Tag Archives: headlines

About That “Satanic” “Teen” “Craigslist Killer” …

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Pretend, for a moment, that you were programming a website that auto-generated sensationalistic headlines. What kinds of words would you plug into it? “Teen?” “Satanic?” “Serial killer?” The name of some kind of tech company? (Trust me on this one; headlines that include the word “Google,” “Apple,” or “Facebook” get tons of hits). On Sunday, nobody needed a fake headline generator to come up with a story that included all these phrases. After all, Miranda Barbour basically handed the story to them.

I won’t recount the details, not only because they’ve been splashed across news sites around the world already, but because right now there’s no evidence for almost anything she claims, except for the murder of one man she allegedly killed after luring him with a Craigslist ad in which she may have offered to exchange sex for money.

Instead, I want to look more closely at what she says, and how she says it:

“I remember everything … It is like watching a movie.”

Whether or not this girl is a legitimate killer, she’s indicating a sense of being disconnected from her actions. Is she delusional? Or possibly sociopathic?

Barbour claimed she began killing when she was 13 and involved in a satanic cult.

Invariably, young women who claim they belonged to “Satanic cults” were actually brainwashed into believing this by psychotherapists. They enter therapy for a variety of reasons, including childhood abuse.

At one point, she planned to let LaFerrara out of her Honda CRV. “He said the wrong things,” she said. “And then things got out of control.”

… She said she felt no remorse for her victims and said she killed only “bad people.”

Was her alleged victim a “bad person” for “saying the wrong things,” or was it more complicated than that? It’s hard to tell, taken through the filter of a news article. But if this is truly how she feels about the situation, it’s worrisome to consider what constitutes a “bad person” in her mind.

She said she was sexually molested at age 4.

Aha, now we’re getting somewhere.

“By no means is this a way to glorify it or get attention. I’m telling you because it is time for me to be honest and I feel I need to be honest.”

The way to not publicize and glorify your actions is to avoid talking to the press. You talk to the police. You cooperate with an investigation of your claims. You don’t talk to reporters.

What I’m saying, I don’t think this adds up. I’ll be interested, in the weeks and months to come, to see how much of her story holds up.

Shocking study makes teen gamers gamble, finds that their brains similar to gamblers’!


Ghent University researchers studied teen gamers’ brains — and compared them to gamblers’. Photo by Flickr user eyeSPIVE.

In dozens of studies, scientists have speculated about what’s going on in kids’ brains when they are playing video games. Numerous studies have attempted to give us this information, but with no solid results. Recently, researchers at Ghent University in Belgium took a direct approach: they rounded up 154 14-year-olds who play video games, and put them in an MRI machine to check things out.

What they found was interesting: teens who play plenty of video games have an enlarged portion of their brain associated with rewards. This portion, called the ventral striatum, is also often larger in gamblers and others who engage in compulsive behavior.

Of course, we don’t know for sure whether playing video games enlarges this part of the brain, or whether people whose brains are more developed in this area tend to gravitate toward gaming. To find that out, you’d have to take a bunch of non-gamers, make them play video games for years, and see if that portion of their brain got bigger. And it’s hard to get permission from parents to subject kids to potentially brain-altering activities. In a scientific context, anyway.

You would think that during such a study, the scientists would put kids in the MRI machine while they were playing video games to track, you know, how their brains looked.

They didn’t. They had the kids play two games in which they made bets on certain outcomes. In other words, they made them gamble.

So they started with the idea that video gaming might be somehow related to addiction or compulsive behavior, similar to gambling. They picked a bunch of kids who play video games, made them gamble, and — lo and behold — found that their brains were like gamblers’ brains!

Anyone else see the problem here?

Then you get headlines like:

“Children who love video games have brains like gamblers.”

“Study: Video games may change brain”

At least the LA Times didn’t join in the hysteria: “Frequent gamers have brain differences, study finds.” There, was that so hard?

What are parents to think, reading these headlines? They probably picture their kids pulling the lever on a slot machine or doubling down at the poker table, losing everything they have. But there are so many other studies suggesting the benefits of video games — and then there are the numerous stories from players themselves. Do gamblers talk endlessly about how gambling saved their lives? Some might. But it seems unfair to compare the two pastimes, even if there are a few similarities there. It’s certainly unfair to study gamers’ brains — but make them gamble while you do it.

Until we study their brains while they are playing video games, we aren’t getting anywhere.

Teenagers setting a girl on fire is a lot of things, but “Satanic” isn’t one of them


After a South African girl was set on fire by friends, newspapers called the incident a “Satanic ritual.” Wrong. Photo by Flickr user gotsumbeers.

Today, I want to start out by looking at two headlines side by side.

First: Girl Set Alight In “Satanic Ritual”

Second: Satanic Ritual Planned in OKC

Now, if you read the first story, you might come to the conclusion (the very, very wrong conclusion) that Satanic rituals involve setting people on fire.

They don’t.

Then, if you read the second headline, you’d be pretty outraged. You wouldn’t want that event to take place, in Oklahoma City or anywhere else. You’d be angry at Satanists.

The problem, however, is that the newspaper with the first headline is taking some egregious liberties with the concept of “Satanic ritual.” Several newspapers are repeating this idea, though it’s not clear why. The girl was set on fire by some acquaintances after they went up a hill to drink and look at the view. That’s not Satanic. That’s an adolescent pastime. (Except for the setting-people-on-fire part. That’s not Satanic, either. That’s just horrible.)

Now, the second headline refers to an article about an upcoming religious event. This is the second such ritual — the first one, held last year, turned into a mess because it was so heavily protested. Unfortunately, the newspaper thinks it’s important to mention the former group leader, who had a dalliance with a prison inmate, as though that had anything to do with the group, its beliefs, or its ability to hold a peaceful religious observance. (It sounds like last year’s ritual would have been peaceful if it hadn’t been for demonstrators.)

I know there are plenty of “Satanists” who get into it to frighten people, to seem bad-ass, to “freak the normals.” But I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: media messages like the ones above, particularly the first headline, do very real harm. They harm respectful, peaceful Satanists who have not and would not hurt anyone. They make it more difficult for these people to be open, to find work, to sustain relationships, to keep their children in custody battles, and to stay out of jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

Some people would call this blood libel.

It has to stop.