“It’s Not Moral Panic, It’s Reality”: Todd Sampson’s Documentary Questions the Internet’s Toxic Influence | Internet

Todd Sampson’s documentary about how the Internet is a giant unregulated psychological experiment that is changing us isn’t alarmist, it’s just reality, says the former advertising executive.

In his two-part film, Mirror Mirror: Love & Hate, Sampson shows us firsthand the mind-altering power of technology; technology so intoxicating kids choose the online world over the real world and a grown man falls in love with a personalized chatbot.

“Typically the people who say it’s a moral panic are people with no kids,” Sampson says ahead of the two-night show on Channel ten in Australia. “Because if you have kids you realize it’s not moral panic, it’s just reality.”

Mirror Mirror is timely, arriving as it does the week after the British coroner finds out social media contributed to the death of a teenager, leading a depressed girl into a dark path of disturbing contentand has similar themes to the 2020 Netflix documentary The social dilemma.

“I no longer see it as a moral panic or alarm, but as an important use of my voice,” says Sampson. “I understand that people who maybe don’t have kids or people who are really into tech companies aren’t going to like it. But I’ve just introduced the range of stories, starting with a 14-month-old to a 65-year-old.

Todd Sampson: 'I think we are on the brink of a global crisis.'
Todd Sampson: ‘I think we are on the brink of a global crisis.’ Photography: Ten

His passion for the material is infectious and he’s tracked down some remarkable personal stories that are sure to drive home the message and advocate for more regulation.

A former managing director of advertising agency Leo Burnett Australia, Sampson turned his back on the industry and embraced a career in television. He has produced and presented a number of films including Life on the Line, Body Hack and Redesign My Brain, as well as the first body image-focused series Mirror Mirror.

His love for television began in 2008 when he appeared as a panelist on Wil Anderson’s commercial show, then known as The Gruen Transfer.

Weekend apps

Sampson presents some alarming statistics: according to the electronic security commissioner there was a 245% increase in non-consensual sharing of intimate images and videos over the past three years; 70% of children have experienced hate speech online, and teens who spend more than three hours a day on devices are 35% more likely to be at risk of suicide.

“I think we are on the verge of a global crisis,” Sampson says. “So you can call it an alarmist. I just call it reality. Is the film a warning? Yup.”

Sampson is an empathetic interviewer, allowing his subjects to open up on camera even when their online experience is demeaning. Like the young woman she was tricked into believing she was in love with a man she had never met who convinced her to send him intimate photographs before disappearing.

“You might hear my voice cracking because I’m like, ‘Oh, no, she’s been destroyed emotionally and psychologically because of this system that we’ve allowed that to happen,'” Sampson says.

Or the guy who invested time and money in a relationship with an avatar, Anastacia, who he designed to act like his ideal girlfriend. Sampson seems to believe him when he says he loves her and prefers her over a human girl. “I always go into an interview without cynicism or without an agenda,” Sampson says. “The amazing thing about him is that he’s genuinely in love with a virtual robot because from a brain perspective, he’s getting the same serotonin shots, he’s getting the same oxytocin.”

Sampson says research now shows it’s not screen time per se that is bad for young people’s mental health, but the ‘like’ button, first introduced in 2009.

“Here’s where they think the fundamental problem is,” Sampson says. “We’re not meant to get that much positive or negative feedback, but kids want it online now and they want it from strangers.”