Connect to the wifi and check your wallet app. Today we are talking about the crooked connections to cryptocurrency.
In a new age of electronic economics, one brand has made a lot of noise- Bitcoin. As early as 2009, when it was created, people began to stockpile the stuff. It was the first decentralized digital currency, and it has inspired thousands to risk this uncharted financial frontier with hopes of discovering a quick way to score some real-world cash from encrypted accounts. Then, just last year the cryptocurrency trend exploded onto Wall Street and ever since people have been trying to take advantage of the hype before the well runs dry. Suddenly anyone with a little extra scratch has become a cyber stockbroker.
While some have tried to cash in just to see if they can hit the crypto-lotto, others have become Bitcoin millionaires. But some of those people were actually gathering those funds through illicit means, like fentanyl trafficking.
Bitcoin for Beginners
For many of us, the whole Bitcoin thing is still a bit confusing. If some of these explanations seem oversimplified for anyone currently obsessed with cryptography, “block time” or whatever a “Merkle tree” is… I’m sorry, I guess.
Bitcoin was originally designed as being a truly free-market currency. This means without any company, country or central bank controlling its value or supply. Bitcoin takes no physical form, but actually only exists as a virtual token. Transactions are recorded in an open public ledger known as a blockchain. This peer-to-peer network avoids many risks of having a central database. But, while the transactions are typically public, the Bitcoin ownership is not.
The digital tokens are stored in a digital wallet that is only identified by a series of numbers and letters. A lot of times people using the digital wallet remain anonymous because they don’t have to provide any personal information to set up their accounts.
Because of all the freedom of Bitcoin, along with its anonymity, it became extremely useful for those involved with the Dark Web. You can read plenty more on that subject, but essentially is it another layer of the internet criminals use for conducting illicit business. One site from the Dark Web would be the infamous Silk Road.
The Future of Fentanyl Financing
Authorities say that bitcoin has helped create a new generation of criminals who buy and sell drugs online. It has become much easier for drug dealers to cover their tracks with cryptocurrencies.
Which of course leads us to fentanyl trafficking. For a long time the majority of drugs sold on the Dark Web were:
However, the sale of fentanyl is rising rapidly. Considering most fentanyl is sold online from dealers overseas, it makes a lot of sense that traffickers would rely heavily on digital money. Greg Nevano, the Deputy Assistant Director of Homeland Security Investigations states,
“You can order illicit opioids right online and have them delivered right to the comfort of your living room.”
According to CDC data, nearly 20,000 people died after overdosing on fentanyl in 2016. This is a huge contributing factor to one of the worst drug epidemics in American history.
For example, undercover investigators working for a Senate committee led by Ohio Republican Rob Portman talk about an e-mail from a fentanyl dealer with an important message for potential buyers. The fentanyl trafficker states:
“We have switched to bitcoin payments only. Now you will enjoy a 10 percent less price tag on all products,”
The email also points out:
“Good part is that paying by bitcoin you can order as much as you like with no limit.”
Ohio is suffering from one of the highest rates of fentanyl overdose deaths in the country. This particular investigation was part of a yearlong inquiry into the international supply chain that funnels fentanyl from China to homes across America. Earlier this year, the committee released a report which tracked activity on six websites offering fentanyl. That report indicated:
In each of these cases, the sites list bitcoin as the preferred method of payment. Portman himself adds,
“Because it’s anonymous, it’s the currency of choice for these drug traffickers,”
Just last fall the Justice Department shut down another illicit online marketplace called AlphaBay. In this case, the Justice Department seized around 144,000 Bitcoins, which comes out to around $48 million.
Cracking Down on Cryptocurrency
Lawmakers in Washington have come to the conclusion that cracking down on cryptocurrency is essential in order to stop the flow of fentanyl coming into the United States. Thankfully, this is one thing that officials from both sides of the aisle agree must be addressed.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein from California have presented a bipartisan bill that would create explicit requirements for digital currencies to comply with laws against money laundering. Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched a task force earlier this year to specifically target fentanyl sales online.
Can We Blame the Crypto?
Meanwhile, many advocates for cryptocurrencies are not happy about these new campaigns. Perianne Boring, president of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, is one person who fights on behalf of Bitcoin, stating:
“Blaming bitcoin for this crisis would make as much sense as blaming the internet or cars that drug traffickers have to use.”
Boring’s organization is trying to help. They are part of the Blockchain Alliance, working with more than two dozen companies to help authorities combat crime.
Industry groups also reject the claim that cryptocurrency is anonymous and untraceable. They say Bitcoin users are “pseudononymous” because buying Bitcoin does require real money. Advocates insist that most users convert real cash through exchangers that do actually collect personal information. They also argue that in order to spend that Bitcoin, users will have to convert it back to real money, and that’s where law enforcement can intercept illegal operators.
Crypto-advocates also point out that cryptocurrency exchangers in the United States are also subject to federal reporting requirements and laws against money laundering. Earlier this year an industry analysis by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies found:
- Less than 1 percent of bitcoin is used for illegal purposes.
- Almost all of the illicit activity came from transactions on the dark web
However, the report also goes into detail about ways criminals can avoid regulated currency exchangers altogether. This includes using foreign converters or “mixing” sites that allow users to swap Bitcoin.
Meanwhile, new cryptocurrencies that are even harder to trace are gaining in popularity. So it would seem that as soon as the system catches up to a new digital trend, someone creates a copy and the cycle starts all over.
So can Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies expect to be subject to new attempts at strict regulation? If so, what kind of regulations should be put in place to track digital transactions and prevent further abuse for illicit profits?
The evolution of the internet has changed how illicit drug markets work. The fight against drug trafficking is more complex than ever before, and strategies for facing drug dealing, drug use, and addiction have to evolve, too. This also means providing innovative and cutting-edge treatment options. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.
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Zuckerberg Testimony: Should Facebook Be Stopping Opioid Trafficking?
Author: Justin Mckibben
This past Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself sitting in front of a tough crowd on Capitol Hill for 2 days of questioning that covered various topics about the social media empire. The testimony covered how Facebook influences politics, handles user data, and what steps are being taken to prevent abuse of the massive tech companies international platform.
During the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg, the topic came up of drug trafficking, specifically opioid sales, through Facebook.
Is Social Media Enabling Illegal Activity?
The line of questioning concerning opioids came from David McKinley. McKinely is the Republican Representative from West Virginia. On day two of the testimony, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about opioid dealers abusing the social media space in order to distribute their drugs. During the conversation, McKinley states,
“Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law, and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription,”
The Congressman went on to ask,
“With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in so doing, you are hurting people. Would you agree with that statement?”
“Congressman, I think that there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job of policing on our service. Today the primary way that content regulation works here … is that people can share what they want on the service, and then if someone sees an issue they flag it to us, and then we will review it.”
During McKinley’s comments, he actually shows Zuckerberg with images on a screen that opioids and other prescription narcotics are still actively being sold via Facebook. Later in McKinely’s statements he adds,
“That was just from yesterday. It’s still up. So my question to you is- when are you going to take down these posts that are done by illegal digital pharmacies?”
“Congressman, when people report the posts, we will take them down and have people review them.”
When the congressman continued to press Zuckerberg on Facebook taking responsibility for the posts made on the platform concerning illegal drugs, Zuckerberg replied,
“Congressman, I agree that this is a terrible issue and respectfully, when there are tens-of-billions or a hundred-billion pieces of content shared every day… even 20,000 people reviewing it can’t look at everything. What we need to do is build more AI tools that can proactively find that content.”
- AI referring to artificial intelligence.
This is not the first time critics have called out tech companies for falling short on policing illicit drug sales through their platforms.
In 2011, search-engine giant Google agreed to pay $500 million to the Department of Justice for showing prescription drug ads from Canadian online pharmacies to U.S. consumers. Only a week before Zuckerberg sat down to speak with Congress, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had already called on social media platforms to root out and exterminate the online opioid trade. Gottlieb stated,
“We find offers to purchase opioids all over social media and the Internet, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But when it comes to opioids, we haven’t seen meaningful, voluntary actions.”
Some of the posts McKinely flagged to Facebook have already been taken down. However, McKinley still says that Facebook’s internal controls “don’t seem adequate” in regards to detecting and removing illegal drug posts.
Are Zuckerberg and Facebook Responsible?
The biggest theme- whether it came to Cambridge Analytica, censorship of political views, selling consumer data or illicit opioid marketing- was accountability.
The question throughout the testimony is- are Zuckerberg and Facebook responsible?
Some have argued that if Facebook intends to censor things like hate speech or political interference, then they should also be responsible for monitoring and shutting down any illegal activity happening on the website. Some people believe that if drug dealers are posting on social media, their posts should be automatically removed. That is a good goal. Others might even insist that Facebook should report these profiles to law enforcement to help investigate dealers and make more arrests.
But should Facebook be mandated and regulated to enforce these ideas? Moreover, should they be punished when people manage to cheat their system or slip through the cracks?
Many might argue Facebook should not be punished for the posts individuals make. One comparison might be that we do not prosecute cell-phone service providers when their products and services are used in illegal activity. And if we expect Facebook to thoroughly monitor all activity and report any suspicious behavior to the authorities, should cellular services be held to the same standard?
While private phone-calls are a far cry from public posts to the internet, what is the best way walk this line of privacy and security in the digital age?
Is it fair to say that Mark Zuckerberg is himself hurting people because his company is unable to police the hundreds of billions of posts made to their site every day? Or is it true that the company is slacking when it comes to addressing these issues promptly and effectively?
Social media is changing a lot of the way we communicate, and like any other advancement, it can be taken advantage of. One thing is certain; if we want to fight the opioid epidemic we have to put more research into prevention, and more focus and support into safe and effective treatment. Technology can impact drug use, but it can also connect people and help them get on the right path toward recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
Author: Justin Mckibben
What kind of selfie do you usually snap? Is it one with an obscene amount of editing to look glamorous? Is it one of you and the family at dinner or out in some exotic location on vacation? Or is it a pic of you and a volunteer crew at a charity event? When you hashtag and share it, what does that selfie say about you? What is the message you are trying to send?
Before we have talked about the dangers of obsessive selfie taking, and I have personally related to how the ‘selfie society’ of today could be risky for those struggling with addiction or mental health concerns, presenting issues with narcissism or relating to depression when correlated an obsession with social media. So what kind of selfies contribute to these issues?
Well, that much might be said about all of them, depending on who you ask. The one question that might hit closer to home is- what kind of selfie taker are you?
Recent a group of BYU communications master’s students, feeling themselves surrounded by the selfie-saturated culture that is social media, decided to ask the question: what is the method to the selfie madness? This has proven to not just be a millennial problem, because your uncle and aunt do it, just like your bosses and teachers. Grandma might not be all that good at it, but she takes plenty of selfies anyway.
So why do people of all ages, cultures, genders and religions take and share selfies?
Are We All Narcissists?
Some people would say that ‘this generation’ is so self-absorbed, but again; it isn’t just one group. The answer, at least one we hear so often, is simply narcissism. But are we all narcissists?
Naaaaaaah, can’t be.
Actually, in a study recently published in Visual Communication Quarterly, those same five BYU student researchers took a closer look. In their data they show that individuals’ motives often range far past self-obsession. Sometimes our selfies are actually taken with purpose, whether we notice or not.
Steven Holiday, who completed his master’s in 2015 and is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Texas Tech, is one of the co-authors. Of this latest topic Holiday states,
“It’s important to recognize that not everyone is a narcissist,”
So to be clear on the idea of true narcissism and the connection we often misguidedly make to selfies, we should look at the definition. To refresh your memory:
- Narcissism is defined as the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride.
- Narcissistic personality disorder(NPD) – is a condition that is estimated to affect only 1% of the population.
After analyzing survey results and interviews, researchers say they can identify three categories of selfie-takers:
These are individuals who take selfies primarily to engage with others for some reason. They don’t just do it for their face on a cause, but to draw followers into a conversation. One of the survey’s co-authors and current student Maureen “Mo” Elinzano states,
“They’re all about two-way communication,”
So it isn’t about the spotlight on them, it’s about shining to give others a reason to shine.
An example of this is when the election season came around and everyone, including celebrities, took an “I voted” selfie to plaster on Instagram. These photos aren’t (always) meant to brag about the individual, they are about calling others to action. People talk a lot about opinions on social media, so some people take a selfie as an opportunity to inspire action.
This type of selfie taker uses the art of the selfie as a tool to record key events in their lives. This autobiography isn’t necessarily to show off to their followers, but to try and preserve significant memories for themselves and their loved ones.
This group of selfie takers does also want others to see their photos and enjoy them, but they aren’t necessarily doing it for the feedback. They are cataloging their lives for their own benefit, not for the engagement that the Communicators are.
For example, plenty of people will have entire albums on Facebook dedicated to specific trips or events. They don’t (always) organize these specifically for likes as much as they do for their trips down memory lane.
This infamous category is the one everyone typically assumes a selfie taker falls into, but it is actually the smallest of the three groups. These are the ones who are closely linked to more narcissistic characteristics.
The coauthor Harper Anderson states the self-publicists “are the people who love documenting their entire lives,”
Harper Anderson, who is also now pursuing a Ph.D. at Texas Tech, went on to say that in recording and sharing their entire lives, these selfie takers are hoping to present their narrative in a trendy and desirable light.
Think the Kardashians. Without any real sustenance, these selfies are just for the sake of “look at me everyone” without actually having a connection to a cause.
Personally, I present the idea of a collage style world where sometimes we blur these lines a bit. Some people may read these three types and say “I do all of these” and I get that. Perhaps we are all likely to have varied traits, but perhaps we can admit that one of these styles is our dominant selfie taking self. In this event, we can more closely examine if we are impacting our mental health; maybe even that of others.
Holiday went on to describe that identifying and categorizing the three groups is valuable in part because-
“…it’s a different kind of photography than we’ve ever experienced before…I can go on Facebook or Instagram and see that people have a desire to participate in a conversation. It’s an opportunity for them to express themselves and get some kind of return on that expression.”
Another co-author Matt Lewis states
“…years from now, our society’s visual history is going to be largely comprised of selfies. To find out why people do it, that contributes a lot to the discussion on selfies and visual communication in general.”
Our world isn’t just one picture at a time. Every moment is a collage of events happens simultaneously. We exchange the currency of our stories through an ever-expanding network of social media sites and while at times we may seem obsessive or impulsive, at least we are trying to use our new tools to connect.
It may seem strange, but I do think that regardless of whether you’re climbing a mountain in Africa, raising awareness for people struggling somewhere, or simply showing off your new hair-cut, we all have something to offer.
We all have something worth sharing.
Take that selfie. Post it. Let the “double tap” fall where it may.
The selfie is like a socially accepted addiction, and while mental health has been a close conversation to it, we hope that we can continue to learn from our compulsions and be able to help others. Mental health issues and drug or alcohol abuse frequently co-exist. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Let’s talk about Pokémon Go, why not? Considering literally everyone else in the world is, why shouldn’t we get in on the action? Ever since this new phenomenon has hit the streets in the form of an interactive smartphone app that is quickly consuming the lives of customers all over America there have been some pretty intense stories. It seems the game is probably one of the most instantaneously addictive things on the market right now, so of course it brings to mind previous conversations on:
I can personally say I was pretty amused when my roommate stumbled out of his room at 2 AM in his underwear chasing invisible creatures through the apartment via his phone like a mad man…
Apparently, there is some rare breed of something hiding in my closet… but I digress…
People have become obsessed overnight with this game. It seems any time you walk into a room with anyone around the age of… being alive… you are going to be an obstacle in their mission of hunting some pixelated Pokémon. Some people are worried about how obsessed people have become. Others insist it has done wonders for their mental health. So I wanted to take a look at some of these interesting theories.
What is it?
Essentially Pokémon Go is a game based on a Nintendo-owned franchise that was especially popular in the late 1990’s. This new smartphone game uses a phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when people are in the game. Then it makes Pokémon “appear” around you.
No, not literally… but you can see them through your phone camera on the screen… so basically real life, right?
The idea is to go and catch them. Different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is.
First let us say that many of these claims can’t be fully legitimized at this time. However, Twitter users seem confident in what they see happening with others and experiencing themselves regarding mental health and Pokémon Go. One Twitter user put it as:
“Pokémon Go is literally making people with depression and anxiety and agoraphobia leave the house and explore and socialize.”
Which when you examine the nature of the game does actually make some sense. Pokémon Go requires users to go into the outside world and explore to find Pokémon and items.
Many players have said that the game gives them an incentive to get out of the house and be active. It inspires some to exercise and spend time outdoors, while having fun and interacting with others. Now if you look at it this way, how could it not do some good for mental health?
I honestly had to wonder this myself when the game was first announced. As I watched co-workers and friends wonder aimlessly through parking lots and gather together to share their latest catches, I figured this was giving us a new way to get outside more and get active with one another. Maybe it’s not so bad, right?
Then there is the argument of if the trade-off is worth it for having teens and young adults yet again dragged too deep into their phones. This concern also makes sense to me. If you have this new obsession with constantly striving to “catch em all” then how will your personal relationships and responsibilities suffer? I don’t know anyone personally, but you can be sure a few people have already lost their jobs or blown off their dates to chase Pikachu around a grocery store.
Pokémon Related Injury
This is one side-effect I definitely saw coming, but I was not aware of the magnitude that it might manifest in. Already Pokémon– related injuries are being reported all over the country. So many people have admitted in social media forums that they completely forgot where they were, dropping all focus on their surroundings.
One Reddit user’s story has made the rounds online about ending up in the ER on night after falling into a ditch and fracturing bones in their foot 30 minutes into playing the game. There are even accounts of drivers getting into traffic accidents because they were playing the game out the window while driving.
To be fair, the makers of the game did make a warning to be aware of surroundings.
Risky Rocket Business
This should be taken as a serious warning if nothing else. The game has been notably misused already. Police in O’Fallon, Missouri have reported four people suspected of armed robberies involving Pokémon Go. The suspects reportedly placed beacons, which are a feature available in the game to interact with the surroundings, to lure people to their locations where they robbed them. 11 teenagers have been mugged this way so far, according to this initial report.
So #TeamRocket is becoming an actual thing… and they are freaking people out. Is this gaming addiction really that serious? Do people really need to risk their lives, or the lives of others, for these imaginary monsters?
Most Addictive App Ever?
Some are already calling Pokémon Go the most addictive gaming app ever. It has experienced a number of technical issues since its launch, including server crashes and other issues. Still, for a FREE gaming app with all this hype, it is doing pretty well for itself. Looking back there was Pokémon Blue and other titles for the franchise. People have been working their way up to this all along.
The question remains- what could this do for people’s mental health? If it really is that addictive, what consequences will it reap on those who have a tendency of taking things too far? Will we see a spike in gaming addiction and obsessive behaviors? Or will it actually have a mixed impact as it lures people out of their homes and into their communities. Some surprising testimonies have told how random strangers in a community come together, united over the teams they choose and to make strategies for how to play.
So next time you see someone blindly following their phone into on-coming traffic… maybe they are just trying to track down a Evee or a Squirtle? Maybe you should save them from themselves and keep them on the sidewalk… or some of you will probably hope to have the Pokémon to yourself… FOR SHAME!
Addiction can involve behaviors not related to taking drugs or drinking excessively. You can be addicted to the internet, gaming, gambling, sex, eating, or any other behavior that is causing problems in your life, such as destroying relationships, your health, or interfering with your job. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call us at 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
In case you were still skeptical, social media has become a significant element of our society… definitely. We have evolved into a culture that circulates information and cultivates emotional and ethical responses based on the shares, likes and comments associated with our tweets, posts and pics. Social media has been credited with being both helpful and detrimental to depression depending on the context, and now there is another aspect of mental health that some suspect is being threatened by our threads.
A new study is suggesting that observing violent news events via social media can actually cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How much of an impact can our videos have, and could this be the beginning of a whole new brand of stress and trauma diagnosis?
Sharing Our Stress
Dr. Pam Ramsden from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bradford presented this concept back on Thursday May 7th 2015 at the Annual Conference of the British Psychology Society being held in Liverpool. Here Dr. Ramsden explained:
“The negative effects of exposure to other people’s suffering have long been recognized in roles such as professional healthcare workers. Various studies have documented the negative psychological reactions following indirect exposure to traumatized people called vicarious traumatization.”
This refers to incidences where individuals in several fields including healthcare professionals experienced trauma through others and ultimately were affected by that shared experience. Someone reliving their trauma and expressing it to another person can take a toll on that person. Hearing the grotesque and gruesome details can create a kind of second-hand shock and stress. Ramsden went on to say,
“Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives. In this study we wanted to see if people would experience longer lasting effects such as stress and anxiety, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorders from viewing these images.”
So when we see something brutal or violent happen online through videos, images and dialog we can still feel that impact, even though some have suggested we become disconnected from the images and words on the screen and dehumanize the victims, it appears this is not always the case.
Assessing the Trauma
189 participants around the age of 37 years old with an almost even equal number of men and women completed a few tests for trauma including:
- Clinical assessments for PTSD
- A personality questionnaire
- A vicarious trauma assessment
- A questionnaire concerning different violent news events on social media or the internet
The violent events used for this test included the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks, school shootings and suicide bombings. The details of the examination indicated:
- 22% of participants were significantly affected by the media events
- 1/4 of those who viewed the intense internet images scored high on clinical measures of PTSD
The fact that these individuals scored high on clinical measures of PTSD was a very concerning development considering that they experienced this level of stress despite:
- They did not have previous trauma
- They were not present at the traumatic events
- They had only watched them via social media
There was also an increased risk for those with outgoing, extroverted personalities. So those social butterflies that are more likely to share and comment were also those that could be more sensitive to the effects of being exposed to violent and graphic material on social media.
So by exposing ourselves to such extreme and foul content we are increasing the risks of PTSD, and possibly even creating a whole new brand of it. Extensive research into the trend of internet addiction and some kind of dependence on social media has already begun, as debates continue on the influence social media makes on depression.
So is it safe to assume that with all the sway social media has over us that we should be careful of all the distasteful and uncensored stories and depictions we take in?
Are we as a society overloading ourselves online with images and audio that intoxicate our anxiety and compound with our already rattled reasoning to create new levels of trauma?
What new methods of diagnosis and treatment could come from PTSD inspired by social media?
For now we should remember that the impressions these sites have are real for some people. Some have been oppressed by these unstable emotional ties to their online lives, while others have been liberated by the sense of connection. Whatever way you believe, your social media can change your mind if you let it.
An issue like PTSD is nothing to take likely, and mental health has a serious impact on the quality of life and possibility of recovery for anyone struggling with substance abuse issues. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135