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  • Writer's pictureZoë Rose

Protecting those whom cannot protect themselves

Teenage me loved novels, mainly fantasy novels, as they were a way I could escape my current life and go on adventures. One series I read, The Protector of the Small, was interesting to me as if was fascinating, to read of a young lady who becomes the first female knight, breaking barriers. Her goal was to build strength and protect those who were less able. However, the more I read, the more I realised that really, whether powerful or petite, we all have a role in protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

Working within the security industry, I try to mimic the lessons taught by those stories. If you have heard me speak previously, you’re likely aware I went into technology to learn to protect myself. However, over time, I have learned those same skills can be used to help others.

Be it persons needing help from bullying, persons trying to secure their devices, or even architects understanding their ethical obligations to embedding security by design. I know I’m not perfect, or have all the answers, but my goals are simply that – protecting those whom cannot protect themselves.

The other day I was perusing instagram, double tapping all the adorable ferret videos, cat comics, and dog rescues – when I came across something quite different.

For those of you who might consider for a moment, that potentially this isn’t wrong, consider this: within The Brain, David Eagleman discusses how our brains develop. According to David, when we’re born we don’t come built with all the instructions needed to be fully functioning humans, such as other animals and their reason for being able to walk immediately for example. Instead, human brains know who to find instruction from – they look to adults.

A child watches an adult complete an action successfully, and then the child knows to repeat that action in order to learn. Whereas if the adult is unsuccessful, the child knows not to repeat that action – which is brilliantly neat. However, when you consider this, to me that means children’s brains are wired to trust the adults in their lives, giving more authority to the actions they witness.

Yes, the adult male did not directly tell the child that if they did not eat they would be beaten, however, due to the capability of a child, that implication was the only reality they saw.

After sharing my disgust in Instagram’s inaction, Carroll pointed out he had seen a video like this before – with a women doing the same thing but a laugh track added to the video. Note: I watch videos on silent and rely on captions, so I cannot confirm if the video I watched did the same.

What’s worse, Carroll did a quick search “beats stuffed toy” and found this is not uncommon. Where has this idea, threatening children into submission, come from?

From a link shared by Tim, I began investigating the Little Albert Experiment. This experiment, as the Wikipedia page says, is a form of classical conditioning which was used to create a fear or phobia in a child under two. Reading here the ‘researchers’ stated “Unfortunately Albert was taken from the hospital the day the above tests were made. Hence the opportunity of building up an experimental technique by means of which we could remove the conditioned emotional responses was denied us.”

Meaning, these adults began an experiment on a child not yet two, to induce a phobia of a rat. Validate if this phobia transferred to other animals, fur coat, Cotton, &c – all without the knowledge on how it would impact the child long term, and even if they could remove the conditioned emotional response.

The American Psychological Association has detailed the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, under section 3 Human Relations the following two points are worth highlighting:

  • 3.04 Avoiding Harm: point (a) covers the responsibility of the Psychologist to “take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients…and to minimise harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable.” Whereas the Little Albert Experiment they were unsure on whether there would be lasting impact or if they could ‘undo’ this learned fearful association.

  • 3.10 (b)“..psychologists take reasonable steps to protect the individual's rights and welfare.” I do not believe the welfare of the child was prioritised in this experiment.

How is it, purposefully invoking fear in a child, was not viewed as wrong by these people? Potentially it could be the lack of emotional empathy, seeing the fear in a child’s eyes but not being able to understand it in the way it impacts that child. I’m not a psychologist, and I wouldn’t try to pretend to be - I'm fascinated by the knowledge those working in the field have on human behaviour. However, I do have experience with people who view other's sufferings as not really ‘that bad’ or ‘could be worse’, belittling things they just can't relate to.

To the children in these videos, with no form of control or ability to understand that they may not actually be on the receiving end of that physical assault; this child, I believe, viewing the world as if they do not eat that food or stop doing a specific action, there will only be pain – no alternative.

To the child in the above experiment, they wouldn’t be able to understand why they were scared necessarily, but the fact that these ‘researchers’ were aiming to spend time purposefully inducing a phobia is absolutely disgusting to me.

How does this relate to my role as a cyber security specialist?

As I said from the start, I got into this industry to help. My goal is to provide education and resources to those whom are unable to protect themselves. I believe, as persons with power, be it security skills or making the decision over what is or is not appropriate video sharing over a website – it is our job to stand up for those victims.

I’m not saying that Instagram can stop these inhumane practices all on it’s own, or that by blocking these videos we’re going to stop these children from being harmed directly, but I do hope that it will begin to raise awareness. That educating those who originally might not see the harm they are causing, by removing videos that laugh at the expense of a child, potentially we could move forward as a society to recognise this is no ok. To put a stop to further videos being created and shared, and hopefully protect these kids. Whilst I cannot confirm the long term impact, again I work in security not psychology, however I can’t imagine someone using an environment of fear to force a child to take an action is at all within the realms of a healthy home.

Update: I requested Instagram re-assess the video, it was re-assessed as not violating their terms. This video from that user has since been removed, however, there are many more out there.


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