breaking news from the world of ideas

by Kristina Murkett
Monday, 4
April 2022

How TikTok glamourises mental health disorders

Self-proclaimed ‘mental health advocates’ have become dangerously influential

Nearly 16 years before the creation of Tiktok — 10 years before Instagram, 4 years before Facebook — Mark Feldman wrote an essay called ‘Munchausen’s By Internet: Detecting Factitious Illness and Crisis Online.’ Feldman describes how some users misuse ‘virtual support groups’ by feigning, exaggerating or creating medical problems in order to gain attention and sympathy. Some of the most notorious examples include a blogger who faked a cancer diagnosis; a woman who pretended for over a decade to be a widower with an ill son; or the horrific case of Lacey Spears, who tweeted about her son’s illness while secretly poisoning him with salt. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 8
March 2022

International Women’s Day: contrived, commercialised and cynical

Companies have outdone themselves

Today is International Women’s Day, and once again I find myself overwhelmingly underwhelmed. International Women’s Day, a global event designed to celebrate the cultural, political and socio-economic achievements of women, has been transformed from a feminist focal point to the equivalent of a Hallmark holiday: contrived, commercialised, cynical claptrap.

At best, the nods to International Women’s Day are benign but random; for example, why did e-scooter company Tier feel the need to email this morning to reassure me that they are committed to making women ‘safer and more confident on their journeys’? I’m not sure hiring more e-scooters is the answer to that particular problem. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Thursday, 24
February 2022

Parents are right to be terrified of the metaverse

The platform is already being used by perverts and sexual predators

The metaverse, the ‘future of the internet’, has already proven itself to be a paradise for perverts and sexual predators. There are stories of users being virtually gang-rapedmasturbated at and harassed. There are no age verification checks, leaving children free to mix with adults, and making exploitation inevitable. One NSPCC researcher posing as a 13-year-old girl witnessed grooming, sexual material, racist insults and rape threats; she was invited into a virtual strip club, shown sex toys and condoms, and watched avatars simulate sex.

It’s easy to label the metaverse dystopian — a technological nightmare of unfiltered human depravity run by Silicon Valley supreme leaders who are more interested in profit than protecting minors. But the problem with calling it dystopian is that it creates a false sense of distance. A dystopia is only an imagined state, often in the far future, a hypothetical manifestation of society’s fears and anxieties. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 15
February 2022

Another effect of lockdown: childhood obesity

New data shows a major uptick in severely obese children

The pandemic may be apparently over, but it seems we have a new epidemic on our hands: childhood obesity. The government has just released its latest data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), and the results are staggering. 

The percentage of overweight, obese or severely obese Reception children (aged 4-5) has remained relatively stable between 2006 and 2019, with less than 1% difference in all three categories. However, since 2019 there has been a noticeable uptick of around 4 to 5% for overweight and obese children, while the number of severely obese children has doubled. A similar trend can be seen for children in Year 6, where 41% of children are now classified as overweight or obese, compared to 35% in 2019. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Friday, 4
February 2022

Want to improve cancer outcomes? Bring back in-person GPs visits

Sajid Javid's big 10 year plan should start with the basics

Today Sajid Javid has announced that a new 10-year strategy for fighting ‘the war on cancer’ will be published later this year. The last cancer strategy was only published in 2019 as part of the NHS Long Term plan, which aimed for three-quarters of cancer to be spotted at an early stage by 2028. It was an ambitious goal in 2019 — before the pandemic, just over half of cancers were diagnosed at stages one or two — but now, it seems like an impossible one. 

We know the pressure that the NHS is under. There are an estimated 35 million missed consultations still waiting to be carried out as a result of the pandemic, and the Health Secretary has already admitted that the government will fail to fulfil its election pledge to recruit 6000 additional full-time GPs by 2025.  ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 26
January 2022

The UK mops up students from Zero Covid countries

The pandemic has increased, not decreased, the number of foreign applications

Over the last two years numerous institutes, directors and government bodies have worried about the number of international students at UK universities drastically falling because of the Covid pandemic. However, recent figures released from HESA UK (Higher Education Statistics Agency) prove that in fact, quite the opposite has happened.

According to HESA, the number of Chinese students has risen by 50% over the last 5 years, meaning that 32% of all non-EU international students are from China (in the last year, however, this figure has fallen 5%). Nigeria ranks fourth in terms of international enrolment, but the number has tripled from 7440 in 2019/2020 to 21,305 in 2020/2021. And despite Brexit and Covid chaos, the number of EU international students has also increased over the last two years, with Italy sending the most students. Most staggering though is the increase in the number of Indian students studying in the UK. In 2016/2017 it was 16,900; in 2020/2021 it was 84,555 — an increase of 400%. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Friday, 21
January 2022

Anxiety: the hidden cause behind school absences

Lockdown has had a detrimental impact on students' mental wellbeing

The Children’s Commissioner for England this week announced an inquiry into the 100,000 ‘lost children of lockdown’ who are still not attending school. According to Dame Rachel de Souza, around 95% of children are normally in school at this time of year, but now the figure is currently around 87%. While some absences will inevitably be down to illness and Covid, too many children have simply failed to return since classrooms were closed.

We cannot underestimate how important this inquiry is from a safeguarding perspective. We have seen from tragedies such as the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes how vital it is that children are in school so that teachers and other adults can flag signs of neglect and abuse. The chaos of lockdowns has made it all too easy for vulnerable children to slip through the net, and many of these ‘missing’ children will still be trapped in dangerous home environments, gangs and other criminal activity. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Thursday, 13
January 2022

Online child sexual abuse images triple during lockdown

A new report makes for grim reading

Today the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) — a charity that assesses and flags child sexual abuse material online — has released the key findings of their 2021 report, and it makes for terrifying reading.

Last year the IWF had to take action on over 250,000 URLs (some of which contained thousands of images and videos), compared to 150,000 in 2020 and 130,000 in 2019. They investigated over 360,000 reports, which is more than they dealt with than in the entire first 15 years of their existence, and found a hugely worrying increase in the number of so-called ‘self-generated images’. 

Self-generated images mean that no adult was physically present in the room when the images were taken, usually on a webcam or phone or tablet camera. In 2021 there was a 167% increase in the number of these self-generated images involving 11-13 year olds, and a 235% increase in the number of self-generated images involving 7-10 year olds. This means that in 2021 alone, the IWF found over 170,000 instances of self-generated images of pre-teens, compared to around 60,000 in 2020 and 38,000 in 2019. ...  Continue reading