. So many others were having the same experiences.
The article goes on to discuss this “extreme” online community that gives peer support a whole new meaning! Mind control, stalking and paranoia become the delusions of the net. “The views of these belief systems are like a shark that has to be constantly fed,” Dr. Hoffman said. “If you don’t feed the delusion, sooner or later it will die out or diminish on its own accord. The key thing is that it needs to be repetitively reinforced.”
On the other hand, Derrick Robinson, a janitor in Cincinnati, says “It was a big relief to find the community. I felt that maybe there were others, but I wasn’t real sure until I did find this community.” Mr Robinson has gone on to become the president of Freedom from Covert Harassment and Surveillance.
Vaughan estimates that there are a small number of these intense sites that are frequented around the Internet. I ran across a similar phenemenon exploring pro Ana websites that support anorexia a couple years back. But Vaughan has published everything! The article ‘Mind Control’ Experiences on the Internet: Implications for the Psychiatric Diagnosis of Delusions (pdf) appeared in Psychopathology (also available here through Scribd).
As expected, Vaughan documents the NY Times article over at Mind Hacks. He described the outcomes of this research in an earlier post on Internet mind control and the diagnosis of delusions. As Vaughan concludes about this research:
This is interesting because the diagnostic criteria for a delusion excludes any belief that is “not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture”, whereas these individuals have formed an online community based around their delusional belief, creating a paradox.