The other brother: Experiencing life as a “well-sibling”

“Come on guys, we’re going to be late for our reservations,” Nancy Erdlen yelled to her four boys as she searched frantically for her purse.

Shoving each other, Tim, Matt, Mike and John, ages 7, 8, 9 and 10, came running down the stairs and into the living room.

Nancy stared at Matt impatiently.

“Why don’t you have on your socks and shoes Matty,” she asked. “We’re going to be late.”

Matt reluctantly hurried over to the front door where his socks and shoes were and took a seat on the stairs. He peered down at the socks for a moment and then at his feet. He paused and as he took a deep inhale, he slid the left sock on—a success. Now it was time for the hard part. As the top of the right sock reached around his ankle, he collapsed to the ground and began to scream.

“Are you kidding me?” bellowed John as he stomped up the stairs. “Can we have one normal, peaceful day in this house? All I want to do is eat.”

Mike followed him, attempting to calm him down so he would not further upset Matt, but was unsuccessful.

John slammed the door to his bedroom. Everyone in the house could still hear him cussing and screaming. And then suddenly there was a loud bang—the sound of him putting yet another hole through his wall.

Nancy, with a look of exhaustion and disappointment in her eyes, rushed to comfort Matt. She wrapped him in her arms and held him there for almost two hours before he began to calm down. This would be the second time they would have to cancel dinner reservations that week.

For the Erdlen household in Windham, New Hampshire, a night like this was a pretty regular occurrence. This is because John and Matt both suffer from a SMI, or serious mental illness. They, along with six percent of the U.S. population, fall under this classification that includes major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Both diagnosed at an early age, John struggles with bipolar disorder, an illness characterized by debilitating highs and lows, while Matt suffers from a combination of bipolar disorder and sensory integration dysfunction, a condition where the brain has trouble interpreting and responding to information that it receives through the senses, causing essentially a sensory overload.

While the effects of mental illness have been well researched and documented, little has been said about the siblings of the mentally ill. The sad reality for many of those who have a sibling that suffers from a mental illness is that they are left feeling a pressure to be normal—a phenomena called the well-sibling syndrome.

Mike Erdlen, who is now 24, is no exception.

“I am not a very openly emotional person and never have been,” he explained sternly. “I’m close to the opposite of how they are. I am extremely closed-off because they were open faucets all the time. I never wanted to deal with it and didn’t want to add to the stress so I just found it easier to internalize how I felt.”

From as early as Mike can remember, John and Matt have struggled with their illnesses—Matt’s episodes happening almost daily.

“We would go out and literally buy socks without seams so we could go out and do the thing we had planned for later that day,” he explained, chuckling at how extreme it must of sounded. “Typically, that still wouldn’t work. He would just fall to the floor and lay there for hours. If he put anything with a seam on, it could happen and it did almost daily.”

As Mike made his way to the kitchen to grab a beer from the fridge, he recalled the most recent episode he experienced with John when they were living together at the University of New Hampshire five years ago.

“We had just gotten off a double from work and we were arguing over rent, bills, the house being dirty—just typical daily things,” he said as he took a long sip of his beer. “We were just sitting there talking and he was standing across from me and all of a sudden his eyes just lit up with flames and he punched me right in the face.”

Growing up in this environment often made it difficult for Mike to express his own problems to his parents. With the nearly constant heightened tension in the air and the looming fear of setting one of his brother’s temper’s off, he typically kept to himself.

“I always felt like I had to walk on eggshells,” he said while glancing down at his fingers. “It would be a lie to say that I never felt like my problems were less important in comparison to theirs, but my parents did the best they could. Their needs definitely came first though.”

This feeling is not unique to Mike as psychologist Diane Marsh explains in her book, Troubled Journey.

“As hard as parents may try, and they do, to meet the needs of their well siblings, time and energy are simply finite,” Marsh told NPR. “And so siblings often feel like the forgotten family members. Everyone else’s problems are more important than theirs.”

Although Mike felt that his life was trivialized at times because of his brother’s ailments, he always tried to be as supportive as possible. With the pressure of four boys alone combined with the challenge of two mentally ill children, in Mike’s eyes, his parents did all that they could do.   

“It definitely became unbearable at times,” he explained somberly. “There were some points where it would either be the fifth or sixth hour in a row, or the fifth day in a row where we couldn’t leave the house and I was over it. But it was always understandable. There was never a time I really felt neglected on purpose.”

As understanding as he may be, Mike acknowledges the fact that who he has become as a person has been heavily shaped by his experiences growing up with Matt and John, using adjectives like introverted, weird and passive to describe himself.

“I think with how over the top both of them were, I just don’t experience extreme emotions,” he said as the ends of his mouth curled into a slight frown. “I don’t think I have ever experienced anxiety. I rarely, if ever panic. It’s definitely taken a tole on my capacity for emotions and being able to talk openly about it.”

Unfortunately for well-siblings like Mike, this kind of desensitization is very common. Marsh’s co-author Rex Dickens, who himself is the brother of three mentally-ill siblings, explained that brothers and sisters of the mentally ill often become “frozen souls” over time.

“You sort of shut down, emotionally, in part of your life, and that carries over to other areas,” Dickens told NPR.

To the outsider, Mike’s experience growing up may seem like a burden, but to him and his family it has created an opportunity over time to become closer—and based on research he’s right. According to Marsh, there is evidence of stronger family bonds and commitment within families that have one or more mentally ill children.

“I think going through all of that together made us able to be completely comfortable around each other because we’ve seen the true colors. I would argue that we have one of the closest families that I know, even though half of us are crazy. Well maybe all of us,” he laughed to himself.

Millennials distressed over state of the world

Pessimism is plaguing millennials across the globe, according to Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey.

According to the survey that polled 8,000 adults from 30 different countries born after 1982, millennials overall are worried about the future of their countries and are concerned about topics of terrorism, economics, war and political tensions.

In mature markets, only 34 percent of those surveyed expect economic conditions to improve over the next year and only 36 percent predict the same for social and political situations within their countries.

After a year of political, economic and social upheaval, it is no surprise that young adults are feeling troubled. In fact, when asked by researchers to think about the state of the world in general, respondents in only 11 of the 30 countries predicted that they would be “happier” than their parents.

Ironically, one of those 11 countries is the United States.

Dr. Andrea Bergstrom, a lecturer in the Communication, Media and Culture Department at Coastal Carolina University, said that this could be due to an overarching sense of entitlement that exists among the youth in America.

“In terms of mental preparation, I don’t think younger generations are in any way prepared,” said Bergstrom. “They have always been told that if you work hard and you do what you’re supposed to do, then your life will be great—the American Dream. You’ll have your house and your 2.5 kids and your fence and all that crap, but that is also, I would argue, a kind of privileged way of thinking to begin with…They haven’t been prepared for the possibility that their lives may not be better than their parents.”

Although young adults in the U.S. may not feel as distressed as those in other mature markets, Bergstrom argues that there is reason to be concerned.

“You have been told your whole life that you’re going to be able to do this, and you’re going to achieve that, and your life is going to be great and everything is better for each generation,” said Bergstrom. “This is the first generation in memorable recent history that that’s not going to be the case.”

Millennials, having lived through the 2008 economic meltdown, are increasingly worried about the job market. Because of this, young adults, who statistically prefer the advantages of working as freelancers or consultants, are now seeking full-time employment.

According to the survey, two-thirds of respondents said they would prefer a stable, full-time job over the flexibility of freelancing.

Bergstrom said that with the recent economic past, it makes sense that students are seeking full-time employment.

“I think particularly with the recent unstable economic past, I think students have seen a lot of their parents have financial hardships that they hadn’t seen before or anticipated when they were younger,” said Bersgtom. “And I think that is an important realistic shift. I’m not saying people shouldn’t try to be entrepreneurs. I think that’s great. But, you really can’t have it both ways.”

Senior Lindsey Hanks echoed the results of the survey. 

“I would much rather have a full-time career and job security than ‘job-hop,’” said Hanks. “I don’t want to have to constantly be worried about keeping my job or looking for a new one, or worried about money and having enough of it.”

While unemployment and economic issues are serious concerns among millennials, according to the survey, terrorism is the number one worry. Collectively, 56 percent of respondents cited war, terrorism and political tension to be their top concern.

What is particularly interesting is that in 2014 the results showed that only 15 percent identified terrorism as one of the world’s prominent challenges, while a majority considered the environment and resource scarcity to be the top concern.

Senior TJ Kilbride explained that this is troubling to him.

“Most millennials are afraid of terrorism more so than environmental issues, which is very concerning to me,” said Kilbride. “But what is even more concerning is that millennials are more concerned with terrorism than unemployment. That really worries me because that may lead people to not really think about what might happen if there is something that makes them lose their job. These are things that we should really be focusing on and less on what the media is trying to make us focus on.”

Despite the overall feeling of negativity among millennials, the survey states that young adults are the ones who incite the most change, especially within the working world. This is due to the fact that millennials are better with technology and more creative than their counterparts.

“The Millennials covered by the survey are not mere observers; increasingly and collectively, they have the potential to change the world around them,” the study states. “This is especially true within the workplace—once again, business has the potential to be a force for positive change that shines through as a core belief of the Millennial generation.”

Similar to the survey respondents, Hanks believes that millennials were raised to be more creative and technologically savvy.

“I think people in our generation were encouraged early on to be creative, instead of having our dreams or creativity stifled,” said Hanks. “We also never grew up without technology, so we’re able to grasp concepts about computers, smart phones, devices, and the internet, a lot quicker than others.

While statistically millennials are more capable in these aspects, it is concerning to some that many young adults expect to be successful without putting in the time and effort needed.

Bergstrom explained that it is going to take more than these skills to pay the bills.

“I think that there is a huge tech savvy that is more innate if you’ve grown up with it,” said Bergstrom. “And I do think there is a lot of creativity. I think being able to meld those two things leads to a lot of opportunities once you’re in the door…There are some that just want to skate through whatever this experience this is and think on the other side that things are going to be great. That’s the piece of it that concerns me. But I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people who want to put their head down and work for it.”

College students: To eat or not to eat?

As if getting a degree was not difficult enough already, recent studies show that as the price of college increases, so does the rate of hunger and homelessness among college students in the United States.

Coordinator of Civic Engagement at Coastal Carolina University Elaine Giles explained that because of this, many students are being faced with an impossible decision.

“I think folks often have to make the choice of, do I use my financial aid money or do I use scholarships or loans to pay for books, to pay for my tuition or do I use that for living expenses,” said Giles. “I think sometimes, unfortunately, students have to make that difficult decision of, should I do well academically or do I eat today?”

The average cost of tuition at a four-year university has more than doubled in the last 30 years, increasing from a yearly tuition of $8,238 to $18,632, according to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

With the constantly climbing costs combined with the decreasing amount of coverage from Pell grants, which were first implemented in the 1970s to aid low-income students in paying for college, it is no surprise that food and house insecurity among students continues to be a detrimental problem.

In fact, when they were first introduced, Pell grants covered 75 percent of college costs. Today, they cover a measly 30 percent. Additionally, two-thirds of current recipients grew up in households that fall below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

A study by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness surveyed 3765 students in 34 different institutions across 12 states in October 2016. The study found that 48 percent of students reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days, 22 percent of those qualifying as hungry.

Unfortunately, those students who experience food insecurity also often experience housing insecurity.

Of those 1800 students that reported experiencing food insecurity, 64 percent also reported experiencing housing insecurity, with 15 percent reporting experiencing “some form of homelessness in the past 12 months.”

These outside factors tend to weigh heavily on the success of low-income college students. In fact, the NCES found that only 14 percent of students from the bottom 20 percent of household incomes completed a bachelor’s degree or higher within eight years of graduation.

In response to the growing number of food insecure students, universities and colleges across America are beginning to offer food pantries and other resources.

Coastal Carolina University is no exception.

The CINO Pantry was first established in the fall of 2012 by an FYE class and, at the time, was housed in UP. Unfortunately, according to Giles, after the students graduated it became dormant.

In the fall of 2015, the pantry reopened in the Lib Jackson Student Union and remains there today.

“When I heard they were transitioning, there were still students that would seek out the CINO pantry for those resources,” said Giles.

Free to all students, faculty and staff, the pantry is open Monday through Friday.

Giles explained that all are welcome to stop by at any time. The process is simple.

“Students, faculty and staff can come in and say, ‘I’d like to visit the pantry,’” said Giles. “We get the visitors to fill out a form just explaining the CINO Pantry and recognizing that there is a risk. It’s a liability waiver. Then, they go in and take what they need. When they’re done, they just let us know that they finished up in the pantry. They can come visit as much and as often as they’d like.”

The CINO pantry is not going un-utilized. In the fall of 2016, Giles said that 34 students visited the pantry. She added that there are likely other students who needed the services, but did not know that Coastal offered them or were unaware of where they were located.

During homecoming week, Coastal holds a can drive event called Can-struct. Giles explained that it is these donations that supply the majority of goods in the pantry.

“We have a lot of canned vegetables and canned fruit and canned soup,” said Giles. “A lot of that comes comes from the Coastal Can-struct event that happens during homecoming week. We’re actually still going off of Can-struct donations from 2015.”

Currently, the pantry only accepts shelf stable food such as cereal, protein bars, pasta, shelf stable milk and meats. In the future, Giles hopes to have the resources that are able to accommodate for other goods.

“One day I would love to see the pantry expanded to where we have a fridge and can take other things or we have a community garden and can actually do fresh produce,” said Giles. “I think that would be really cool, knowing that what our pantry has now isn’t really high in nutritional value.”

If you would like to donate goods to the pantry, Giles explained that it is best to contact her first to make sure they have room. Her email is egiles@coastal.edu.

There are also opportunities to donate to the local food pantries, such as Catholic Charities located directly across from University Suites.

United against an unconstitutional ban

A week after President Donald Trump signed an immigration ban, U.S. judges from at least five states have ruled against the executive order, barring all federal authorities from enforcing it.

The order banned all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely and citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen—all predominately Muslim countries—for 90 days. If enforced, this order could affect more than 20,000 refugees, in addition to thousands of students across the nation.

Following the lead of U.S. District Judge Anne Donnelly from Brooklyn, New York, who ruled in favor of two Iraqi men who were being held at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, judges from Massachusetts, California, Virginia, and Washington state issued similar orders.

On Friday, Feb. 4, Judge James Robart of Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington temporarily blocked the immigration ban from being enforced. Robart’s order allowed those from the seven listed nations who had previously been authorized to travel, and all vetted refugees, to enter the U.S.

The White House promptly released a statement following the court order, pledging to file an emergency stay of the ruling to reinstate the president’s “lawful and appropriate order.”

“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” said the statement.

On Sunday, Feb. 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco rejected the request submitted by the Justice Department to immediately restore the travel ban. The court said that they expected a response from the Trump administration by the following day.

With the constant battle between the courts and the administration, many are left questioning the legality of the ban.

The Anti-Discrimination statute of 1965 outlaws the discrimination of a person based on “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence,” which Trump’s order inherently does, according to the judges that have ruled against it. Of course, Congress could choose to amend or repeal the statute, like it can with any law.

Another argument highlighted by the recent court orders is that the ban violates due process and equal protection under the Constitution. Due process states that all people, even illegal immigrants, are entitled to certain legal rights before the government can force them to leave. Equal protection requires the government to treat all people equally regardless of race, alien status, nationality, etc.

Because of how quickly this order was put into place, many argue that there was no opportunity for affected individuals to practice their right to due process and make their case. Much more troubling is the question of whether the order violates equal protection by intentionally discriminating against Muslims. 

Trump has denied accusations that the order is a “Muslim ban,” based on the argument that the seven countries that were chosen have been home to conflict in the recent years and present a significant terrorism threat to the U.S. The order also cites the changes to the visa waiver program that were made by Obama administration in 2015 that placed those persons who had recently visited any of the listed seven countries under greater scrutiny before being permitted to enter the U.S.

The president’s argument is flawed, however, due to the fact that he has openly prioritized Christian refugees. The order does this by stating that once the 120-day ban is lifted, preference goes to those of “a minority religion in the individual’s country.” Being that the order specifically applies to seven predominately Muslim countries, it is clear to what the “minority religion” is. In fact, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he planned to prioritize Christian refugees, mere days before signing the order.

More far-reaching than due process and equal protection combined, is the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which enacts the separation of church and state and declares that the government cannot favor one religion over another. While due process and equal protection can only aid those persons who are already in the U.S., if it is decided that the order violates the Establishment Clause, a court could easily rule against the ban entirely.

Following the court rulings, the U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have taken immediate measures to reverse the ban.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the State Department’s Director of Refugee Resettlement Lawrence Bartlett sent an email stating that steps are currently being taken to rebook travel for refugees, including those from Syria.

A State Department official also told The New York Times that until a new order is issued in the courts, the Department “will go back to vetting refugees, booking their travel and bringing them to the United States.” The arrival of these refugees is expected to begin as early as this week.

‘Global Gag Rule’ counterproductive to its purpose

As one of his first acts as president, Trump reinstated a Reagan-era policy that prohibits United States funding for global health providers who perform or discuss abortion as a family-planning option.

The global gag rule, formally known as the Mexico City Policy, was first enforced under the Reagan administration in 1984 and has since been reinstated by every Republican president.

This time, however, the policy extends to “to global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies,” as stated in a Presidential Memorandum released on Jan. 23.

Activists fear that this far-reaching policy could affect various nongovernment organizations (NGO) that provide lifesaving treatments outside of family planning, such as those that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, combat ebola and Zika, etc.

According to analysis from PAI, a global health NGO, the gag rule impacts over $9 billion of U.S. funds, compared to $575 million when George W. Bush reinstated the policy in 2001.

The U.S. funding of abortions in foreign countries as a method of family planning has been outlawed since 1973 by the Helms Amendment.

This means that, in reality, the global gag rule prevents women from accessing basic sexual and reproductive services, like gynecological exams, H.I.V. prevention and contraception. Instead of curtailing the rate of abortion, research has shown that when the policy is in place the rate for unsafe abortions actually increases, especially in rural areas.

After Bush reinstated the policy in 2001, a study conducted by Stanford University found that there was a surge in abortion rates in 20 sub-Saharan African countries. In developed countries, the rate remained relatively unchanged.

The study stated that, “If women consider abortion as a way to prevent unwanted births, then policies curtailing the activities of organizations that provide modern contraceptives may inadvertently lead to an increase in the abortion rate.”

With the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating yearly that 21.6 million women experience an unsafe abortion and 47,000 die from related complications across the globe, it is evidenced by research that the rates will only increase due to the reinstatement of the gag rule.

Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Dr. Ina Seethaler expressed her discontentment about the policy’s repercussions.

“…The global gag rule is clearly attempting to prohibit women to become informed about all their reproductive choices,” said Seethaler. “As the numbers of deaths that will likely result from this policy show, this decision was not made with women’s and children’s health in mind but to take away women’s bodily autonomy. It’s a political and ideological decision that condones putting women’s lives at risk.”

Because the U.S. is the world’s largest bilateral family planning donor, when the rule is instated organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International (MSI) suffer greatly.

In a statement released by MSI, the director Marjorie Newman-Williams explained that the gag rule is counteractive.

“Attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws—or by withholding family planning aid—will never work, because they do not eliminate women’s need for abortion,” said Williams. “This policy only exacerbates the already significant challenge of ensuring that people in the developing world who want to time and space their children can obtain the contraception they need to do so.”

Seethaler echoed this statement, stating that “the only way to prevent unsafe, ‘back-alley’ abortions is to legalize abortion.”

“Legal abortion, provided in a medical environment like at a Planned Parenthood, is safe, in fact, in many cases safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, especially in countries with high maternal mortality rates,” said Seethaler.

MSI also estimated that there will be “2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths under Trump’s first term that could have been preventable.”

MSI typically receives $30 million per year in U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding, which provides 1.5 million women in over 12 countries with family planning services.

But if they are unable to find donors, the organization will be forced to cut these programs.

“Abortion is a fundamental right for women and also very necessary public health intervention,” Maaike van Min, MSI’s London-based strategy director, told Reuters. “Aid is under pressure everywhere in the world and so finding donors who have the ability to fund this gap is going to be challenging.”

A decline in family planning programs can also lead to an increase in the risk of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to a policy review conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, in 2001, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association went from receiving 426,000 condoms to becoming ineligible for shipments, even though the organization does not provide abortion counseling. At the time, one in four women in the country were H.I.V. positive.

Recently, the Executive Director of the association Lerotholi Pheko told The New York Times that he was fearful of “a hit to his operating budget.”

“If we are not able to increase the income we get locally, it would mean that we would have to downsize,” said Pheko.

Another program that could face serious losses is The Family Life Association in Swaziland, an area that has one of the world’s highest H.I.V. infection rates.

The association, which receives a quarter of its funding from the U.S., provides abortion information to women infected with H.I.V. when necessary, even though the land-locked country only allows abortion in cases of rape and incest. If and when this occurs, patients are typically referred to adjoining South Africa, where abortion is legal.

Executive Director of the Family Life Association Zelda Nhlabatsi also expressed her concern to The New York Times about the possible negative outcomes that could arise from the newly reinstated policy.

“Our organization could definitely be affected, including our H.I.V. services, and you can imagine how detrimental that could be for a small country like Swaziland that’s been heavily affected by H.I.V.,” said Nhlabatsi.

Although the policy is in effect, Seethaler explained that there are various ways that any concerned citizen can aid in supporting the cause.

“If you want to support reproductive justice globally, including in the U.S., you can call your political representatives and voice your concerns,” said Seethaler. “You might also consider volunteering at organizations in the U.S., like Planned Parenthood, who are collaborating with other organizations overseas. Keep educating yourself about this topic. Women’s and Gender Studies courses are great ways to learn more about reproductive justice, why it is so important, and what we can do to support human rights.”

If interested in donating, visit the DKT International Family Planning and HIV Prevention at http://www.dkinternational.org/ and/or Planned Parenthood Global at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/.

Fighting the fake-news phenomenon

Economists Matthew Gentzkow and Hunt Allcott define fake news as stories “that have no factual basis but are presented as facts.”

During the 2016 Presidential Election, Facebook and Twitter were plagued with a plethora of these fake stories, mostly containing pro-Trump and/or anti-Clinton rhetoric.

“Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement.” “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS…Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News.” “IT’S OVER: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked & It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined.”

These sensationalized headlines, likely created by teenagers in Velles, Macedonia, were meant to act as clickbait, drawing readers to the fake-news websites.

By selling ads, these teens were able to bring in thousands of euros a day while living in a city where the average salary is 350 euros per month. By deceiving the American public, they successfully brought a “Digital Gold Rush” to the small city.

Some even argue that they had a large hand in swaying the presidential election in Trump’s favor, like Assistant Professor of Communication, Media and Culture Dr. Wendy Weinhold.

“I don’t know how a huge amount of fake news distributed with the intent to inform people with falsehood couldn’t have an influence,” said Weinhold. “If all it did was give people, whose minds were already made up, information that they could use to influence other people…and put just a seed of doubt in other people’s minds, then I don’t know how it couldn’t of had an influence.”

A Buzzfeed analysis concluded that in the 3 months leading up to the election, “the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.”

The analysis found that the top 20 fake stories generated 8,711,000 engagements while the 20 top true election stories generated 7,367,000 engagements. From the numbers, one could easily conclude that fake news was, at least, a serious problem throughout the election.

President Obama thought fake news to be a serious enough issue to mention in his farewell speech, calling fake news a threat to democracy.

“Increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there,” said Obama.

Customizable news has been a prevalent issue since Google News began allowing the ability for users to select preferences and is even more serious now with social media.

On Facebook and Twitter, users are able to, literally, pick and choose what they want to see. By giving the user the ability to add specific friends or to follow certain people or organizations, these social media sites are making it increasingly easier for the public to personalize their news.

“We had our local newspaper that arrived at our doorstep and we would have a conversation about it,” said Weinhold. “The really important thing was, these people…didn’t always agree with you…But today, particularly via fake news, we have the opportunity to surround ourselves with a bunch of people who agree with us and aren’t necessarily the best informed…There are huge consequences and huge costs to that kind of shifting of information and newly formed coffee shop online.”

Although fake news is extremely concerning, especially to those in the world of journalism, a recent study conducted by Gentzkow of Stanford University and Allcott of New York University found that, although the fake news stories favoring Trump far outnumbered those favoring Clinton, they did not have a “significant impact on the presidential election.”

The paper entitled, “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election,” combined a 1200 person post-election survey, new web browsing data and a database the researchers created, that contained election stories that were declared fake by prominent fact-checking websites during the three months prior to the election.

Overall, the research found that television was the primary source for receiving political news and that the political impact of social media is overstated. According to the study, only 14 percent of Americans reported utilizing social media as a primary tool for gathering campaign news.

“In summary, our data suggest that social media were not the most important source of election news, and even the most widely circulated fake news stories were seen by only a small fraction of Americans,” the research states. “For fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake news story would need to have convinced about 0.7 percent of Clinton voters and non-voters who saw it to shift their votes to Trump, a persuasion rate equivalent to seeing 36 television campaign ads.”

Regardless of if the circulation of fake news influenced the 2016 Presidential Election or not, the issue is a serious one and should be viewed as such.

Fortunately, Facebook and Google removed the ability for ad-revenue in November of 2016, leaving many of those who once created the fake news without an incentive. Facebook has also planned for new policies and algorithms that will help to filter out the obviously misleading stories.

Hopefully, we, the American people, were able to learn from this election cycle and will know to be more skeptical next time around.

In the mean time, Dr. Weinhold explained that it is in the citizen’s hands to aid in debunking falsities.

If you’re going to be a good citizen, if you are going to be well informed, you have to do some work too,” said Weinhold. “It’s not just the journalist that has to do the work of informing, investigating, but you as the audience member, you as the citizen of the democratic nation that you are lucky to call home, also has a responsibility to be sure that you know who is informing you. The internet makes information extremely readily available but it also puts a lot of responsibility on each of us to do our homework as well.”

ISIS in Mosul: Before, during and after

Backed by the United States, Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a campaign over two weeks ago to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS) after being under their rule for two years.

ISIS’s rule over Mosul was brought on by tensions in Syria and Iraq, giving the extremist group an opportune time to invade and occupy the city and other large surrounding cities.

Assistant Professor of Politics in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis explained that this divide gave al Qaeda a chance to regroup and form into what is now the Islamic State.

“ISIS before then was basically al Qaeda,” said Fitsanakis. “They had basically changed their name once they realized that al Qaeda was a failing brand after Bin Laden was killed, so they took their best people and basically went into hiding in Syria. In Syria there was a civil war that allowed them to recoup and recruit.”

He added that the U.S. invasion only worsened they already rising differences between the Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq at the time.

“Going back to Iraq there were a lot of tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites,” said Fitsanakis. “That kind of festered even before the U.S. went in in 2003 but the invasion made it much worse in terms of sectarian divides in the country. The Sunnis, which are the majority of the population in Mosul, felt beseeched by the Shi’ites.”

The campaign to recapture Mosul, however, will not be easy. Because other large Iraqi cities have been recaptured—Ramadi, Tikrit and Falluja—Mosul is in some ways, ISIS’s last stand.

In Ramadi, rebuilding costs are estimated in the billions.

At the time of the recapture, it was estimated by the Iraqi prime minister that 90 percent of Ramadi had explosives and still make some areas uninhabitable 10 years later. These explosive remnants of war, or ERW, had been placed by ISIS in schools, homes and hospitals.

In an interview with the New York Times, the State Department’s Deputy Director for Programs Jerry Giulbert, said that removing these explosives could be timely and costly.

“To clear Ramadi of every piece of ERW, you’re talking about a years-long effort, hundreds of millions of dollars, well beyond what we have,” said Giulbert.

Mosul is one of the largest cities in Iraq, having nearly 2 million inhabitants at the time of it being captured. Because of this, and many other reasons, it is seen as a prize to ISIS.

Not only large, but ancient as well, the city is the cultural center for Iraq. It is home to valuable, historical antiquities that are currently being threatened by the Islamic State. 

ISIS’s chemical weapons operation is also based in the city, which is just another reason that control of Mosul is a priority for them. 

With all of these factors combined, it is no surprise that many experts expect it to be some of the bloodiest fighting the Middle East has seen.

Fitsanakis said that ISIS would utilize various types of strategies when fighting.

“It is going to be bloody because it is urban,” said Fitsanakis. “They’re going to have snipers. They’re going to have suicide bombers. They’re going to have booby traps everywhere. They’re going to have civilians fighting in civilian uniform. A lot of civilians are going to die. They are not professional forces. Many of them are in militias. There are kids with guns who are trigger happy or are very frightened so they’ll shoot and ask questions later.”

If ISIS loses Mosul, it is said that the group will take on the strategy of “inhiyaz”—temporary retreat—into the desert, which is basically the same strategy used in 2007 when the group was driven out of Iraq by U.S. troops. The word first appeared in a speech in May by Islamic State spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who was later killed in an airstrike in August.

The fear is that, like before, the Islamic State will revert back to underground guerrilla warfare and have time to regroup to come back stronger than before.

Fitsanakis said that if ISIS loses Mosul, a question will be raised about how ISIS will respond.

“If they lose their territory, which is what makes them conventional, they’re going to revert back to what they used to do in the old days, which is to become an underground force,” said Fitsanakis. “If they become an underground force, they have no territory to defend, then what is the strategy going to be? That’s the big question.”

Although an attack on U.S. soil has been predicted to be possible if Mosul is recaptured, many Americans are unaware about what is going on due to lack of media coverage and/or general understanding.

Fitsanakis said that what intrigues him is way the media is choosing cover the topic.

“To me, what is interesting is not so much the lack of coverage on Iraq; It’s more the lack of coverage on certain parts of Iraq and Syria,” said Fitsanakis. “There is a lot of attention in Aleppo and a lot of criticism of Russia. People are like, ‘These people are crazy. They are going to attack a big city full of people.’ And now the same exact thing is happening on our side with the people that we support.”

He added that the war is complex, making it difficult for the media to approach the topic and present it to the public.

“A lot of Americans, I think, don’t understand what is going on over there because we are now finding ourselves supporting people that we were enemies of up until a few months ago,” said Fitsanakis. “America and Turkey aren’t doing very well because Turkey is suspicious of America. We have the Kurds, who they United States considers to be a terrorist organization. Don’t forget that the Kurds are considered terrorists in Turkey. We’ve got the Iranians who we don’t really have any relations with officially. It’s not a very clean war, like the forces of good verses the forces of evil. Everything is kind of crazy so Americans are confused about what the hell is going on so because of that I think the coverage is sort of minimal.”

Although the media has presented little coverage on Mosul and ISIS, both are prevalent issues that could present serious threats in the near future.

Fitsanakis emphasized that the world is unstable.

“I think that we are now less safe than we were before 9/11 or on the day of 9/11,” said Fitsanakis. “I think the possibility of another 9/11 on America or another developed country is almost at 100 percent. The world has become less stable, less safe and less predictable because of our response to 9/11. The way we responded was careless and in many ways, ineffective.”