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The first victim was 16-year-old cheerleader Lori Brownell. A student at LeRoy High School in New York, Lori passed out at a school dance late last year and woke up with symptoms resembling Tourette's Syndrome, including shaking uncontrollably and slurred speech.
In the months that followed more girls from the same school, all cheerleaders, have begun to suffer from facial tics and shaking.
By March this year, 16 cheerleaders and one boy at the school had developed the sporadic verbal outbursts and twitching that Lori had begun to endure months earlier. Some have since made full recoveries, others are still displaying symptoms.
The students have been tested for poisoning, and air and soil samples were taken from the school.
But all the tests returned normal, and doctors now say the students are most likely suffering from conversion disorder – a type of mass hysteria. Dr Robert Bartholomew, a sociologist and author who has been researching mass hysteria for more than 30 years, says similar scenes to the LeRoy school case will become more common in Australia.
The rapid growth of social media makes it difficult to isolate people with conversion disorder, for example in a classroom, he says.
"Hysteria is spread by sight and sound, but these days social media is an extension of your eyes and ears.
"Before, you could contain the situation to a certain area, like a classroom or factory.
"But if someone is posting videos and updates of what is happening or what they're experiencing on social media, even though people in the wider community are not there with the sufferers they may start to think they've been affected in some way."
As The New York Times reported of the case: "The story took off quickly, not just on the local and national news but on Facebook and autism blogs and sites devoted to mental health and environmental issues."
Mass hysteria comes in two forms, Dr Bartholomew says. The first is triggered by an extreme and sudden exposure to stress such as the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Suddenly people around the world would smell a weird odour or hear a loud bang and there was a group consensus it must be a terrorist attack," he says. "That has been a very common scenario in the past 20 or 30 years."
Read more: http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/digital-living/6938026/Social-networkers-show-side-effects
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