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SMIDS: Social Media-Induced Delusional Syndrome

by Charles Carreon
July 25, 2012

A new mental disease for the Internet age is proposed for inclusion in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders: Social Media-Induced Delusional Syndrome (“SMIDS”).  While tentative in its observations, this proposal has a legitimate basis in anecdotal evidence, and discusses the risks of attempting treatment of SMIDS-sufferers.

The primary subjective characteristic of SMIDS is the sensation of power gained from being part of a large, anonymous group of social media participants.  By “anonymous,” we do not mean that a person who declares their identity cannot be suffering from SMIDS; rather, we mean that due to the large number of people joined in a Social Media Mob (“SMob”), each individual experiences the safety of relative anonymity.  By “the safety of relative anonymity,” we mean the sense of security derived from the knowledge that there are so many participants in a SMob that it’s highly unlikely any one of them will suffer negative consequences due to their conduct.

The primary objective characteristic is the tendency to focus on an object of hatred (the “ObHat”), which intensifies as the number of SMob-participants grows, manifesting in antisocial cyber-behavior.   Like members of a street mob who ordinarily manifest no criminal characteristics, yet become capable of flinging bricks and mortar and engaging in random violence when gathered in large numbers, members of a SMob may engage in behavior atypical of their usual behavior patterns.  Such behaviors may range from online postings of sadistic wishes that the ObHat should suffer misfortune such as career failure and painful death, sending hate mails bearing similar ill-wishes to the ObHat, sending physical packets of disgusting materials such as offal to the Obhat, and directing Denial of Service Attacks towards websites associated with the ObHat.

The delusory character of the sense of power experienced by the SMIDS-sufferer can be easily discerned, and has tautalogical roots.  In point of fact, the ObHat is unlikely to suffer anything like the severe sentences pronounced upon her by the Smob, unless of course the ObHat falls victim to Social Media-Induced Self Hate (“SMISH”). The massed expression of ill wishes by a SMob is thus similar to the effects of primitive curses among the aborigines — dangerous if taken at face value, survivable otherwise.  Hence, the expression of ill wishes by SMIDS-sufferers are referred to as Cybercurses.

Common battle cries flying from the spittle-flecked lips of SMIDS-sufferers are “we are the Internet,” and “Google never forgets.”  Such cri de couer reveal the roots of the delusion. The roots of the power delusion lie in the SMIDS-sufferer’s fear that in fact, he is powerless.  The roots of the corollary delusion that the SMob can destroy the object of hatred by the objective force of massed Cybercurses are an attempt to curb the anxious feeling that participating in Social Media is in fact meaningless.

For ObHats victimized by SMIDS-deluded SMobs, the experience can be painful and shocking; however, unless the ObHat decays into SMISH, their suffering is transient and non-pathological.  The same cannot be said for all those who suffer from SMIDS.  Although at first, joining in SMob behavior may trigger only transient episodes of acute SMIDS, unnoticed by anyone besides the ObHat and the SMob,  like other forms of Social Media dysfunctions, an addictive cycle often forms that leads to chronic SMIDS, with pathological characteristics that beg for treatment.

At present, the occurrence of Social Media induced dysfunctions is in its infancy, and the only known treatment modalities appear to be removal of the initiating stimulus, i.e., turning off the Internet.  However, for persons who have come to believe that they “are the Internet,” turning off the Internet would be the equivalent of suicide, and thus unthinkable.  Were any outsider to attempt to forcibly remove them from the Internet, the chronic SMIDS-sufferer would likely react with violent rejection and excuse-making behavior.  Excuse-making would generally take the form of self-righteous expressions that the SMob merely wants to make a better world, and that the ObHat du jour is a genuine danger to the welfare of all.

For those in the helping professions dealing with SMIDS, and for human resources professionals who encounter SMIDS in the workplace, the first avenue of approach should be indirect.  The serious danger, of course, is that anyone who confronts a SMIDS-sufferer with their conduct may find themselves turned into an ObHat, with all of the risky consequences associated therewith.  A manager confronting a SMIDS-sufferer about lost productivity in their employment might wake up to find themselves the focus of a plethora of SMob attacks: fake Twitter accounts proclaiming that the ObHat must now disclose that they are transsexual, bogus Facebook pages embracing extremist ideologies, and an email box with new messages proclaiming things like: “Welcome to the Jihad, and Peace be upon you brother.  Thank you for signing up for our Peshawar-based online training program in anti-drone warfare.”