Its almost impossible to avoid triggering content on TikTok

Mashable’s series Algorithms explores the mysterious lines of code that increasingly control our lives — and our futures. 

TikTok’s algorithm is almost too good at suggesting relatable content — to the point of being detrimental for some users’ mental health. 

It’s nearly impossible to avoid triggering content on TikTok, and because of the nature of the app’s never-ending For You Page, users can easily end up trapped scrolling through suggested content curated for their specific triggers. 

Videos glorifying disordered eating, for example, are thriving on TikTok. The tag #flatstomach has 44.2 million views. The tags #proana and #thinsp0, short for pro-anorexia and thin inspiration, have 2.1 million views and 446,000 views, respectively. As senior editor Rachel Charlene Lewis wrote in Bitch, pro-ana culture and the internet intertwined long before TikTok’s ubiquity on teenagers’ phones. During the early days of social media, young people used forums and message boards to track their weight loss and swap diet tips. In the early 2010s, eating disorder blogs glorifying sharp collarbones and waifish ribcages flourished on Tumblr. Most recently, the community of eating disorder-themed Twitter accounts used memes to encourage members to stick with their restrictive meal regimens. 

While it was possible to stumble across fragments of the ED (eating disorder) community on other platforms, users were more likely to find it by intentionally seeking out that community. But on TikTok, users are algorithmically fed content based on their interests. If a user lingers on a video tagged #diet or #covid15, a phrase used to refer to weight gained in quarantine with 2.1 million views, the app will continue to suggest content about weight loss and dieting. It’s a slippery slope into queuing up food diaries about subsisting on green tea, rice cakes, and other low-calorie foods popular in the disordered eating community. 

“Rather than flood the user with content they may or may not enjoy, each online platform uses algorithms to better control the ‘flow’ of water through the hose.”

David Polgar, a tech ethicist who sits on TikTok’s Content Advisory Council, likens TikTok’s For You Page to a hose connected to a large water source. Rather than flood the user with content they may or may not enjoy, TikTok uses an algorithm to better control the “flow” of water through the hose. 

“It brings up very delicate questions around making sure that it’s not reinforcing some type of echo chamber filter bubble, so that it doesn’t lead anybody down rabbit holes,” Polgar said in a phone call. YouTube, he noted, received significant backlash last year for suggesting increasingly radical right-wing conspiracy videos based on users’ watch history. 

My descent into ED TikTok began, ironically, with videos criticizing a popular creator for being insensitive to eating disorder recovery. Addison Rae Easterling, a 19-year-old TikTok dancer with 56 million followers, caught flak in June for promoting her sponsorship with American Eagle by dancing to a song about body dysmorphia. Dressed in a pair of light-wash mom jeans, Easterling dances to the chorus of Beach Bunny’s “Prom Queen.” The song does include the phrase “mom jeans,” but it’s preceded by the lyrics, “Shut up, count your calories. I never looked good in mom jeans.” 

Easterling faced backlash from other TikTok users, especially those in ED recovery. In one duet with the now-deleted video, a young woman drags her feeding tube into the frame and scoffs at Easterling’s dance. Other users captioned videos with their own experiences with eating disorders in an effort to point out how severe they can be. One tried to point out how insensitive Easterling’s sponcon was by describing her own restrictive eating habits. Another TikTok user tried to emphasize how destructive eating disorders can be by graphically recounting how she used to fantasize about slicing off her stomach. 

TikTok users unintentionally fed into the very mentality that drives eating disorders to flourish: competition.

In an effort to criticize Easterling, TikTok users unintentionally fed into the very mentality that drives eating disorders to flourish: competition. Ashley Lytwyn, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in treating patients with eating disorders, told Mashable that even in recovery, comparing symptoms can be competitive. Many who suffer from eating disorders don’t just strive to be thin, but to be the thinnest. Those in recovery may even want to be the sickest. 

“Individuals with eating disorders at times don’t feel like they are ‘that bad’ if they aren’t the sickest in the room, or on social media,” Lytwyn said in an email. “This can be extremely dangerous as individuals with ED will go to great lengths to ‘win’ at being the sickest and often put their bodies in extreme harm to get there.” 

Calling out Easterling by highlighting extreme habits like chewing ice and purging after a food binge is actually more harmful for ED recovery than Easterling’s original dance was, as it can motivate someone to mimic that behavior and relapse. As I engaged with well-meaning but misguided content describing calorie counting, extreme exercise, and other self-destructive habits, my For You Page began showing me more content about fitness and diet. Only a few days after liking a video tagged #edrecovery, my For You Page showed me a video of a woman achieving her flat stomach by skipping meals in favor of chewing gum and drinking tea. 

It's almost impossible to avoid triggering content on TikTok

It's almost impossible to avoid triggering content on TikTok

It isn’t just ED content that manages to land on TikTok users’ For You Page. Videos about self harm, suicide, sexual assault, abuse, mental health issues, and a slew of other potentially triggering topics circulate on the app. Just as on any other form of social media platform, it’s impossible to totally shield yourself from coming across triggering content. TikTok, however, is uniquely structured to continue showing triggering content if users engage with it. 

TikTok, however, is uniquely structured to continue showing triggering content if users engage with it.

In an effort to be more transparent amid security concerns because of the company’s Chinese ownership, TikTok revealed how its algorithm works a few months ago. When a user uploads a video, the algorithm shows it to a small group of other users who are likely to engage with it, regardless of whether or not they follow the user who posted the video. If the group engages with it, either by liking it, sharing it, or even just watching it in its entirety, the algorithm shows the video to a larger group. If they respond favorably, the video is shown to a larger group again, and this process continues until the video goes viral.  

To determine an individual user’s interests, TikTok uses a variety of indicators such as captions, sounds, and hashtags. If a user has engaged with those indicators, like watching a video captioned with a certain phrase all the way through to the end, the algorithm takes it as a green light to continue recommending videos like it. 

It’s less of a malicious Black Mirror-like plan to herald the robot takeover and more of an unfortunate oversight in a well-meaning feature. The concept of banning potentially triggering content altogether has sparked debate over whether private companies, like social media platforms, have an obligation to uphold free speech principles. It’s also incredibly difficult to moderate this kind of content. TikTok users manage to bypass TikTok’s content flags by misspelling certain phrases. Suicide, for example, becomes “suic1de” or in more morbidly lighthearted videos, “aliven’t.” The tag #thinspo is blocked, but the tag #thinsp0 isn’t. Users won’t be able to find any content tagged #depression, but  #depresion has 498.8 million views. 

Some social media users — whether on TikTok, Twitter, or YouTube — agree to an unofficial social contract to use trigger warnings when discussing potentially traumatic content. Trigger warnings are especially controversial in the classroom and conservative critics associate the term with college students who can’t handle difficult conversations. While trigger warnings were originally designed to allow survivors with PTSD to avoid traumatic content, their efficacy is questionable. In an informal experiment, TikTok user loveaims prefaced photos of herself at her lowest weight while struggling with anorexia with two trigger warnings. Then, instead of showing any photos, she called out other TikTok users.

“This proves trigger warnings do nothing,” loveaims wrote in her video. “People will ignore them. They do not ‘warn others’ from the very triggering and not okay content people post.” 

It's almost impossible to avoid triggering content on TikTok

It's almost impossible to avoid triggering content on TikTok

So what can you do to avoid getting sucked into scrolling yourself into a potential relapse? We can’t expect creators to avoid triggering content entirely, and we can’t expect everyone to have the same standards for what “counts” as potentially harmful content. 

It’s also difficult to proactively avoid triggers on TikTok — although users can indicate that they’re not interested in certain videos and can block certain sounds and specific users, they can’t block keywords. As a member of TikTok’s Content Advisory Board, Polgar wants to see more customization available so users can better control what content they see. 

“If something is offensive to a person and they’ve indicated that, there should be a better ability to lessen the likelihood that that content is shown again, because that should be their decision,” Polgar said. 

Furthermore, platforms can do a better job of partnering with mental health organizations to provide resources related to certain flagged phrases. In response to rampant misinformation about COVID-19, for example, TikTok added a banner to videos tagged with certain keywords that led users to information about how the virus spreads and how to prevent contracting it. Polgar said the platform is in the process of working with mental health organizations to provide mental health resources to its users.

“What a lot of platforms are trying to do is basically…ensure that one, if it’s offensive or triggering to you, that you have an easy way to alter seeing it that frankly is in better, more intuitive design,” Polgar continued. If users come across something potentially triggering, they should be able to “click something” that will protect them. 

On the other end, users can avoid content that may harm their mental health by not engaging with it. That’s much easier said than done, however, and given how difficult relapse can be to avoid, Lytwyn suggests a more extreme measure. If you find yourself stuck in a spiral of algorithmically generated trauma, delete your account and start fresh. 

“This reset[s] the algorithm so that food accounts, disordered eating accounts, or bikini accounts aren’t constantly flashing on your feed,” Lytwyn wrote. She added that a recent patient started a new TikTok account and intentionally sought out videos about interior design and architecture. By watching, sharing, and commenting on videos with specific tags, Lytwyn’s patient curated an aesthetically pleasing feed of non-ED content. “We can’t completely get rid of ever seeing an account like that, but if the majority of the feed is a completely different industry, then it is less likely to be influential when it comes up.”

If you’ve already built up a large following and don’t want to have to start from scratch, you can also shape your For You Page to show you other content instead of videos about eating habits. By intentionally engaging with videos that aren’t centered on food and dieting, TikTok users can train the algorithm to show other content instead.  

Granted, a possible trigger may make its way through your curated feed every now and then. In those cases, Lytwyn said, it’s best to turn off your phone, call your support person, whether a therapist or a loved one, and ask for a distraction. 

If you find yourself trapped in a web of content that makes you uncomfortable, start following tags that bring you joy — elaborate Animal Crossing island designs, soothing knitting videos, newborn kittens taking their first steps may be good starting off points. Just because you might come across triggering videos on TikTok doesn’t mean they have to make up your entire For You Page. 

If you feel like talking to someone about your eating behavior, call the National Eating Disorder Association’s helpline at 800-931-2237. You can also text “NEDA” to 741-741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line or visit the nonprofit’s website for more information.

Researchers Give Mice Super Calorie-Burning Fat Cells Using CRISPR

Mice take shelter in a loaf of bread.

Mice take shelter in a loaf of bread.
Photo: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP (Getty Images)

Researchers say they may have found a way to create more useful fat cells using the gene-editing technique CRISPR. In a new study out Wednesday, they found evidence—in mice—that these engineered cells can possibly help the body burn calories quicker, as well as prevent obesity and other metabolic problems, compared to the fat cells most commonly found in the human body. But the findings are still a long way from being applicable to people.

Yu-Hua Tseng, a diabetes researcher at Harvard Medical School, and her lab have been studying the intricacies of fat cells for years, focusing on the difference between so-called white and brown fat cells (the brown color comes from the higher amounts of mitochondria they have, which contain lots of iron). The primary purpose of white fat cells is to store energy from food, while brown fat cells are thought primarily to be used as a way to keep our body temperature stable, particularly in the cold.

Scientists like Tseng have shown that brown fat cells are better at breaking down the nutrients they process than white fat. But most fat in the body is white, not brown, and many people now have an overabundance of body fat, leading to health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes. As a result, Tseng and her team have theorized that if we find a way to safely make white fat cells more brown-like, that should help treat or prevent obesity.

In this new study, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, Tseng and her team appeared to do just that. With the help of CRISPR, they made changes to precursor human white fat cells. The changes enabled the white fat cells to express a protein usually produced by brown fat cells and thought to be key to their improved energy-burning ability, known as uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1). Then they transplanted these human brown-like cells—codenamed HUMBLE cells—into obese mice fed a high-fat diet and documented to what happened to them compared to a control group of mice that were given human white fat cells via transplant and a third group of mice with transplanted brown fat cells.

Above, the mitochondria of white, HUMBLE, and brown fat cells, as seen in Tseng and her team’s experiments with mice.

Above, the mitochondria of white, HUMBLE, and brown fat cells, as seen in Tseng and her team’s experiments with mice.
Image: Chih-Hao Wang, et al/ Science Translational Medicine

Tseng and her team found that the mice with HUMBLE cells were better off across the board than the mice with white fat cells and had similar outcomes to the mice with brown fat cells. The internal structure of HUMBLE cells also more resembled brown fat cells, particularly when it came to their mitochondria.

“They’re able to clear their glucose much quicker; they’re able to better respond to insulin. And in terms of weight gain, they can gain less weight compared to the control mice,” Tseng said by phone. “So all that signifies an improvement to their metabolism.”

These experiments are a proof-of-concept for researchers like Tseng, not something that will be tested in humans in clinical trials anytime soon. We’re only now starting to see the very first, small trials of CRISPR in people for diseases like cancer and muscular dystrophy, though results have been so far encouraging.

There are inherent limitations to the approach Tseng and her team used in this study. For instance, the mice were immunocompromised to ensure that the human cells would be accepted without any problems. The cells used were also cultivated from the cell lines of only two people. It’s possible that a native immune system might affect how HUMBLE cells work, as could harvesting these cells from a larger number of people, the authors noted.

But by successfully creating these cells and studying how they made the mice healthier, Tseng said, we’ll get that much closer to finding an effective way to help people reduce or prevent obesity. This could happen through genetic engineering or via a drug that can mimic its effects on white fat cells, she added. Already in this study, the team found evidence that these HUMBLE cells ramp up the production of nitric oxide in the blood, which in turn may activate native brown fat cells elsewhere in the body (in other research, lowered nitric oxide production has been linked to obesity).

Aside from studying these HUMBLE cells more closely in the lab, Tseng is also looking to collaborate with researchers and clinicians in other fields.

“To be able to apply this to patients someday, we need a team with diverse expertise. I certainly cannot accomplish that myself,” she said. “But I really do hope that our research can benefit patients eventually.”

Pet Monkeys Brought to Ancient Egypt Were Buried With Sea Shells and Other Trinkets

A monkey skeleton found at a pet cemetery in Berenice.

A monkey skeleton found at a pet cemetery in Berenice.
Image: Marta Osypińska/Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Monkeys recovered from an ancient Egyptian pet cemetery have been traced back to India. The compassionate burials, in which the monkeys were laid down in the fetal position and surrounded with grave goods, suggests the primates were kept as pets, in what is a unique archaeological discovery.

Archaeologists from the University of Warsaw’s Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archeology, along with researchers from Delaware University in the U.S., found the monkeys buried at a pet cemetery in the ancient port city of Berenice, The First News reports. The team has been working at the site since 2008, uncovering the remains of monumental fortifications, defensive walls, towers, a large subterranean complex, a temple, and the pet cemetery.

The archaeologists initially assumed that the monkeys were local, belonging to the guenon family of African monkeys. After analyzing 3D scans of the specimens and performing a comparative analysis of monkey bones, however, the researchers pinned the remains to two different monkey species, rhesus macaques and the slightly smaller bonnet macaques, both of which hail from India. Berenice is located on the western shores of the Red Sea and 210 miles (340 km) due east of Aswan.

A monkey skeleton found at a pet cemetery at the port city of Berenice in Egypt.

A monkey skeleton found at a pet cemetery at the port city of Berenice in Egypt.
Image: Image: Marta Osypińska/Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

The careful burials, in which the monkeys were laid down in a sleeping or fetal-like position, plus the presence of various grave goods, suggests the monkeys were cared for and kept as pets prior to their deaths.

The discovery of rhesus and bonnet macaques in Egypt “was a big surprise to us,” Marta Osypińska, a team member and an archaeologist from the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained in an email. “We didn’t expect them here,” as ancient written sources failed to mentioned this practice.

Work at the Berenice pet cemetery from 2016 to 2020 has resulted in the discovery of 16 monkeys, 536 cats, 32 dogs and one falcon, said Osypińska. A paper describing the health and condition of these animals has been submitted to the science journal World Archaeology, she said. Researchers from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences contributed to this research, according to Science in Poland, a publication of the country’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

One monkey was found wrapped in a woolen blanket, while another had large sea shells placed next to its head, reports First News. Fragments of broken amphora—an ornate vase—were also found next to the buried remains.

Some monkeys were found buried next to sea shells and broken pottery.

Some monkeys were found buried next to sea shells and broken pottery.
Image: Marta Osypińska/Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

During the 1st century CE, the Roman Empire annexed Egypt, turning Berenice into a vibrant trade hub. Romans stationed at this outpost sought various companion animals, which were imported from abroad, the researchers speculate. It’s possible that both Romans and Egyptians engaged in this practice.

“Berenice was a de facto Roman port, although formally in Egypt,” explained Osypińska, adding that Berenice was “a very important port through which valuable goods from Asia, Africa and the Middle East were brought to the Empire.”

As living trade items, these monkeys would have required considerable care and attention, needing food and water during their voyage across the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. But as Osypińska explained, the monkeys were unable to adapt to their new Egyptian environment, and all died young.

“We don’t know why. Perhaps it was a bad diet, perhaps diseases, or perhaps an inability to take care of them,” she said. “Some were ‘babies,’ meaning that they must have been born on the road or in Berenice.”

Osypińska said fresh water had to be brought to Berenice on donkeys from the nearby mountains, and that “everything” had to be imported from a distance. Importantly, no physical injuries were seen on the monkey skeletons, unlike the many injuries seen on the buried cats and dogs.

Exotic pets were common in both antiquity and prehistoric times. Other examples include a 1,000-year-old cat kept by nomadic herders in what is now Kazakhstan and chickens and hares brought into Britain some 2,300 to 2,200 years ago, which were revered rather than eaten.

The Pandemic’s Economic Crisis Calls for a Green Recovery

You can’t isolate yourself from a pandemic and you can’t isolate yourself from climate change. So we do have to find mechanisms.

In 2008, I worked in the international financial system, and in the standing up of the G-20 in response to the financial crisis, you had committed multilateralists sitting in key jobs in international organizations and in key jobs in government and in key governments. There’s no getting away from the fact that when you’ve got inward-looking politicians in key countries of the global economy, it makes it more difficult.

There is something we call reciprocal vulnerability, and I think women leaders are frankly, better at it. It’s basically standing up and saying, “You know what? I don’t know, we don’t know, but we are going to get through this together.”

There’s something extraordinarily powerful in that. Look at the countries that have done that versus the countries where it’s like, “We’re best at this,” or “We’re best at that,” whether or not that’s really true. In this crisis, imagine the international cooperation of walking into the room saying, “We don’t know, but we’re going to get through this together.” It’s not a bad place to start.

I can find green beans from Kenya in my local organic supermarket here in Brussels. It’s good that the growers have a global market for their goods, but how do you maintain those livelihoods and jobs at the scale — especially as different parts of the world are hit by the crisis-related downturn?

This crisis is going to force us to address some issues that we haven’t really wanted to address in the last few years, which is that you can grow your green beans in Naivasha and you can export them to the Netherlands, and I can buy them the next morning, but we still don’t have access to an affordable diet for millions and millions of Africans. We don’t have effective local and regional markets for fresh foods in Africa. We need extraordinary amounts of investment in cold storage and in supply chains within the region. And so, when a shock comes and suddenly there’s no flights to Amsterdam, everything collapses.

The same is true across Latin America. Most Latin American countries are exporting their food, and yet Latin Americans are suffering from type two diabetes, increasing amounts of noncommunicable diseases because of bad diets. And we have unparalleled rates of deforestation.

The Monotony of Family Meals Can Trigger Past Disordered Eating

“At their core, disordered eating behaviors are coping strategies,” said Lisa Du Breuil, a psychotherapist who treats patients with eating disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital. “When we’re under stress, we fall back on what’s most familiar. We are all living with this ongoing existential threat. Of course that’s going to show up in your eating.”

When stay-at-home orders were first put in place, therapists and dietitians who treat individuals with eating disorders immediately began to worry about the disruption to their clients’ daily routines. “Pre-Covid, you had lunch breaks, the school day, bedtimes, and all these other external cues that once provided a structure for basic self-care activities,” said Ayana Habtermariam, a nutrition therapist in private practice in Arlington, Va. “Parents are now having to recreate on their own.”

The lack of social interaction was another risk. “Eating disorders thrive in isolation, because there’s already so much shame and stigma; a lot of the behaviors are done in secret,” Millner said. “When you are literally isolated all day and don’t have the same opportunities to sit down and eat with other people, the disorder will intensify.”

As the pandemic has progressed, therapists say the toll of that isolation is only deepening, as people feel increasingly anxious, depressed and lonely. But reopening cities brings new stresses. After all, isolation offers one small reprieve from body dissatisfaction. “I have a lot of clients who have felt some relief from the focus on their body because they’re not seeing other people, and they are able to spend the day in comfortable clothes,” Millner said.

Now, the comfort of that loungewear life is replaced by new fears around whether old clothes will fit, or if others will notice how our bodies have changed. “You may also be worrying about whether your kids’ bodies have changed, and will people judge you for that,” Millner said.

This transition is heightened by social media memes about the “Quarantine 15,” many of which are directed at mothers. “The primary lesson diet culture teaches us is that we should beat ourselves up for every mistake we make,” said Irina Gonzalez, a mom in Fort Myers, Fla., who gave birth to her first child on March 30.

Gonzalez said having a newborn during a pandemic has been difficult: “None of our friends were able to come over and offer that new-mom comfort of bringing meals; I don’t have that village of support that I had heard about.”

The Nets Aren’t Winning, but They Aren’t Giving Up

Is it possible for a postseason series to tell us everything and nothing at the same time? I present to you the Nets and the Toronto Raptors facing off in the first round of the N.B.A. playoffs.

On one hand, you have the Nets, who are down, 2-0, after losing, 104-99, on Wednesday. This was expected: The Raptors, the defending champions, are more talented and heavily favored to win. Many of the current Nets players will either not be on the team next year, when Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan return, or they will not get nearly as much playing time. Jacque Vaughn may not even be the coach then.

Opposite them, you have Toronto: a professional and efficient team doing what it’s supposed to do. But this series doesn’t answer any of the key questions for the Raptors as they try to make a deep postseason run — namely, do they have enough top-level talent to repeat as champions?

But the games have been instructive as to the culture of both teams, offering some lessons that the Nets in particular can take going into next year, regardless of how this series turns out.

At a macro level, the Nets have shown themselves to be resilient, both against the Raptors and in the eight seeding games leading up to the playoffs. Sean Marks, the Nets general manager, has spoken many times about the team’s culture of toughness and hard work, which flourished under Kenny Atkinson, who stepped down as head coach during the season, and has continued under Vaughn. This culture has been on full display at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., where the Nets have competed at a high level against better teams.

“We weren’t likely to be the seventh seed once several of our players didn’t come down to the bubble,” Garrett Temple said after scoring 21 points on Wednesday. “We weren’t likely to beat the teams we beat while we were here in the bubble. We enjoy being underdogs.”

The Nets led most of Game 2, until the more-experienced Raptors made just enough shots and caused just enough turnovers in the fourth quarter to come back. The Nets had a chance to tie in the last 15 seconds, but a handoff from Joe Harris to Temple went awry. Kyle Lowry got the steal, and the Raptors iced the game — and breathed a sigh of relief. The Nets did not win, but they did enough to make the Raptors sweat. It was a moral victory if not a real one.

“The adjustments we did make put us in a position to even be in the final minutes and seconds of a game against the defending champs,” Vaughn said after the game.

On a personnel level, this series has provided two revelations: Caris LeVert’s playmaking and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot’s deserving a shot in the N.B.A.

LeVert is shouldering a heavy burden as the Nets’ point guard — not his normal position. He is also one of the few players on the team who can consistently break down defenses. LeVert dished a career-high 15 assists in the series opener on Monday and 11 on Wednesday. He’s been adept at countering a steady diet of Toronto double teams and traps with crisp passes to the open man. Imagine how happy this must make Durant and Irving, who may be able to feel comfortable leaving the floor and handing the reins to LeVert when they return.

As for Luwawu-Cabarrot, 25, he is on his fourth team in four years — his fifth if you include the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed him in September and then cut him before he played a game. But after signing multiple 10-day contracts with the Nets, and eventually a multiyear contract in February, he seems to have found a home with the franchise.

He scored 26 points in Game 1 against Toronto, and then 17 on Wednesday. Including the playoffs, Luwawu-Cabarrot has hit double digits in scoring for the Nets in seven of his last 10 games. He is an adept cutter and a reliable shooter. He’s become so reliable that Vaughn inserted him into the starting lineup on Wednesday.

In the series opener, the Nets were in a 33-point hole in the first half. They had every reason to lie down: They weren’t expected to win. Coming back from that deep a deficit would be nearly impossible against the defending champions, who are known for their poise. And yet, the Nets cut the lead to single digits in the second half, riding LeVert.

“Seems like they were trying to deliver an early message to the group,” Vaughn told reporters on Monday. “I did like the way our group responded after halftime and accepted that first punch from Toronto. The rounds will continue.”

Ideally, the Nets would not have put themselves down by 33 in a playoff game. But that they muscled back is an indication that the team is playing motivated under Vaughn.

Unfortunately, mental muscles ultimately don’t equal real ones, as much as I tried to convince my high school basketball coaches otherwise. (Coach! I would’ve made a great glue guy! Your loss, Howell High!) The Nets are unlikely to win this series — not without getting LeVert some serious help in the form of another playmaker. (Where art thou, Jamal Crawford?) And with Harris leaving the bubble for a personal matter after Game 2, the challenge is even greater.

But the team has so far acquitted itself about as well as it can given the circumstances. Effort isn’t the issue, and that’s something the Nets can take into next year when, in theory, they will have a team ready to contend for championships.

“I think anyone watching these past two games felt our team, the energy, the effort, their hard play, their togetherness, never doubting each other, being extremely resilient,” Vaughn said. “Definitely proud of that from the group. We put ourselves in a position to win a ball game. And so that’s all you can ask.”

How Two British Orthodontists Became Celebrities to Incels

As we ate, Mike launched into a rhapsody about the stardom orthotropics was bringing him. He was headed to California soon, and hoped to have an audience with Joe Rogan. He worried that some orthodontists in America were trying to supplant him. He marveled at the bizarre fervor of his fans. The praise streaming in from around the world had given him the confidence to speak openly about long-held ambitions. He saw himself as an heir to the great scientific innovators of the past, none of whom he held in higher esteem than Charles Darwin. As we went to pay the bill, he handed me a two-pound coin he’d been keeping in his wallet. Turning it over, I saw that the portrait on the back depicted Darwin, in profile, staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee. Mike took it back and put it away, saying, reverently, that he couldn’t bring himself to spend it.

When I spoke to traditional orthodontists about the Mews’ claims, they were universally annoyed that these ideas were catching on with the public. Some were scandalized that John, who is not an academic, signs his correspondence with the title “professor” — an honorific he has claimed since holding a two-year visiting professorship at a university in Romania. (He has also identified himself as “the clinical director of the London School of Facial Orthotropics”; the school’s campus comprises a bare conference room on the second floor of the Purley clinic.) The orthodontists stressed that no one had ever conducted a credible study of orthotropics, and so all of the Mews’ claims of its efficacy were unproved. They pointed to studies that they said showed that treating patients young does not lead to better outcomes. They laughed at John’s obsession with the tongue and the maxilla. But they also admitted, cautiously, that the field hadn’t properly answered important questions, leaving space for the Mews’ contrarian theories to gain purchase among people who’d found traditional treatment unsatisfying.

In the early days of orthodontics, debate raged over what the focus of the field should be. Some practitioners aimed simply to straighten the teeth, while others argued that orthodontists should look beyond the mouth and try to shape the face as a whole. In 1900, Edward Angle, the father of modern orthodontics, drew a connection between malocclusion and good looks: “One of the evil effects of malocclusion is the marring or distorting of the normal facial lines,” he wrote, describing the “vacant look” and “undeveloped nose and adjacent region of the face” he saw in many patients. The tongue and cheeks, Angle hypothesized, played a powerful part in achieving orthodontic “balance.” But other orthodontists saw it differently, believing that the most they could do was extract teeth and then straighten the smile. The debate largely ended in the 1930s, when clinicians began inventing the first cheap, reliable braces — methods of aligning the teeth that were so effective they induced a kind of awe in British and American practitioners, and mostly sidelined the proponents of facial-growth orthodontics.

In the rush to fix people’s smiles, however, troublesome facts about straightening teeth were minimized or ignored — most significant, orthodontia’s astounding rate of relapse. From the early 1960s to the early 2000s, researchers at the University of Washington collected records from more than 800 patients who’d had their teeth straightened to see how they had fared. Orthodontists had long assumed that patients’ teeth shifted slightly but then “stabilized” after the braces came off. But the University of Washington researchers were shocked to find that fully two-thirds of patients’ teeth went crooked again after treatment. When I asked Robert Little, a co-author on those studies, why so many people relapsed, he said orthodontists didn’t fully know. “All we know is it’s happening.” In the Mews’ eyes, the failure to identify the causes of relapse proves that orthodontists fundamentally do not understand the nature of malocclusion.

Unsurprisingly, the orthodontists I spoke to defended their profession against the Mews’ claims. But a few experts granted that the Mews might be getting certain things right. Mani Alikhani, a lecturer at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and an advocate for scientifically backed orthodontics, noted that issues like rampant relapse rightly sapped credibility from mainstream clinicians. While he thought the Mews’ views were oversimplified, he credited them and their followers with something he considered valuable: calling attention to the role of the lips, tongue and cheeks in shaping the facial bones, which he said had gone understudied. Timothy G. Bromage, an expert on the biology of human facial development at N.Y.U. College of Dentistry, told me that, in his experience, most orthodontists’ education in the science of jaw growth is “woefully incomplete.” During growth, “the lower jaw follows the upper jaw,” Bromage said, so John Mew’s focus on the maxilla made sense.

When the Mews point to high relapse rates and certain other orthodontic shortcomings — like the way braces can damage dental roots — they stand on solid ground. But they are also quick to step onto much shakier territory, particularly in their beliefs about beauty standards. Both John and Mike have spoken extensively on their theories about the facial angles and symmetries they consider most aesthetically pleasing. They do not believe beauty is culturally determined, instead proposing that all humans have an inborn preference for wide, forward-grown faces. A few years ago, John hired an artist to render an image of an ancient person with his vision of ideal facial growth. The result was a strange Nordic-Amazonian woman with a squat face and high cheekbones who bore an uncanny resemblance to Melania Trump. In John’s view, nearly everyone living in industrial societies deviates from this appearance, and deformity has become so rampant as to seem normal. Beautiful people in industrialized societies today are, to the Mews, freakish exceptions — the lucky few who miraculously managed to eat a hard diet and close their mouth as children.

Over the past several years, the Mews have begun posting videos that emphasize a new claim, which they believe is among the most serious medical discoveries in history: Forward facial growth, they say, can increase the size of the upper airway, preventing sleep apnea and its deadly secondary afflictions. (John says that, in recognition of his insights, one of his followers is trying to nominate him for a Nobel Prize in Medicine.) To draw attention to these ideas, Mike told me one day at the clinic, they had devised a new strategy for their YouTube channel. The videos that got them the most viewers, he said, tended to be ones with a focus on celebrity — an analysis of Kylie Jenner’s face titled “How to Improve Cheek Bones” brought in a half-million views alone, and videos on Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones garnered attention, as well. Some strike an almost lurid tone. (“I Might Have Destroyed a Girl’s Face,” one announces.) Mike admitted that the new direction was an effort to bring women to the channel in hopes of reaching young mothers. “Use the clickbait to get people in,” he said, “and then they come down the rabbit hole.”

Novak Djokovic on Coronavirus, Vaccines and His Ill-Fated Adria Tour

Negotiations and trans-Atlantic flight complete, Novak Djokovic was seated on the sofa of one of his hard-won concessions this week: a spacious rented home near New York City, nestled amid the trees and far from the commotion.

Djokovic had just put on a shirt after sunbathing on the terrace.

“With the trees and serenity, being in this kind of environment is a blessing,” Djokovic said on a Zoom call. “And I’m grateful, because I’ve seen the hotel where the majority of players are staying. I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything like that, and I know the U.S.T.A. did their best in order to provide accommodation and organize everything and organize these bubbles so the players can actually compete and come here, but it’s tough for most of the players, not being able to open their window and being in a hotel in a small room.”

It has been a bumpy and tortuous road to staging the United States Open amid the coronavirus pandemic. Djokovic’s demands and complaints — public and private — did not make it any smoother for the United States Tennis Association to facilitate the tournament. But unlike many other leading international players, including Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Djokovic is actually here after this long and unexpected break from the tennis tour.

He is still ranked No. 1 and remains a perfect 18-0 in 2020, just as he was when the pandemic-related hiatus began in March.

But he was hardly a big winner during the forced off-season. He generated concern and controversy by questioning vaccination and claiming that water could be affected by human emotions. And he dented his credibility and brand by organizing the Adria Tour, a charity exhibition series in Serbia and Croatia in June that seriously lacked in social distancing and decorum, leading to a cluster of coronavirus cases. It was canceled before the finish with several leading players and some support staff testing positive.

Djokovic and his wife Jelena were among them, and they isolated for two weeks with their two young children in their native city of Belgrade, Serbia.

“We tried to do something with the right intentions,” Djokovic said of the tour. “Yes, there were some steps that could have been done differently, of course, but am I going to be then forever blamed for doing a mistake? I mean, OK, if this is the way, fine, I’ll accept it, because that’s the only thing I can do. Whether it’s fair or not, you tell me, but I know that the intentions were right and correct, and if I had the chance to do the Adria Tour again, I would do it again.”

Djokovic was full of mixed emotions in this week’s interview, ranging from apologetic to defiant, and said he had used the long break to deepen his connections with his family and his understanding of issues like ecology and health.

“I think this is a huge transformational phase for all of us on this planet, and I think maybe even the last wake-up call,” he said.

Djokovic said his coronavirus symptoms were mild, lasting four to five days. He said he had no fever but did have fatigue and some loss of smell and taste and sensed some loss of stamina when he initially returned to practice.

But with concern mounting about the long-term health effects of the virus, Djokovic, who favors a plant-based diet and natural healing when possible, said he was closely monitoring himself and looking into long-term effects.

“I’ve done a CT scan of my chest, and OK, everything is clear. I’ve done several tests since my negative test for the coronavirus as well before coming to New York,” he said. “I’ve done my blood tests, my urine tests, my stool tests, everything that I possibly can. I’m obviously doing that prevention anyway but of course now more than ever because we don’t really know what we’re dealing with.”

Djokovic, traveling without his family, arrived in New York on Saturday, to “get acclimated” to the unusual restrictions for the tournament and “just to be able to be OK once it’s go time.”

He will first play in the Western & Southern Open, a combined men’s and women’s event that has been moved from its usual location outside Cincinnati to the U.S. Open site to create a two-tournament bubble. He will compete in singles and doubles, teaming up with his Serbian compatriot Filip Krajinovic, with his first match either Sunday or Monday.

Both tournaments will be played without spectators at the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, with players and their support staff required to be tested regularly and banned from traveling beyond their lodging and the tournament site without express permission from U.S. Open leadership.

“I was very close to not coming,” said Djokovic, who said he decided to go to New York less than a week before he arrived and only after players were given guarantees by European governments that they would not be expected to quarantine when they traveled to Europe after the U.S. Open.

“There were a lot of uncertainties,” he said. “And there still are, yeah, a lot of things that are not really clear.”

He continued: “I want to play. I mean that’s why I’m here. I am personally not afraid of being in a risky, dangerous health situation for myself. If I felt that way, I most likely would not be here. I am cautious of course, and I have to be responsible and of course respect the regulations and rules and restrictions as anybody else. But things are unpredictable. Anything can happen in the tennis court or off the tennis court.”

Djokovic said his own experience with the coronavirus had not altered his views on vaccines. He has said that he would have a difficult decision to make if receiving a coronavirus vaccine became mandatory to compete on the tennis circuit.

“I see that the international media has taken that out of context a little bit, saying that I am completely against vaccines of any kind,” he said. “My issue here with vaccines is if someone is forcing me to put something in my body. That I don’t want. For me that’s unacceptable. I am not against vaccination of any kind, because who am I to speak about vaccines when there are people that have been in the field of medicine and saving lives around the world? I’m sure that there are vaccines that have little side effects that have helped people and helped stop the spread of some infections around the world.”

But Djokovic did express concern about potential issues with a coronavirus vaccine.

“How are we expecting that to solve our problem when this coronavirus is mutating regularly from what I understand?” he said.

Djokovic said the U.S.T.A.’s leadership was initially reluctant to allow players to stay in rented homes during the U.S. Open. They relented but imposed strict conditions. Djokovic must pay not only the rent but also for round-the-clock security approved and monitored by the U.S.T.A, in part to help enforce the same protocols other players are following.

This is not simply the honor system.

“It’s super important I made this investment because it’s going to make me feel better,” Djokovic said. “I’m going to recover better and can actually have some outdoor time when I’m not on site.”

He has come with the maximum three team members, another concession he worked to secure from the U.S.T.A., which originally planned to restrict players to just one team member. One of Djokovic’s housemates is Goran Ivanisevic, the former Wimbledon champion who is one of his coaches and also contracted the coronavirus during the Adria Tour, along with other players and coaches.

To those watching from afar, that outcome seemed logical in light of the lack of safety measures. Fans were allowed in stadiums. Masks were recommended but not required. Players hugged, high-fived and even danced the limbo in close quarters in a Belgrade nightclub.

“I agree things could have been done differently with the nightclub,” Djokovic said. “The sponsors organized. They invited players. We felt comfortable. We had a successful event. Everybody was really happy and joyful.”

Djokovic said the tour, conceived with the idea of helping lower-ranked pro players in the former Yugoslavia during the hiatus, was organized in cooperation with national governments and tennis federations. At the time, coronavirus numbers were low in Serbia and Croatia with few societal restrictions.

“We’ve done everything they asked us to do, and we followed the rules from the Day 1,” Djokovic said.

But Djokovic said he soon grasped that the view from abroad was very different.

“When someone from Australia or America looks at what was happening in Serbia, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I mean are you crazy? What are these people doing?’” Djokovic said. “So I really understand.”

There was also criticism in Croatia of the tour and the Croatian tennis federation’s role in managing the event. But Djokovic, who also made sizable donations with his wife to coronavirus relief efforts in Serbia and Italy, maintains the tour was still worth organizing for the funds it generated for the region.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything bad to be honest,” he said. “I do feel sorry for people that were infected. Do I feel guilty for anybody that was infected from that point onward in Serbia, Croatia and the region? Of course not. It’s like a witch hunt, to be honest. How can you blame one individual for everything?”

Djokovic is 33, but this will be the first of the 61 Grand Slam tournaments he has played in his long and triumphant career in which his biggest rivals — Nadal and Federer — will both be absent.

Nadal, 34, the reigning U.S. Open men’s champion, chose to prioritize the clay-court season that will closely follow the U.S. Open on the reconfigured tennis calendar. Federer, 39, does not plan to play again in 2020 after two knee surgeries this year.

In New York, the rightly named Big Three will be reduced to one.

“It is strange, because these two guys are the legends of our sport and with or without crowds, they are going to be missed a lot,” Djokovic said.

But he insisted that their absence and the absence of eight other players in the men’s top 100, including the 2016 U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, did not diminish the significance of this tournament in his opinion because “a super majority” of top players will be there.

Federer holds the men’s record with 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal has 19. Djokovic has 17, and he said the quest for 18 was “of course” a significant factor in his decision to cross the Atlantic.

“One of the reasons why I keep on playing professional tennis on this level is because I want to reach more heights in the tennis world,” he said.

He said Federer’s Grand Slam record and men’s record of 310 weeks at No. 1 remained among his primary targets. Djokovic is at 282 weeks and he could surpass Federer by March.

Djokovic said he feels ready after the longest break of his career, but he doesn’t know for certain. And he would have welcomed discussion about playing best-of-three sets at the U.S. Open instead of the usual best-of-five.

“Maybe in the future we should have that conversation. Because these kind of circumstances are very unusual,” he said.

His presence, however difficult to secure, is a major boost for both tournaments in New York. He has won three U.S. Opens and five of the last seven Grand Slam singles titles. The absence of the entire Big Three would have sent the asterisk debate into overdrive.

“I cannot say it’s the main reason why I’m here, but it’s one of the reasons,” he said. “First of all, I have to think about myself and my health and my fitness and whether my team is OK to be here. Once that was checked, then I of course also felt responsible as a top player to be here. It’s important for our sport to keep going.”

Trevor Noah Praises Michelle Obama’s ‘Ice-Cold’ Trump Takedown

“At that point, Trump squeezed his Diet Coke hand so hard it turned into a diamond.” — JIMMY FALLON

“That was ice-cold. And what made it even more devastating was that Michelle Obama wasn’t angry, she wasn’t yelling, she just stated Trump’s complete failure as a president as an obvious fact. You know, it’s the difference between your mom screaming at you and your mom just casually sipping a coffee and going, ‘Well, not all kids can be winners.’” — TREVOR NOAH

“Former first lady Michelle Obama said President Trump is, quote, ‘the wrong president for our country.’ That’s putting it mildly, like it’s just a bad match or something. ‘You’re not a good president for us but there are plenty of countries out there for you. What about Mordor or Gilead?’” — SETH MEYERS

“That’s right, everyone is saying the former first lady stole the night. I’m actually worried the speech might have backfired for Biden, because right after, everyone with a ballot wrote in Michelle Obama.” — JIMMY FALLON

“It would suck to get dumped by Michelle Obama. Can you imagine? ‘You were in over your head; you cannot deal with this. It is what it is.’” — JAMES CORDEN

“President Trump said today he will posthumously pardon Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested and fined for illegally voting in 1872. Incidentally, Susan B. Anthony is what Trump thinks happens during gender reassignment surgery.” — SETH MEYERS

“Oh, so now voting illegally is OK.” — TREVOR NOAH

“I mean, look, this is kind of a nice gesture, I guess, but based on what we know about Trump, I bet he’s only pardoning her because he thinks she has dirt on him.” — TREVOR NOAH

Bill Gates says tech companies ‘deserve rude, unfair, tough questions’

Bill Gates believes tech firms “deserve” the kind of scrutiny they got during Congressional hearings last month, and that the late Steve Jobs was a “genius,” he told the Armchair Expert podcast.

“If you’re as successful as I am or any of those people are, you deserve rude, unfair, tough questions,” the Microsoft founder told host Dax Shepard. “The government deserves to have shots at you,” Gates said. “That type of grilling comes with the super successful territory. It’s fine.”

Gates was referring to the July 29th hearing before the House Judiciary Committee where the CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon were questioned about their business practices as part of an ongoing antitrust investigation.

During the wide-ranging podcast interview, Gates talked about his foundation’s work on vaccines and what it was like starting Microsoft, but also spoke about what it was like being a celebrity of sorts; he says the idea of tech entrepreneurs being famous in popular culture took some getting used to. “It was crazy because I was nerdy and not very sociable, then to be rocket-shipped into this realm of ‘what does he say about this, what does he say about that, what he says is semi-interesting’ was like, whoa, what happened.”

As for his late rival, Gates said he was not as “tough” as Steve Jobs, but admired how Jobs turned Apple around when he returned to the company.

“Jobs was a genius, what he did, particularly when he came back to Apple… no one else could do what he did there. I couldn’t have done that.” Gates admitted he envied the late Apple CEO’s charisma. “He was such a wizard at over-motivating people— I was a minor wizard so I couldn’t fall under his spell— but I could see him casting the spell,” Gates joked. “I was so jealous.”

Gates even spoke about what he considers to be a few of his personal shortcomings. “I’m not that great socially, I don’t know how to cook and I’m very embarrassed I don’t speak any [other] languages fluently,” he said.

For those who haven’t listened, the Armchair Expert podcast has kind of a geeky fan tone to it (for example, cohost Monica Padman asks Gates his favorite color at one point. It’s blue), but the format may actually have allowed Gates to relax a bit; he admits to sharing Shepard’s affinity for Diet Coke, for instance, says he meditates using Headspace, and that he’s a big fan of the movie Spy Game, starring Brad Pitt.

To hear a less-formal version of Bill Gates, you can check out the podcast here.