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The world is upsetting these days. And it’s easy to angrily scroll through Facebook or panic-read the news until you’re a bundle of anxiety. I’ve done it.

My colleague Brian X. Chen offered advice in his latest personal technology column for breaking out of “doomscrolling.” He talked with me about his personal quest to change his digital habits by adding more structure to his day and making time for hugs. HUGS!

Shira: ‘Fess up. Do you doomscroll?

Brian: Yeah. It was getting dire. One day I stayed in bed reading the news, feeling angry and hopeless. In the afternoon, one of my dogs pulled the covers off me. (She’s a very intelligent Labrador retriever.) That’s when I thought that I had a problem, and one that others probably shared.

Did any expert recommendation surprise you?

Two health experts suggested that we schedule times for everything — even 15-minute walks. It was a revelation.

Before the pandemic, I used to create calendar events for lunch dates or dropping off packages. But now that time feels like an amorphous blob, I realized that I had ditched any structure. I think that one change affected me profoundly.

Many of us need to be online for our jobs. How do we know when it’s bad for us?

The distinction is what content you’re consuming. Most news now is distressing, and that’s going to feel bad after awhile. So set limits on how long you read news sites or use social media like Facebook and Twitter, where people tend to post lots of news. Set an actual timer; it can snap us out of what we’re doing. But feel free to binge Netflix or read an e-book.

Of all the problems the world is facing now, is it silly to worry about this?

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. surgeon general I interviewed, said something on a podcast that stuck with me: We all have something that scares us. In this pandemic, we have to acknowledge that we’re scared of the uncertainty. Kids can’t go to school, millions of people have lost their jobs and our social or family lives might be interrupted.

We’re each suffering in our own way, but we can all feel empathy for one another. So, yes, doomscrolling isn’t the most dire problem, but it’s another thing that takes a toll on our health, and we should take it seriously.

Have you taken your own advice?

I’m starting to. During a lunch break this week, I took my corgi, Max, for a walk, and skipped my habit of lunchtime Twitter. This morning, after scrolling through news for 20 minutes, I put my phone down and returned to bed to hug my wife.

Hugs to that, Brian!

Don’t you miss hugging people? Dr. Murthy said that after our conversation he was going to spend five minutes hugging and playing with his toddler before his next call. These tiny efforts could make a profound difference.

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Thank goodness it wasn’t much, much worse. (At least not yet.)

Hackers took over Twitter accounts from a bunch of companies and famous people, including Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian and the Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos on Wednesday. They sent out tweets from the hacked accounts offering to double the money of anyone who sent them Bitcoins. The scheme collected a few hundred thousand dollars, last I checked.

My New York Times colleagues reported that scammers were able to trick some of Twitter’s employees — ones with virtual keys to accounts — to take complete command.

We should be scared by the implications, and ask yet again whether our sensitive information is too prone to compromise because of human failure.

First, if the people behind a relatively crude financial scam were able to get inside Twitter to hijack high-profile accounts, you could imagine more sophisticated actors achieving much worse outcomes.

A hacker could commandeer a world leader’s account to threaten a nuclear attack. Criminals could access celebrities’ private messages and leak them or use them for blackmail. It’s possible, as Twitter seemed to suggest, that the scammers in this attack did other malicious activity.

This is a big failure by Twitter, and we deserve to know exactly what happened, and how the company will prevent account takeovers like this in the future.

This attack also shows for the zillionth time that the soft spot of any complex technology system is people. Every company and individual needs more protection from people doing dumb things.

You know how you’re not supposed to click on random links in your email, but sometimes you do it anyway? Yes, because we are human, and humans make mistakes.

Unfortunately, this attack was likely a more sophisticated form of this, with humans at Twitter being tricked into handing over access to famous people’s accounts. This trickery is behind a lot of the computer hacking by foreign governments and scammers.

Last year, two Twitter employees were accused of spying on critics of Saudi Arabia’s government by accessing private information from their accounts.

One question is whether too many humans at Twitter have too much access to accounts without sufficient fail-safe measures.

(Here’s how to add an extra layer of protection to your Twitter account. This wouldn’t have stopped Wednesday’s hack, but it’s a good step for everyone.)


  • This is much worse than a Bitcoin scam: Russian hackers associated with the government intelligence services are trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research from British, Canadian and American health care organizations, my colleague Julian E. Barnes reported. The National Security Agency said the collective known as Cozy Bear, one of the groups implicated in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee, was behind these vaccine cyberattacks as well.

  • The suits and ties behind a fun app: In less than a year, the TikTok app has gone from having virtually zero lobbyists in Washington to 35, my Times colleagues reported. With a slick presentation and political connections, their goal is to convince policymakers that an app whose parent company is based in China has more allegiance to the United States, and therefore isn’t a security risk to Americans.

  • My Instagram animal is a lemur, maybe? A bunch of Instagram accounts have been getting attention for offering followers an animal and image personalized for them, Insider reported. One of the most popular, @what_frog_you_are, has added more than 215,000 followers in a week. This is the latest example of social media accounts that turn people’s chosen pictures or phrases into customized visual memes.

This is a beautiful virtual duet of “Take a Break,” a song from the musical “Hamilton.”


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