The crisis of social media and rise in acid attacks globally

in July 5th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of July 5, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

We’ve heard that stress can turn your hair gray — but did you know the reverse can happen too?! A new study has found that upon stress elimination, follicles that once produced gray hairs can instead create normal color again. But why do we never notice? Researchers say when looking at hair, we may just see color and gray, but really, which follicles are producing which version could be changing. Though researchers note that reducing stress (which is a good goal in general) doesn’t guarantee normal hair color.


New paper calls for urgent attention to the crisis of social media 

Sun Jun 27

We’ve all heard the complaints around how social media affects us (or maybe just watched the Social Network), but now a major paper expounds the collective effect and alarming unknowns of such platforms. The authors are researchers of widely different fields — from climate change to philosophy — and worked together to push for urgent studies of social media, detailing its grave impacts to our mental health, democracy, and relationships.

Their main claim is that social media's impact on society should be treated as a “crisis discipline,” a field where academics work quickly to address urgent societal problems, such as saving an endangered species. In the call for this new crisis discipline, called "collective behavior," researchers address the many complexities of social media's impact: 

  • There’s little understanding about the unintended consequences that contribute to election tampering, violent extremism, or the dangers of disinformation (such as how the spread of misinformation during the pandemic stopped people from wearing masks and now getting vaccines, leading to deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19).
  • While social media has helped democratize information, especially benefiting marginalized and underrepresented communities, it’s also resulted in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims and the insurrection at the Capitol.
  • The main defense of social media was how it allows for information to spread outside gatekeepers. For example, when mainstream media didn’t report on the initial thread of COVID-19, information was shared across platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

The paper doesn’t intend to reinvent the wheel as current researchers in communications have been doing some of this work, but emphasizes the need for urgent, focused research that can inform policymakers for regulation. If the challenge is taken up, collective behavior would be similar to climate change or even COVID-19 as a field. 

Some additional resources...


Life-altering acid attacks are on the rise

Mon Jun 28

Seven years after being attacked by acid, Esther Jimenez took to social media to share her story. The now 37-year-old included a picture of her since disfigured face — which, just after the attack, led her own children to no longer recognize her and call her a monster — after feeling tired of constantly hiding from society. Victims like Esther are socially isolated and often unable to even obtain jobs, destroying more than just their physical being. No arrests were ever made in Esther’s attack, while the consequences for perpetrators or those ordered to conduct a hit (which goes for as low as $600) are as minimal as up to a year in prison.

And these attacks are on the rise globally, especially given the ease of access to acid.

  • The United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of recorded acid attacks in the world per capita, with attacks on both men and women.
  • Many South Asian countries see hundreds of attacks each year, with unreported cases estimated at over 1,000+, mainly to women and girls.
  • Colombia, Uganda, and Cambodia have all seen a record number of attacks in the past decade, though Cambodian legislation helped bring their numbers down to single digits.

So what can be done? In the U.K., demands are being made to make it harder for people to buy corrosives (bleach and drain cleaning products) or at least traceable, for example by requiring credit card transactions on these products. Some countries have enacted legislation on sentencing or even financial assistance for victims, but enforcement and awareness of the laws remain an obstacle for many. Social media, however, like in Esther's case can help raise awareness and empower victims to challenge society's discrimination against them.  

Some additional resources... 

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      "-_____-"    Martin Atkins
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Be careful, that joy could turn your hair normal!

Art Credit: Martin Atkins

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