Using Facebook For Witchcraft

CaptainAldenDenouncedOK, it sounds crazy, but sociologist Robert Bartholomew believes that Facebook and other social media platforms can give rise to Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI), also known as Mass Hysteria. Laura Dimon reports for The Atlantic:

“Eerie and remarkable.”

Those are the words that Robert Bartholomew used to describe this past winter’s outbreak of mass hysteria in Danvers, Massachusetts, a town also known as “Old Salem” and “Salem Village.”

Bartholomew, a sociologist in New Zealand who has been studying cases of mass hysteria for more than 20 years, was referring to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, the most widely recognized episode of mass hysteria in history, which ultimately saw the hanging deaths of 20 women.

Fast-forward about 300 years to January 2013, when a bizarre case of mass hysteria again struck Danvers. About two dozen teenagers at the Essex Agricultural and Technical School began having “mysterious” hiccups and vocal tics.

“The Massachusetts State Health Department refuses to say publicly,” Bartholomew wrote in an email in late August, “but I have heard from some of the parents privately who say that the symptoms are still persisting.”

The location might be eerie, but Bartholomew is not surprised by the outbreak in the slightest. He said that there has been a “sudden upsurge” in these types of outbreaks popping up in the U.S. over the past few years. It starts with conversion disorder, when psychological stressors, such as trauma or anxiety, manifest in physical symptoms. The conversion disorder becomes “contagious” due to a phenomenon called mass psychogenic illness (MPI), historically known as “mass hysteria,” in which exposure to cases of conversion disorder cause other people—who unconsciously believe they’ve been exposed to the same harmful toxin—to experience the same symptoms.

Though the Massachusetts State Health Department still has not declared the Danvers outbreak to be MPI, back in March, Bartholomew said, “[Danvers] could turn into another Le Roy, if they don’t watch their step.”Typically, mass hysteria is confined to a group of girls or young women who share a common physical space for a majority of the time. Bartholomew has studied over 600 cases, dating back to 1566, and said that the gender link is undeniable; it’s just a question of why. It is accepted within the psychiatric community that conversion disorders are much more common in females. There are also social, biological, and anthropological theories that have to do with how and why females might cope with stress.

He was referring to an episode of mass hysteria in Le Roy, a small town in western New York, that garnered massive media attention in the winter of 2011 when about 18 girls at the local high school came down with a very dramatic—and very real—case of hysteria. Bartholomew said that the Danvers case looks extremely similar to the case in Le Roy and that the lessons from Le Roy have gone “unheeded.”

One major lesson missed: the power of social media to spread and exacerbate an episode…

[continues at The Atlantic]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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11 Comments on "Using Facebook For Witchcraft"

  1. Charlie Primero | Sep 12, 2013 at 9:21 am |

    The Conversion Disorder that irritates me the most is this “menses” thing. That fake malady seems to spread like wildfire across social media about once every month.

    When my wife catches it from Facebook, I always tell her to STFU and get back in the kitchen and cook me up a pot of beans (after mending my old blue jeans and throwing another log on the fire).

    • Cortacespedes | Sep 12, 2013 at 11:07 am |

      And she hasn’t doused you with caustic soda yet?
      Consider yourself a lucky man.
      But, I would sleep with one eye open if I were you.

      Just in case.

      • Charlie Primero | Sep 12, 2013 at 11:24 am |

        Now that you mention it, I did notice a gallon jug of Liquid Plumber hidden under her side of the bed, a purchase I did not authorize. Hmmmm.

  2. jasonpaulhayes | Sep 12, 2013 at 10:23 am |

    “Historically, they occur in “pressure-cooker” environments, like
    factories, that have intolerable and inescapable social settings and
    preexisting tensions. “People are repressed, and that’s when you get the
    motor symptoms,” he says. “The twitching, the shaking, the trance-like
    states … and it builds up, over weeks or months, and it does not go
    away.” My sentiments exactly… preexisting tensions of all sorts.

    • Simon Valentine | Sep 12, 2013 at 11:03 am |

      an anthropologist’s chosen nightmare
      so many just stop and stare
      each one parallel

      an analogous sin
      algorithms irregardless
      with an equivalent discipline

  3. Simon Valentine | Sep 12, 2013 at 10:59 am |

    not ill but misguided
    not wrong just excited
    like ants on parade

    profit space in an industrial religion
    component shortage
    cannibalize superstition

    lies so deep no one can tell
    just how witch this witch has fell
    upon a minor standing

    truth and sense and heresy
    all these are
    all these be

    an opportunity

    don’t break windows.
    the Greeks were better at this, post-Latins.

  4. Jahshuewah Villiam | Sep 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm |

    i love using fb for witchcraft. it’s perfect for it.

  5. The Internet has already been huge in promoting various psychogenic maladies, as people with similar symptoms now have a place to meet and theorize. Examples include Morgellons disease, wi-fi sensitivity, victims of psychotronic weapons, etc.

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