Extreme assessments and paranoid conclusions
After giving the New York Times article a little bit more time to settle there are three points that I wanted to review further.
The first was how the article came to use the term extreme communities. I did read over the Vaughan Bell article where a reference is made to such communities.
One feature that has garnered relatively little
attention in the clinical research literature is the existence of what might be
termed ‘extreme communities’. Owing to the difficulty with which material can be
effectively censored or suppressed online, views considered extreme or
unacceptable to the mainstream can be expressed relatively freely, with online
communities often formed by those who share similar opinions. Some of these are
of particular interest to mental health professionals, as they attempt to
reframe what would otherwise be classified as ‘mental disorder’ in an entirely
According to what Dr Bell wrote in the article it was views considered extreme or unacceptable by the mainstream. Using this definition I wondered if things such as the 9/11 truth movement would be an extreme community? Their views are not considered mainstream. I also wondered who else might fall into this list based on Dr Bell's definition?
Websites that cover conspiracy topics might well meet his definition of extreme communities. Many of the subject matters covered on websites such as http://www.abovetopsecret.com/ would fall into this category. They would be a website of mini patches of extreme communities.
Another factor that I thought should be calculated in when defining a community as an extreme community is the obvious, is the community helpful vs harmful? What kind of purpose do they serve? If I go to a website that has what by some is considered an extreme view that encourages me to kill myself, then that should be considered different than going to a website that expounds none traditional views, but steers the website viewer away from inflicting harm to themselves?
There are lot's of websites that conform to traditional or more traditional mainstream views that in my opinion are probably fairly harmful to some aspects of society, but we turn a blind eye, because it does pass mainstream muster.
The definition as is, in my opinion is fairly broad, and the references to the term were limited except for references to Dr Bell's work and the New York Times article.
The other point that I am wondering about is who or what now defines what is mainstream or normal? In today's society we have so many different variables to consider. At one time spending all your time online might have been considered the actions of lonely desperate people. Now with websites such as Facebook, and much of web 2.0 culture, being online is considered normal, and spending many hours online as long as it's spent socialising is considered a fairly normal and healthy activity.
According to a report from Mediamark Research in a 30 day period 2.5 million adults participated in online dating. I am sure they find this to be completely normal and mainstream, but I am sure there are patches of that do not agree with this.
World of WarCraft reached 11 Million monthly Subscribers. Many of them sane individuals who go online to take part in these roleplaying games. For that community, I am sure they consider themselves normal and mainstream, just by their sheer numbers. I am sure there are still many in society who would not however consider going online to roleplay normal, mainstream or even healthy.
Thus what would be considered as abnormal or extreme view offline is often a normal and accepted view online, in many different circles. Eg. 9/11 conspiracy offline, might still be considered anti-government or none traditional, but online they are a fairly regular part of web culture and discussions. When defining mainstream and referencing the Internet, we might have to start finding different ways to do so.
Eg. I just read an article today, that talks about a real life couple getting divorced because he is cheating online with a virtual girlfriend. Traditional definitions are having to be adapted and redefined to accommodate an online culture.
A second woman in Japan was arrested because she killed her online husband. She killed his virtual self. That's right, she did not kill him, or have any intention of killing the real him, but when his online virtual self divorced her, she got even and killed him. She was arrested for hacking into the computer and other things, and now if she is formally charged, she could face up to 5 years in jail.
It is becoming more and more clear that it is the offline world that is having to adapt to the new online realities and not often the other way around. Therefore what we considered traditional and mainstream yesterday for an offline reality, in many ways is being redefined, and it does not seem as if some offline structures are keeping up to date with this reality.
The third point of concern with the New York Times article is that people were being considered paranoid with simple offline assessments. Are these offline assessments adequate for some of the challenges that people are facing in the modern day world to define Targeted Individuals as paranoid?
Recent research has unearth a great deal of information to show that when people are being termed as paranoid, it might not be the case.
Research is showing that there are in fact networks of individuals being hired by the state in various countries to track and spy on average citizens. The spying includes email and phone taps. Being followed around in public by hired Covert Human Intelligence Sources. Having these same Informants move into the houses around the target when possible. Following them around in vehicle and foot patrols, plus many other forms of intrusive surveillance.
Individuals and Families under these types of surveillance are often not aware, and if they do become aware and go to seek help, they are often written off by the establishment as paranoid, psychotic, or crazy. The modern day reality is that without proper investigations, Freedom Of Information Act requests, and other proper forms of inquiry a true assessment might be impossible to determine. The secondary problem is that many of these investigations are ending up in secret databases, which the public has no access to. F.O.I.A. requests are no longer a sure fire way to determine if an individual is under surveillance.
I think it's fair and safe to say that before a community is considered extreme many factors should be considered, and the definition itself should factor into consideration what's considered normal online as well as offline. Assessing if a community or individual is paranoid or psychotic in today's modern surveillance society should be done with care and caution. It's been shown time and time again that anti-terror laws are being abused, National Security Letters are being handed out left right and center, with over 30,000 being issued per year, and many groups and individuals are being spied upon and placed on watch lists, unfairly.
In a society as the one described above, it is not only normal to have concerns about surveillance, but when there is a suspicion of such, the job of therapists in the future might not be first subscribing the patient to medication, it might be first asking if they have placed a F.O.I.A. request.
Society might even have to make it a mandatory law for psychiatrist to be notified if a person is under surveillance so that they are not falsely labelled, committed or medicated. This does not happen, the culture and society have changed within the last decade, but the methods used for determining paranoia, psychosis, and mental illness, in regards to the belief that one is under surveillance are still fairly antiquated in many cases, and might not pass muster for the realities of a modern day surveillance society.