Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
If you’ve watched the TV show “CSI: Cyber” then you know a little bit about Mary Aiken. She’s a forensic cyber psychologist, and the fictional television program was inspired by her real life work advising law enforcement on virtual crime. Aiken says people take risks online they never would in the “real world”, a phenomenon that puts vulnerable populations at risk, particularly the young. In a new book, “The Cyber Effect”, Aiken explains how the act of going online changes our behavior in fundamental ways. From what happens in the “dark web”, to issues raised by digital selfies, to the growing problem of “cyberchondria” Aiken introduces us to some of the many ways our behavior changes online.
- Mary Aiken Author, "The Cyber Effect"; forensic cyberpsychologist and director of the CyberPsychology Reserach Network
Read An Excerpt
MR. DEREK MCGINTYThanks for joining us. I'm Derek McGinty in for Diane Rehm. Remember the joy of that very first broadband internet connection. I sure do 'cause it was a game-changer. Suddenly, a whole new world had opened up. What I didn't realize at the time, though, was that in traveling that bright new world, we would change as well. Well, Mary Aiken is a cyber-psychologist studying how that technology impacts human behavior and what she's found out regarding our lives and our lives online is enlightening and, frankly, a little disturbing.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYShe lays it out in her brand-new book. It's called "The Cyber Effect: The Pioneering Cyber-Psychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online." Mary Aiken joins us here in the studio. Thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.
MS. MARY AIKENThank you, Derek. Thank you for inviting me.
MCGINTYOh, man. Oh, this is going to be fun. By the way, we want your phone calls. The number here, 800-433-8850. 800-433-8850. Drop us a line via email at email@example.com. And, of course, there's always Facebook and Twitter as well. Mary Aiken, let's talk about being a cyber-psychologist. I've never heard of this. Exactly what is it?
AIKENCyber-psychology is the study of the impact of technology on human behavior. So as a cyber-psychologist, my job is to provide insight at that intersection between humans and technology or as law enforcement say, where humans and technology collide.
MCGINTYYeah. Now, we ought to note that your career and what you do is the inspiration for "CSI: Cyber," which is one of those procedurals on television that follows -- that is very popular on the networks.
AIKENThat's true. And Patricia Arquette actually plays me in the show, which is as surreal as it sounds, believe me.
MCGINTYIs it -- how close to reality is what's on the show?
AIKENIt's very close, actually. You know, we take crimes that have happened and we mix it up with contemporary cyber crime and then we sort of future pace it a little so it's pretty close.
MCGINTYLet's talk about exactly what you've begun to discover. When did you first realize that folks acted differently online than they do in real life?
AIKENI've been involved in a dozen different research silos, everything from cyber babies to sexting teens, from cyberchondria to organized cyber crime. And the one thing that I observed over a period of time is that whenever technology interfaces with a base human disposition, the results tends to be amplified and accelerated online. And I began to think of this as a cyber effect. In the book, what I refer to as the E = MC2 of the century.
AIKENIf we can figure it out.
MCGINTYSo give me an example of a routine behavior that all of us may engage in that becomes amplified once we get on a computer.
AIKENWell, if you look at something like trolling. You know, you can make fun of people or, you know, say -- we call it in our language, we say slagging or shooting the breeze. And you can do that face to face, but as humans, we're hardwired to read facial expression, those cues. And if you're going a little too far, you can see it in the face of the person that you're just having fun with. And the line between humor and hurting somebody's feelings, that's a fine line.
AIKENNow, you go online. Visually lean medium. Also, you've got the power of anonymity, which is a super human power, the power of invisibility and one that we've got to treat carefully. Then, factor in the online disinhibition effect and that dictates that people will do things in a cyber context that they won't do in the real world.
MCGINTYWhen you say people will do things in a cyber context, do you mean in terms of just saying things or do you mean planning to actually go out and do things?
AIKENIn terms of normal behavior, you can have -- or a general population, you can have people engaging in cyber bullying or trolling. Now, factor that into sort of criminal behavior and you can certainly see an amplification there. I'll give you an example. Let's take criminal behavior, for example, stalking. In the real world, a stalker's motive to engage in stalking is that glimpse of intimacy into the victim's life. The modus operandi is literally to physically follow the person around during the day. It's all very labor intensive.
AIKENAnd they end up outside the victim's home with that glimpse of intimacy just as they're going to close their curtains. Now, take cyber stalking. Cyber stalking, the motive is the same, but it's not a glimpse of intimacy. It's the life of the person. Once you compromise the victim's technologies, you can see their emails, their photographs, their diary, every single thought. So that's everything. Now, cyber stalkers stalk multiple victims simultaneously. Why? Because technology affords them the ability to do so.
MCGINTYYou say, because they can, really.
AIKENJust because they can. And then, on top of that, we see the emergence of female cyber stalkers and we don't -- it's very rare to see female stalkers in the real world. So if you've got a condition or a criminal behavior that's differentiated in three major ways, the real question is are we still talking about the same behavior. Have we been a little lazy and just stuck cyber as a prefix in front of the behavior?
MCGINTYIt feels like a lot of us did not see this coming, that we -- again, I go back to that early broadband experience I had in the '90s when I've very excited. And I'm sure a lot of other were, too, to finally have an internet where I could download a song in less than five hours, right? We didn't think there was a downside to it. How did we miss this?
AIKENI am absolutely pro-technology. I couldn't do my job as a cyber-psychologist without engaging all day long with technology. I like to sort of think if it this way. Technology was designed to be rewarding, engaging and seductive for normal population. But did anybody really think about criminal, deviant, abnormal or vulnerable online? And I think, to a certain extent, the tech industry and the behavioral sciences have been blindsided by rapid evolutions in behavior associated with technology.
MCGINTYIn other words, there was not necessarily a way to know how this would impact all sorts of odd folks who might get online, if I can use an expression.
AIKENIt's not an psychological term, odd folks, but I'll roll with that. I think that I first studied psychology back in the day and we used to say the problem with psychology was it, for too long, it lived on a diet of white mice and college student surveys. The problem with technology is that for too long, it's lived on a diet of data, devices and tech experts. So we really need to factor the human back into the equation. When I first came across artificial intelligence in the late '90s in the form of a learning algorithm at chatbot -- have you ever talked to a chatbot?
MCGINTYI have not.
AIKENIt's good fun. So there's one called Jabberwacky and it's incredible. It simulates human conversation. If you're ever feeling lonely...
MCGINTYCan it pass the Turing test, as they say?
AIKENYes, it can, very good.
AIKENVery good, yes.
MCGINTYI should note for folks who don't Turing test is the idea that if you can talk to a machine, say, online and not know it's a machine, it has passed the Turing test.
AIKENAbsolutely. And when I came across this -- it was incredible. I was captivated. I chatted online. I was like, oh, this is wonderful. And then, I started thinking about all the possibilities. I thought, goodness, this would be great for people suffering from social isolation or children, maybe, with learning difficulties. And then, I stopped because I realized that nothing in my study of psychology, to date, equipped me to understand the profound impact of technology on humans. And that really made me look at the literature in the area and I started reading.
AIKENAnd I came across cyber-psychology, late '90s, early 2000s and I thought, this is it. It was a light bulb moment. I said, this is the future. And I decided to give everything up and go back and requalify in the area. And everybody told me I was wrong. They said, cyber what?
MCGINTYWow. Well, obviously, they were wrong. I'm curious, though, I mean, one of the big driving forces, and I have to say it, with regard to the internet, one of the things that's made it grow has been pornography. So how does this play into that desire of some people?
AIKENYeah. That's a -- I mean, it's a good question because, yes, it's been a big driver in terms of online content, but it's problematic. So it really -- it's problematic in terms of how do we protect children. When you have legal, but age-inappropriate content available online, fine for adults. Adults can look at whatever they want to do. But as a society, we have a duty of care to protect children and I'm tired of parents and teachers being almost held exclusively responsible for looking after children in the cyber context.
AIKENWe don't expect parents to man the doors to bars to stop kids buying alcohol underage. Why do we expect them to be almost exclusively responsible for child protection in cyber context? In an age of ubiquitous technology, it is practically impossible.
MCGINTYSo then, if not the parent, who?
AIKENI think it's a role for authorities to step in. I think that the people, you know, let's think about the internet as a continuum, as a space, as a line. On the far left, you have the keyboard warriors. You have the freedom of the internet brigade. Hands off our space. This is a new frontier. And they have a motive to keep the internet as free from regulation or governance as possible. They're sitting over on the left. On the far right, you have the tech industry. Oh, they've got a motive to keep the internet free of governance and regulation. Why?
AIKENBecause it costs money. But the rest of us, the 99.9 percent of us and our children, we live in the middle in between these two vested interests. And cyber space is full of surveillance, but who is looking out for us?
MCGINTYMary Aiken, she is a cyber-psychologist. Her book is called "The Cyber Effect: The Pioneering Psychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online." Lots more to discuss. We await your calls at 800-433-8850. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MCGINTYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Derek McGinty in for Diane today. And we are having a very interesting conversation with cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken. Her book is called "The Cyber Effect." She's actually the inspiration for that "CSI: Cyber" program a lot of you probably watched at some point this week. And you write early in your book, in your introduction, you ask a question. You say, is cyberspace a real place? So what's the answer? Is it?
AIKENAbsolutely. So, as cyber-psychologists, we would fundamentally believe that it is actually an environment. Technology is not just a transactional, passive medium. It's not like sitting and watching the television. It's somewhere where you go, where you become psychologically immersed in the space. And you can lose a sense of time. Did you ever sit down to check your emails or just search something before you went to go out and all of a sudden an hour has gone past?
MCGINTYHappens all the time.
AIKENBecause you're in a space. Now behavior can mutate and change in that space. I say that cyberspace is like the 51st state.
AIKENIt's somewhere that -- it's a place that people go, behavior changes. At this point in time, we can still conceptualize cyberspace as a different space. But I say to parents, if you think you have problems now with your kids turning up at the dinner table and their cell phones in their hands...
AIKEN...wait till they turn up with their full HMDUs, their head-mounted display units.
AIKENAnd not only are they psychologically immersed in a virtual reality environment, but they're also going to be physically encapsulated in it.
MCGINTYThat is fascinating and scary at the same time. And it leads to an email we got here from a local nonprofit, where Thomas writes and says, we are a local nonprofit that emphasizes asset-based development for at-risk youth in our area. We're considering making our gathering spaces, quote, "no-smartphone" environments, in order to invite more face-to-face involvement with each other and healthy adults. Are we overreacting? If not, what benefits should we look for?
AIKENThis is the whole screen-time debate. And it's actually a little-known fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under the age of two. And the -- that's important. But it's even more important when parents say to me, what age should I allow my infant or toddler look at screens...
AIKEN...or have devices? I turn the question around and say, that's important. But what's more important is what age do you expose your child to your screen use?
AIKENThe average parent looks at their mobile phone -- or the average person looks at their mobile phone 200 times a day.
MCGINTYThat's a lot.
AIKENIf you are a caregiver or a parent of a young child, that is 200 times that you have not made eye contact with your child. Babies need face time, and not the app sort.
MCGINTYSo, I almost want to ask the question, how much face time is bad -- when I say face time, Internet time, screen time -- is bad for an adult? When should a person say, I've gotten a little too involved in this?
AIKENIt's not my job to tell adults what they should and shouldn't do. I think that -- read about it, be informed about it. I do things with my screen time, like I set my time to actually call out automatically, top of the hour.
AIKENSo 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock, it'll tell me how long I've been online. People get a little freaked when I'm on a Skype call and all of a sudden you get this AI voice. But it's a good way of actually measuring your own time. I would also say that, increasingly, a lot of people, friends and colleagues, are conducting a digital detox at the weekend, where they're literally not going online. They're turning off their devices. They're turning off their screens. And they're getting back to the family environment, talking to each other and communicating.
MCGINTYLet's get our phone calls. Stephen in Washington, D.C., you're on the air. Go ahead.
STEPHENThanks very much, Derek. And hi, Mary, it's Stephen Balkam here at the Family Online Safety Institute.
STEPHENReally enjoying the book and reading it avidly since I received my copy a couple of days ago. I did have a question for you on the section called The Cyber Magna Carta.
STEPHENAnd where you're talking about the desirability of having global cyber laws, like the laws of the sea, for the Internet...
STEPHEN...or the aviation law. But in the same section, you also talk about the fragmentation of the Internet. As China has done, for instance, and it's created its own version of the Internet. And you even suggest that that doesn't have to be considered a negative. You go on to talk about France and Germany and the U.K. all creating specific laws. So how do you reconcile those two. In other words, your call for global regulation on the one hand, with this ongoing, national legislation and fragmentation as you describe? And if we did have global laws, say the U.N., how would it be enforced?
AIKENYeah. That's a good question. I think that there are different issues. I think there are overall architectural issues where we can say collectively, what do we want in this space? And agree on certain broad principles globally. Say, for example, child protection online. That would be a global, universal principle. I think that, in terms of fragmentation of the net, what we're seeing is, for example, countries like France becoming very proactive in terms of bringing in guidelines that are very specific in terms of how people use technology. For example, in France, they've banned any media that targets children under the age of three.
AIKENAnd also they've brought in a regulation that employers can't contact their employees outside of working hours, which is another interesting piece of legislation. I think the France model is a good one, because France is very culturally protective. They look -- they protect their language and they protect their movies. And now they're protecting their culture in a cyber context. So when I say fragmentation isn't necessarily a bad thing, I mean it in a cultural context, that you can protect the things that you hold sacred within your own culture. But that fragmented piece can fit into the overall global aspiration that we would have, you know, uniform principles that we could all abide by.
MCGINTYYou know -- well, go ahead.
AIKENFor example, a piece that I'm working on at the moment is the U.N. convention on the rights of a child enshrines the right to healthy mental and physical development. My argument is that, if a child is exposed to extreme content online, legal but age-inappropriate content, then that constitutes the abuse of a child. So I am lobbying for an amendment to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child to incorporate the children's right in a cyber context.
MCGINTYThat sounds wonderful. But we all know that what the U.N. decides has very little effect, quite often, on what goes on on the ground here in the United States. And I'm reminded of the debate over sugar taxes on soda. Some people say, well, if we tax soda, people will drink less of it. And they shouldn't ought to have so much sugary drink. And on the other side and in this country, people say, wait a minute, this is a free country. I have the right to mess up, even, you know, that's part of having freedom is I have the right to make a big mistake.
AIKENOkay. And this is what makes debate in this country so interesting. Because I would say, yes, right to free speech, right to pornography, right to whatever you want online. But not at any cost and not at the cost of the rights of a child.
MCGINTYSo how would you do it? How would you protect -- I've got a computer in my house. I've got a kid in my house, let's say, for example, because I don't have a kid in the house. But if I did, how would the government or some other outside authority control what my kid was exposed to?
AIKENI don't want to talk about control or nanny state or use that sort of language. I want to talk about governance and good practice. You know, what is good practice? So at the moment, we talk about parental controls. So as soon as I bring the issues up, everybody says, but we've got parental controls. So here's the thing I'd like listeners to do. Please Google, bypassing parental controls and you're going to get a million results. And you're not going to sleep tonight. Because I don't know a 13 year old who doesn't know how to bypass them. And if they don't know how to do it, their friends do it.
AIKENSo let's accept that you might have a good regime in your own home. But when your kid goes to another home, what happens? Or when they access free Wi-Fi?
MCGINTYSo again I ask the question. You've delineated the problem quite well.
MCGINTYHow do we get past it?
AIKENI'm not going to be prescriptive and say, here's a definitive solution. I wrote the book to start the conversation. And what I would like to do is bring stakeholders together, from industry, parents, statutory authorities, to come together and say, guys, we've got a problem here. We need to fix it. Michael Seto, great forensic psychologist said, we are living through the largest, unregulated social experiment of all time -- a generation of kids who've been exposed to extreme content online.
MCGINTYLet's get back to the phones. Tim in Atlanta, Ga., you are on the air. Go ahead.
TIMHi. Mary, it's nice to hear you talk. Atlanta is a center for child transport for nefarious purpose. On the other hand, looking at whether or not parents set the cultural boundaries for their children, I think it's very important for each set of parents to maintain those and to have the dialog with their children, rather than looking for an outside body that provides more than education on -- that they should engage in this.
AIKENYeah. That's a good comment. And, you know, we get hung up about surveillance. But when it comes to monitoring kids' activities online, that's not surveillance. That's called parenting. So parents have the right to know what's happening with their children. Let me give you an example. And they need to be supporters in how they monitor. So I'll give you an example. I like to say that, you know, the greatest -- to paraphrase my favorite movie -- the greatest trick that the social media companies have ever pulled is to convince us they can do nothing about cyber-bullying.
AIKENCyber bullying -- real-world bullying is a problem. Why? A punch in the playground, a harsh word. Cyber bullying is nothing but evidence. You cannot cyber bully without leaving a trail of evidence. And we're talking about minors. We could come up with machine intelligence solutions to Cyber bullying overnight -- cyber bullying that targets minors -- if there was a collective will to do so.
AIKENSo let me just take cyber bullying and turn it into math. There's an equation. First variable in the equation is content. You've got hate, die, kill. Second is direction. I'm bullying you. Factor in interval and frequency. The algorithm could be triggered as soon as the equation was -- everything came together. And effectively, then a digital outreach could be sent to the child to say, you're being bullied. Go and get help. A digital outreach to the parent to say, you need to talk to your child. Parents should not be the last people to know that their child is being cyber bullied. And that's where we can use the system to actually help parents.
AIKENAnd this could be opt in. Parents could give permission. Yes, I want my child's text-based or social media-based communications to be monitored, because I would like to know what's happening and I want to be there to help. And the thing is that kids are not likely to tell their parents when things are going wrong online. Why? Because they fear that the parents will confiscate their technology.
MCGINTYAnd not only that, kids don't like to tell parents very much about what's going on socially with them even in my day. And we didn't have computers at all.
AIKENI know. But if your child is being -- is a victim of, you know, a horrendous and sustained cyber bullying, you have a right to know.
MCGINTYOh, yes. No question.
AIKENAnd we should help you to know. And you know the great thing about artificial intelligence monitoring your child's communication is that there's no breach of parental trust. You're not reading their emails or looking at their texts, which you shouldn't do. It's actually machine intelligence looking at it and flagging up that something's wrong.
MCGINTYVery good idea, Mary Aiken. Her book is called "The Cyber Effect." She is a cyber-psychologist. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right, let's get back to our phone calls. Artie in Vermont, you're on the air. Is it Arlie or Artie.
ARLIEIt's Arlie. Thank you very much.
ARLIEGood morning. It's a fascinating show and it's a really -- it's a very deep subject. I had just wanted to call in and mention that in the late '80s and early '90s, when I was in undergraduate school and as a graduate student, we were doing research on bullying and behavior in text-based, computer-mediated communication situations. And we were finding the same evidence of what's now called cyber bullying 30 years ago.
ARLIEYou know, it's not a new phenomena. I think that bullying has been going on essentially as long as there have been people around to bully each other. But what we have now that we didn't have at that time is the absolute pervasiveness of the systems by which people communicate. And, you know, in the '80s it was very difficult to do that kind of work because it was usually academic based or, you know, it was a dial-up modem of some sort. But now we have access to all of the amazing technology we have and it just raised the stakes on all of this so much.
AIKENAnd that would be a cyber effect.
AIKENThat amplification and escalation. Do you know that the average that an American child gets their first phone is six?
AIKENFirst mobile phone at six. They're not developmentally, psychologically, sociologically capable of dealing with the power of that entity at that age.
MCGINTYLet's talk about something else you mention as an effect of our cyber culture. You call it fun failure. What is that?
AIKENFun failure, it's a -- in cyber psychology, we would describe it as variable ratio and intermittent reinforcement aspects of technology. Which...
MCGINTYAnd in English, please.
AIKENThat's a fancy way of saying that technology can be like a big -- a giant slot machine.
AIKENThat every so often -- here's the thing. If every email or text or search that you conducted was brilliant or was completely bad, neither of those would be as compelling, as compulsive as occasionally getting a reward.
AIKENJust think about like pulling the slot machine...
AIKEN...and every so often, and you see it lining up. Fun failure, you know when you do a scratch card, do you ever use scratch cards where you, it's a lottery and you scratch?
MCGINTYOh, a scratch ticket. Yeah.
AIKENYes. And you have to match three symbols.
AIKENHow many times do you match two and you think, wow, I'm almost there.
AIKENAnd that's a fun failure. So it's a little bit of excitement that you get just before you think you're going to be successful. And that's the hook. That's what keeps you coming back in.
AIKENSo an email comes in. You see the light flashing on your cell phone and you think, wow. Is this the praise from my boss I was waiting for or the promotion? And for a minute you feel good, a surge of dopamine. It's going to be great.
MCGINTYThen you find out it's from a Nigerian prince who's going to give you...
AIKENThat is true.
MCGINTYSo then, you talk about fun failure. In other words, it's the not knowing if the reward is there.
AIKENThe heart stopper.
AIKENThe just before. And that gives you a physiological and a psychological boost. And it sucks you back in. That's why you go and buy a scratch ticket again.
MCGINTYSo that sounds like it's almost insidious and unintentional, but very powerful.
AIKENVery powerful. And it goes into the way that our devices command our attention. So your cell phone, it has all sorts of bleeps and alerts, what we call in psychology signaling theory. So just think of birds calling in the wild. It also flashes a light to get your attention, which again is like -- is a procedure that we see in animals with display of color. And then, on top of that, if you put it in your pocket, it vibrates the same way beetles do in a mating dance. All it's got to do is start releasing pheromones and it's going to be it's going to be mating with you.
MCGINTYAnd you just can't stop. But we have to take a break, take a stop for a minute. We'll be back in a minute. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MCGINTYWelcome back to the Diane Rehm Show. I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane, and fascinating just barely describes the conversation with having with cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken and her new book, "The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyber-psychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online." And apparently it can change quite a bit. Mary, I've got to get back to this whole issue around fun failure, the idea of the fact that you get these sort of intermittent rewards keeps you coming back over and over again to whatever your online interface is. You say in videogames it is particularly pernicious.
AIKENAbsolutely, and I think that, you know, we look at videogames and how kids use them, and we really want to know more about that, the science behind what's happening and especially when kids are playing games under the recommended age.
MCGINTYSo what happens? I mean, why is it particularly bad? Is it because of the fact that the games get harder and harder and therefore kind of draw you in to keep on playing?
AIKENI fundamentally don't understand why the games have been designed the way that they are. So let's think about play in the real world. You start kicking a football around, and everybody's high-energy, and you're kicking and having a great time, and you're playing soccer, say for example. And as time goes by, kids get tired, and the game sort of -- if you were to plot it or chart it, sort of tapers off. But the reverse happens with computer games.
AIKENAs the kid who's playing gets more and more tired, the levels get more and more difficult. So that's why you see these what are called gaming freakouts online. If you search it, you'll have a look, it's horrifying because the children become incredibly stressed and exhausted.
MCGINTYBut now, as a bit of a gamer myself, I can tell you that these games are made to get harder because you get better. So the more skilled you become at defeating a certain level, it's not going to be fun anymore until it becomes a challenge again. So that's why it gets harder and harder.
AIKENYes, but, you know, again for adults, it's different. For kids, they're learning, they're learning how to regulate their behavior. They get -- they can get very distressed and physically and mentally exhausted as a result of the pressure that they're under while they're playing the games. And I actually write, just to segue into a forensic subject, I write about young kids and young boys playing games, and who are they playing with online.
AIKENSo if you were, as a mom, to come home and find your 11-year-old boy kicking a football around in the street with four men in their 30s or 40s...
MCGINTYYou would certainly raise an eyebrow to that, I think.
AIKENSo when they're playing online, and they're playing TopGun11 and whatever, who are these people? And if you are talking about predators operating in a cyber context, think about how much information that person can actually extract from playing with a child. So tone of voice of the child, they can begin to estimate age. They can also estimate supervision. How? How often does somebody come into the room and say get off that game, come for your dinner. And how long the child is left playing.
AIKENThey can also begin to assess the child's social network. Does the child have friends? Is it always -- the child always coming online alone? And you could begin to target a child and spot the vulnerability manifested in a cyber context.
MCGINTYFascinating, something for parents to be certainly very concerned about and thinking about as they let their children play these games. I want to shift gears for a moment and go back to the trolling and bullying conversation because we have an email from James, who wants to have a comment on the Leslie Jones hacking and trolling incidents. She was the comedian from "Saturday Night Live" who was on the "Ghostbusters" movie, the new, all-female "Ghostbusters," and she was just getting brutally attacked on Twitter, to the point where she said she just got off the medium altogether. What are your thoughts on that?
AIKENIt's a terrible thing, and I think what has happened to her is shocking and totally unacceptable in civilized society, and cyberspace, what happens in a cyber context impacts on the real world and vice versa. So for that to happen and her to be bullied like that in that way is unacceptable. She did try to retaliate, which increased the attacks. So it's a real problem. What do you do? Do you accept what's happening, do you fight back, do other people jump in and help her?
AIKENThere's a thing called the bystander effect in forensic psychology, and it says that the more people that witness an event the less likely, it was the murder of Kitty Genovese, the less likely that somebody will actually jump in.
MCGINTYBecause they think somebody else is going to do it.
AIKENExactly. So I think that -- you know, we say to kids, you know, don't be a bystander, step up and do something. In think with those sort of -- I mean, I get trolled all the time. I mean, for a woman to have an opinion about technology is hard to live with. For a woman to have an opinion about technology and politics is almost unbearable for some people.
MCGINTYSo how do you deal with it?
AIKENYou know, I'm a cyber behavioral scientist. So when you troll me, do you know what you're doing? You're giving me data and lots of it.
MCGINTYSo do you feel it's worthwhile to engage these people, or do you just look at what they have to say and clear it out, you know, delete it?
AIKENI just look at what they say an analyze it.
AIKENAll right, let's take some more phone calls. John in Atlanta, you're on the air, go ahead.
JOHNHey, thanks for taking my call. You know, I was in Orlando yesterday visiting some friends and family, and I went out for a drink with a couple friends, and there was an old friend of mine from high school that was sitting on the other side of the bar. You know, I follow her on Instagram, and she's married, has kids and, you know, looks like she's living a great life. But it's funny, when I went over to say hi, she just kind of disappeared.
JOHNYou know, it's interesting to think, you know, these people that are living almost vicariously through their social media, as time goes on, and people are trying to, I guess more than anything, impress people with their Instagram accounts, people are going to kind of psychologically mind-game themselves into the more they indulge themselves into making their lives look exciting on Instagram and Facebook, and then as they get older realizing that marriage and kids and mortgage isn't this riveting lifestyle.
JOHNDo you think -- will people almost avoid going that route? Will you see a decrease in marriage rates? Will you see an increase in singles in America?
MCGINTYYeah because single life is great all the time.
AIKENThat's, yeah, that's a great observation. There are a couple of things happening there. You know, I talk about -- if you go back to the work of George Herbert Mead in the 1930s, he talked about I, the pronoun, as the reflective self and me as the self, as an object. So these avatars that we create online, they're highly manipulated and curated. They're popular evidence by all these connections. They've got great skin and great hair and stretched to be five pounds lighter.
AIKENBut that can increase -- become increasingly hard to live up to. And I talk about in the book as a sort of a reverse Dorian Gray. The poor real-world self is going to end up hidden in a basement somewhere because it can never live up to this fabulous creation.
MCGINTYIt lives on Instagram alone. I want to get into something you call the deep Web, and I've heard of this, but I know almost nothing about it, and you say it's actually 96 to 99 percent of the content of the Internet is in the deep Web. What is this?
AIKENI call it in the chapter what lies beneath. So basically -- mostly there's a lot of boring stuff there like medical records or, you know, government files or patent applications. But also within the deep Web, so the deep Web is the unindexed part of the Internet, so you can't search using standard protocols. I'm not going to tell you on air how to go there.
AIKENBecause children may be listening. So -- but it's not a good neighborhood. There are entities that we call dark nets within the deep Web, where criminal population thrive, and it's not somewhere that you want your kids hanging out.
MCGINTYIs it something that can be regulated or controlled, or is it just a Wild, Wild West kind of a thing?
AIKENIt's a Wild, Wild West at the moment, and at the moment, we're just -- we're talking about criminal population, which is -- which presents a challenge to authority and society. My real concern is increasingly we're seeing kids and teenagers going there.
MCGINTYBecause of course anything that's forbidden and strange and lying beneath, that's where teenagers want to go, right?
MCGINTYYeah, let's get back to our phone calls. Chris in Commerce, Michigan, thanks for waiting.
CHRISHi. I just wanted to talk briefly, from what you were saying about gaming, it sounds like you might lack a very basic understanding of kind of the reward structures. I know that's something that you study, but it sounds like -- it sounds like you're almost blaming it for having this system of trying to suck people in. But in truth it's the same as soccer. When you get tired of soccer, you stop playing soccer. Games, you know, aren't as physically draining, but basically when you're done with them, you're done with them.
CHRISSome people might have problems with that, but then people have problems with gambling and other things, as well, that...
MCGINTYI've never heard of anybody getting addicted to soccer, though.
AIKENI'm talking -- I'm not talking about adults, I'm talking about kids. And specifically I was talking about the phenomenon of gaming freakouts, where kids get emotionally and psychologically exhausted, to the point where they almost have a breakdown. And what's really interesting, we've been talking for about 50 minutes, and we've had no calls from female listeners. And, you know, we -- as women we've spent hundreds of years getting rights and rights to vote and better jobs and better pay, but we're going forward to live in this environment, cyberspace, that has almost been exclusively designed by men.
AIKENAnd I would like women to step up and join the conversation.
MCGINTYAll right, so how would this look different if women had been half of the designers, let's say, of the internet and all the things that go with it?
AIKENHonestly, I don't think we'd have as many problems as we have now.
AIKENBecause I think women have finely honed protective instincts, and I think certainly they would be thinking about kids. There is -- the Internet is an adult environment. Let's make no mistake about that. There is no shallow end of the swimming pool online.
MCGINTYAnd I think people think there is.
AIKENLook, the American military have a thing called NIPRNet. It's an Internet within an Internet, to keep -- so the military can operate in a secure space. Why can't we have a NIPRNet for kids?
MCGINTYHow would that work in terms of your access from your computer? Because that sounds a lot like the parental controls that you say are so easy for kids to get around.
AIKENI think that -- I don't have a single solution. The book is a call for action. It's a call for parent power. It's a call to sort of retake the space and to protect those who are vulnerable. I just want people to come together and debate this. But what we can't do is not have a solution.
MCGINTYWhat kind of reaction from the technology community have you seen? Are they pushing back on what you have to say?
AIKENIn terms of the social media companies?
AIKENI'm sure I'm not on their Christmas list, but there you go. I think that there are a lot of people in the -- I'm critical of them, say for example Facebook. You know, I come across them at conferences, and I say to them, look, before you put one more red button for alerting or reporting, could you just apply your own rules, no kids under 13, on your platform.
MCGINTYIs that enforceable?
AIKENOf course it is. It's not credible to think that a company with the resources of Facebook can't detect an eight-year-old using their site. What does an eight-year-old do when they create a profile? Do you know between 25 and 50 percent of kids eight to 12 are on Facebook? The first thing the kid...
MCGINTYAre they using their real ages?
AIKENOf course not. They're doing self...
MCGINTYSo the question is, yeah, how would you determine.
AIKENSo they're self-verifying. Okay, an eight-year-old develops a profile, the first thing they do is put up a photograph of themselves, and then they invite all their eight-year-old friends. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a cyber-psychologist to figure out what's going on.
MCGINTYMary Aiken is a cyber-psychologist, and her book is called "The Cyber Effect," and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's continue with at least one more phone call, Jordan in New Milford, Connecticut, you're on the air, go ahead.
JORDANHello there, my name is Jordan Cameron. I write for (unintelligible) and something that I lived through was Gamergate. I saw a lot of harassment taking place online, unfortunately. And so for those who are just tuning in, what happened with Gamergate is that a lot of people really hated the feminist ideas of a certain game developer, and so what they did was, using personal information about her, they looked up people who she was connected to, they said hey, this person is a threat to the whole hobby of gaming, she wants to censor everything that we hold dear.
CHRISAnd they used this idea to whip up a furor among, like, you know, a lot of gamers, teenagers and stuff, and the end result was that she got harassed really horribly.
CHRISAnd they did all this through (unintelligible) politics.
MCGINTYI did hear about this, and do you have some thoughts, Mary Aiken?
AIKENYeah, it's another example, in terms of the earlier example we were talking about, of, you know, of this venting online and this misogynistic behavior. But I think rather than -- I think we really have to understand and drill into why are guys so mad, and why are they venting like this, and why are we seeing this behavior. I would be interested in understanding the behavior.
AIKENAnd I'm not -- you know, I'm often asked, you know, what's it like as a woman, you know, working in this area. I don't really think about gender. I think about performance. And the whole gender issue in this manifestation, if we look -- what's coming down the line is going to make the gender battles look like a picnic, and it's the battle between humans and artificial intelligence.
AIKENSo we better focus on what we have in common, we better forget about gender, ethnicity and politics, and actually focus on the things that unite us, our humanity.
MCGINTYWow, that -- I think you're absolutely right on that, but it's difficult in a world where, as the last caller points out, men seem so angry, and you have the creation of the phenomena of a Donald Trump for example. How does that play into this?
AIKENOh goodness, yeah, what is going on, guys? We're sitting over in Europe and going really? I wrote a piece for Time about Donald Trump because everybody is saying, well, how could this happen, I mean, you know, this hate speech, racist comments, provocative comments. It's actually quite straightforward to figure out the Internet and that connectivity and that forum and that anonymity and disinhibition has, to a certain extent, normalized some very undesirable behaviors.
AIKENAnd I describe Trump has a troll who's left off the Internet and into the real world. But the thing that saddens me is that when a political figure, a public figure, uses cruelty as a strategy and appears to be successful, those of us who spend our time trying to teach kids not to cyber bully or teens not to troll, it makes our job so much harder.
MCGINTYWhat do we do?
AIKENWe can't turn it off. I mean, that's for sure. Look, technology is here to stay. We talk about Internet addiction. I'm not somebody who believes in Internet addiction. We can't be addicted to air. We can't be addicted to water. We have to learn to live with this technology and live in a civilized was. And the point is I describe it as maladaptive behavior.
AIKENIn terms of evolution, the tech era is a blip, a tiny blip, and as humans we just haven't been able to adapt quickly enough to actually cope with it. So it's not Internet addiction, it's cyber maladaptive behavior. And the good news, we can fix it.
MCGINTYAnd maybe 50 years from now we won't even be having this conversation, it'll just be a very different conversation about what's happening.
AIKENI hope it's a very good conversation in 50 years' time.
MCGINTYI do, too, Mary Aiken. Thank you so much for coming in. Your book is called "The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyber-Psychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online." And apparently it changes quite a bit. This has been a great conversation.
AIKENThank you, Derek, it's been a pleasure.
MCGINTYWe appreciate it. I'm Derek McGinty, and thanks for listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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