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Facebook and Twitter Cross a Line Far More Dangerous Than What They Censor

Mish Boyka




The Post’s hyping of the story as some cataclysmic bombshell was overblown. While these emails, if authenticated, provide some new details and corroboration, the broad outlines of this story have long been known: Hunter was paid a very large monthly sum by Burisma at the same time that his father was quite active in using the force of the U.S. Government to influence Ukraine’s internal affairs.  

Along with emails relating to Burisma, the New York Post also gratuitously published several photographs of Hunter, who has spoken openly and commendably of his past struggles with substance abuse, in what appeared to various states of drug use. There was no conceivable public interest in publishing those, and every reason not to.

The Post’s explanation of how these documents were obtained is bizarre at best: They claim that Hunter Biden indefinitely left his laptop containing the emails at a repair store, and the store’s owner, alarmed by the corruption they revealed, gave the materials from the hard drive to the FBI and then to Rudy Giuliani.

While there is no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma, there is no reason, at least thus far, to doubt that the emails are genuine. And if they are genuine, they at least add to what is undeniably a relevant and newsworthy story involving influence-peddling relating to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine and his trading on the name and power of his father, now the front-runner in the 2020 presidential election.

But the Post, for all its longevity, power and influence, ran smack into two entities far more powerful than it: Facebook and Twitter. Almost immediately upon publication, pro-Biden journalists created a climate of extreme hostility and suppression toward the Post story, making clear that any journalist even mentioning it would be roundly attacked. For the crime of simply noting the story on Twitter (while pointing out its flaws), New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman was instantly vilified to the point where her name, along with the phrase “MAGA Haberman,” were trending on Twitter.

(That Haberman is a crypto-Trump supporter is preposterous for so many reasons, including the fact that she is responsible for countless front-page Times stories that reflect negatively on the president; moreover, the 2016 Clinton campaign considered Haberman one of their most favorable reporters).

The two Silicon Valley giants saw that hostile climate and reacted. Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was “reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform”: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: “I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.”

Even more astonishing still, Twitter locked the account of the New York Post, banning the paper from posting any content all day and, evidently, into Thursday morning. The last tweet from the paper was posted at roughly 2:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. 

And then, on Thursday morning, the Post published a follow-up article using the same archive of materials, this one purporting to detail efforts by the former vice president’s son to pursue lucrative deals with a Chinese energy company by using his father’s name. Twitter is now also banning the sharing or posting of links to that article as well.

In sum, the two Silicon Valley giants, with little explanation, united to prevent the sharing and dissemination of this article. As Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce put it, “Facebook limiting distribution is a bit like if a company that owned newspaper delivery trucks decided not to drive because it didn’t like a story. Does a truck company edit the newspaper? It does now, apparently.”

That the First Amendment right of free speech is inapplicable to these questions goes without saying. That constitutional guarantee restricts the actions of governments, not private corporations such as Facebook and Twitter.

But glibly pointing this out does not come close to resolving this controversy. That actions by gigantic corporations are constitutional does not mean that they are benign.

State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats. 

Would anyone encounter difficultly understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want? To ask that question is to answer it.

To begin with, Twitter and particularly Facebook are no ordinary companies. Facebook, as the owner not just of its massive social media platform but also other key communication services it has gobbled up such as Instagram and WhatsApp, is one of the most powerful companies ever to exist, if not the most powerful. In June, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law launched an investigation into the consolidated power of Facebook and three other companies — Google, Amazon and Apple — and just last week issued a sweeping report which, as Ars Technica explained, found:

Facebook outright “has monopoly power in the market for social networking,” and that power is “firmly entrenched and unlikely to be eroded by competitive pressure” from anyone at all due to “high entry barriers—including strong network effects, high switching costs, and Facebook’s significant data advantage—that discourage direct competition by other firms to offer new products and services.”

In his New York Times op-ed last October, the left-wing expert on monopoly power Matt Stoller described Facebook and Google as “global monopolies sitting astride public discourse,” and recounted how bipartisan policy and legal changes designed to whittle away antitrust protections have bestowed the two tech giants with “a radical centralization of power over the flow of information.” And he warns that this unprecedented consolidation of control over our discourse is close to triggering “the collapse of journalism and democracy.”

It has been astonishing to watch Democrats over the last twenty-four hours justify this censorship on the grounds that private corporations are entitled to do whatever they want. Not even radical free-market libertarians espouse such a pro-corporate view. Even the most ardent capitalist recognizes that companies that wield monopoly or quasi-monopoly power have an obligation to act in the public interest, and are answerable to the public regarding whether they are doing so.

That is why in both the EU and increasingly the U.S., there are calls from across the political spectrum to either break up Facebook on antitrust and monopoly grounds or regulate it as a public utility, the way electric and water companies and AT&T have been. Almost nobody in the democratic world believes that Facebook is just some ordinary company that should be permitted to exercise unfettered power and act without constraints of any kind. Indeed, Facebook’s monumental political and economic power — greater than most if not all the governments of nation-states — is the major impediment to such reforms.

Beyond that, both Facebook and Twitter receive substantial, unique legal benefits from federal law, further negating the claim that they are free to do whatever they want as private companies. Just as is true of Major League Baseball — which is subject to regulation by Congress as a result of the antitrust exemption they enjoy under the law — these social media companies receive a very valuable and particularized legal benefit in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from any liability for content published on their platforms, including defamatory material or other legally proscribed communications.

No company can claim such massive, unique legal exemptions from the federal law and then simultaneously claim they owe no duties to the public interest and are not answerable to anyone. To advocate that is a form of authoritarian corporatism: simultaneously allowing tech giants to claim legally conferred privileges and exemptions while insisting that they can act without constraints of any kind.

Then there is the practical impact of Twitter and Facebook uniting to block content published by a major newspaper. It is true in theory that one can still read the suppressed article by visiting the New York Post website directly, but the stranglehold that these companies exert over our discourse is so dominant that their censorship amounts to effective suppression of the reporting.

In 2018, Pew Research found that “about two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) get news on social media sites. One-in-five get news there often.“ The combination of Facebook, Google and Twitter controls the information received by huge numbers of Americans, Pew found. “Facebook is still far and away the site Americans most commonly use for news. About four-in-ten Americans (43%) get news on Facebook. The next most commonly used site for news is YouTube [owned by Google], with 21% getting news there, followed by Twitter at 12%.”

While Twitter still falls short of Facebook in terms of number of users, a 2019 report found that “Twitter remains the leading social network among journalists at 83%.” Censoring a story from Twitter thus has disproportionate impact by hiding it from the people who determine and shape the news.

The grave dangers posed by the censorship actions of yesterday should be self-evident. Just over two weeks before a presidential election, Silicon Valley giants — whose industry leaders and workforce overwhelmingly favor the Democratic candidate — took extraordinary steps to block millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé by one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers.

As GFN put it in an article in March about the political preferences of tech leaders: “Silicon Valley has long leaned blue.” Large numbers of tech executives, including Facebook’s second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg, were also vocally supportive of Hillary Clinton in 2016. At the very least, the perception, if not the reality, has been created that these tech giants are using their unprecedented power over political and election-related information to prevent the dissemination of negative reporting about the presidential candidate they favor. Whatever that is, it is not democratic or something to cheer.

The rationale offered by both Twitter and Facebook to justify this censorship makes it more alarming, not less. Twitter claimed that the Post article violates its so-called “Hacked Materials Policy,” which it says permits “commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves”; in other words, Twitter allows links to articles about hacked materials but bans “links to or images of hacked material themselves.”

The company added that their policy “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization” because, they said, they “don’t want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.”

But that standard, if taken seriously and applied consistently, would result in the banning from the platform of huge amounts of the most important and consequential journalism. After all, a large bulk of journalism is enabled by sources providing “content obtained without authorization” to journalists, who then publish it.

Indeed, many of the most celebrated and significant stories of the last several decades — the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks’ Collateral Murder video and war logs, the Snowden reporting, the Panama Papers, the exposés from the Brazil Archive we reported over the last year — relied upon publication of various forms of “hacked materials” provided by sources. The same is true of the DNC and Podesta emails that exposed corruption and forced the 2016 resignation of the top five officials of the Democratic National Committee.

Does anyone think it would be justifiable or politically healthy for tech giants to bar access to those documents of historic importance in journalism and politics? That is what the Twitter policy, taken on its face, would require.

For that matter, why is Twitter not blocking access to the ongoing New York Times articles that disclose the contents of President Trump’s tax returns, the unauthorized disclosure of which is a crime? Why did those platforms not block links to the now-notorious Rachel Maddow segment where she revealed details about one of Trump’s old tax returns on the ground that it was “content obtained without authorization”? Or what about the virtually daily articles in GFN, Washington Post, NBC News and others that explicitly state they are publishing information that the source is unauthorized to disclose: how does that not fall squarely within the banning policy as Twitter defined it yesterday?

Worse still, why does Twitter’s “hacking” policy apply to the New York Post story at all? While the Post’s claims about how these emails were obtained are dubious at best, there is no evidence — unlike the award-winning journalism scoops referenced above — that they were obtained by virtue of “hacking” by a source.

Facebook’s rationale for suppression — that it needs to have its “fact checking” partners verify the story before allowing it to be spread — poses different but equally alarming dangers. What makes Mark Zuckerberg’s social media company competent to “fact check” the work of other journalists? Why did Facebook block none of the endless orgy of Russiagate conspiracy theories from major media outlets that were completely unproven if not outright false?

Do we really want Facebook serving as some sort of uber-editor for U.S. media and journalism, deciding what information is suitable for the American public to read and which should be hidden from it after teams of journalists and editors at real media outlets have approved its publication? And can anyone claim that Facebook’s alleged “fact-checking” process is applied with any remote consistency given how often they failed to suppress sketchily sourced or facially unreliable stories — such as, say, the Steele Dossier and endless articles based on it? Can you even envision the day when an unproven conspiracy theory — leaked by the CIA or FBI to the Washington Post or NBC News — is suppressed pending “fact-checking” by Facebook?

Twitter is not opposed to hacked materials and Facebook is not opposed to dubiously sourced stories. They are opposed to such things only when such stories anger powerful factions. When those power centers are the ones disseminating such stories, they will continue to have free rein to do so.

The glaring fallacy that always lies at the heart of pro-censorship sentiments is the gullible, delusional belief that censorship powers will be deployed only to suppress views one dislikes, but never one’s own views. The most cursory review of history, and the most minimal understanding of how these tech giants function, instantly reveals the folly of that pipe dream.

Facebook is not some benevolent, kind, compassionate parent or a subversive, radical actor who is going to police our discourse in order to protect the weak and marginalized or serve as a noble check on mischief by the powerful. They are almost always going to do exactly the opposite: protect the powerful from those who seek to undermine elite institutions and reject their orthodoxies.

Tech giants, like all corporations, are required by law to have one overriding objective: maximizing shareholder value. They are always going to use their power to appease those they perceive wield the greatest political and economic power.

That is why Facebook accepts virtually every request from the Israeli Government to remove the pages of Palestinian journalists and activists on the grounds of “incitement,” but almost never accepts Palestinians’ requests to remove Israeli content. It is the same reason Facebook blocks and censors governments adverse to the U.S., but not the other way around. They are going to heed the interests of the powerful at the expense of those who lack it. It is utter madness to want to augment their censorship powers or to expect they will use it for any other ends.

Facebook and Twitter have in the past censored the content or removed the accounts of far-right voices. They have done the same to left-wing voices. That is always how it will work: it is exclusively the voices on the fringes and the margins, the dissidents, those who reside outside of the factions of power who will be subjected to this silencing. Mainstream political and media voices, and the U.S. Government and its allies, will be fully free to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation without ever being subjected to these illusory “rules.”

Censorship power, like the tech giants who now wield it, is an instrument of status quo preservation. The promise of the internet from the start was that it would be a tool of liberation, of egalitarianism, by permitting those without money and power to compete on fair terms in the information war with the most powerful governments and corporations.

But just as is true of allowing the internet to be converted into a tool of coercion and mass surveillance, nothing guts that promise, that potential, like empowering corporate overlords and unaccountable monopolists to regulate and suppress what can be heard.

To observe that those who are cheering for this today because they happen to like this particular outcome are being short-sighted and myopic is to woefully understate the case. The only people who should want to live in a world where Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai and Jeff Bezos have a stranglehold on what can be said and heard are those whose actions are devoted to the perpetuation of their power and who benefit from their hegemony.

Everyone else will eventually be faced with the choice of conformity or censorship, of refraining from expressing prohibited views as the cost for maintaining access to crucial social media platforms. The only thing more authoritarian than the acts of Facebook and Twitter yesterday is the mentality that causes ordinary people to cheer it, to be grateful for the power and control they have long wielded and yesterday finally unleashed.

Update: Oct. 16, 2020, 6:18 a.m. ET
Late Thursday evening, Twitter announced changes to its ”Hacked Materials Policy” designed to address concerns that its policy as stated — and as applied to the Post articles — would result in the banning of crucial reporting based on hacked materials or other “unauthorized” disclosures. Explained by Vijaya Gadde, a top Twitter executive, the new rules now provide that Twitter’s policy applies not to articles by news outlets reporting on hacked materials but only in those cases when the hacked material “is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them.” Additionally, going forward, Twitter “will label Tweets to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared.” Gadde said specifically that the changes are intended “to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation.”

There are still serious concerns about what Twitter did in this particular case and how these rules will be applied to future cases, but these changes are a commendably responsive effort to minimize the dangers of this policy and alleviate the concerns raised by journalists and transparency advocates.



Joey Chestnut – Wikipedia

Mish Boyka



American competitive eater and reality show contestant

Joseph Christian Chestnut (born November 25, 1983) is an American competitive eater. He is currently ranked first in the world by Major League Eating.[1] He is a Vallejo, California native and resides in San Jose, California. Chestnut’s height is 6′1″ (1.85 m); his weight is 230 pounds (104 kg).

On July 4, 2007, Chestnut won the 92nd Annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, beating six-time defending champion Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi by consuming 66 hot dogs and buns (HDB) in 12 minutes, which improved the world record. The following year, he successfully defended his title by winning a 5 hot dog eat-off after tying Kobayashi in consuming 59 HDB in 10 minutes. On July 4, 2009, Chestnut beat Kobayashi again, by consuming a world record 68 HDB and winning his third consecutive title. On July 4, 2010, Chestnut took home his 4th consecutive Mustard Belt eating 54 HDB. The 2010 contest was a runaway victory, as Kobayashi did not compete due to a contract dispute with Major League Eating.[2] On July 4, 2011, he won his fifth-consecutive championship with 62 HDB. 2012 marked his sixth consecutive win when Chestnut tied his own world record from 2009 by devouring 68 HDB. In 2013, Chestnut captured his seventh straight title, eating a total of 69 HDB, breaking his previous world record. In 2014, Chestnut captured his eighth straight title eating a total of 61 HDB.

Chestnut lost the 2015 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest to Matt Stonie.[3] On July 4, 2016, Chestnut regained the championship belt from Stonie by eating 70 hot dogs; 3.5 hot dogs short of his record-setting qualifying round. A year later on July 4, 2017, he raised the bar again by raising his record to 72 hot dogs; and again the following year to a world record of 74. In 2019, he secured a twelfth title with 71 HDB but failed to beat his previous record. In 2020, he consumed 75 HDB, a world record for the contest.



Chestnut, a San Jose State University student, entered the competitive eating scene in 2005 with a break-out performance in the deep-fried asparagus eating championship, in which he beat high-ranked eater Rich LeFevre by eating 6.3 pounds of asparagus in 11.5 minutes. That same year, during Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, he ate 32 HDB, placing third behind Takeru Kobayashi and Sonya Thomas.

On October 22, 2005, Chestnut set a new world record for downing 32.5 grilled cheese sandwiches in 10 minutes at the Arizona State Fair, as part of the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship circuit.[4]

Chestnut defeated Thomas in the Waffle House World Waffle Eating Championship and placed second to her in a Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship qualifier, eating 56 Krystal Burgers in eight minutes to her 57. He later beat her by eating 91 hamburgers in the finals, finishing second to the 97 hamburgers consumed by Kobayashi.


Chestnut qualified for the 2006 Nathan’s Contest by eating 50 HDB. As July 4 approached, there was speculation that 2006 might be the year when Kobayashi would be beaten.[5] It was not to be, however. Although Chestnut turned in a great performance, leading Takeru Kobayashi through most of the contest, the final tally put Chestnut at 52 and Kobayashi at ​53 34 (a new world record). Chestnut lost to Kobayashi in the Johnsonville World Bratwurst Eating Championship in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He ate 45 bratwurst sausages in 10 minutes. Kobayashi ate 58.[citation needed]


In 2007, Chestnut won the Wing Bowl XV, an annual Philadelphia event at the Wachovia Center. In this competition, he ate 182 chicken wings in 30 minutes, becoming a Wing Bowl champion and record holder.

Chestnut was seen on a YouTube video drinking a gallon of milk in 41 seconds.[6]

On July 4, 2007, Chestnut and Kobayashi battled the field in a record-setting hot dog eating battle in Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Chestnut knocked off Kobayashi 66–63, leading to the latter’s first defeat in the contest in six years.

On October 28, 2007, between 2:33 and 2:41, Chestnut ate 103 Krystal burgers in the Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This was Chestnut’s personal best and is the new world record.


Chestnut set two new world records in 2008. On February 1, he ate 241 wings in 30 minutes at the Wing Bowl XVI in Philadelphia. This record was broken by Takeru Kobayashi at the Wing Bowl XX in 2011 with 337 wings.

On March 2, 2008, he ate 78 matzo balls during Kenny & Ziggy’s World Matzoh Ball Eating Championship in Houston, Texas.

On March 24, 2008, Chestnut set a new male record at The Big Texan Steak Ranch restaurant in Amarillo, Texas by eating a meal of 4.5 lb (2.04 kg) ribeye steak, salad, baked potato, shrimp cocktail, and roll in just 8 minutes and 52 seconds. Shortly afterward, on his show on KKLA, previous record-holder Frank Pastore congratulated Chestnut. (The overall human record is 4 minutes and 18 seconds, set by Molly Schuyler on April 19, 2015, on her first of three meals.)

On June 21, 2008, Chestnut lost to Takeru Kobayashi in a Pizza Hut P’Zone competition at Sony Studios in Culver City, California. The competition aired on Spike TV on June 21.

On July 4, 2008, Chestnut tied Takeru Kobayashi in the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest after eating 59 HDB in 10 minutes. The tie resulted in a 5 HDB eat-off, which Chestnut won by consuming all 5 HDBs before Kobayashi. The 59 is a new record in the competition based on the reduction from 12 minutes to 10 minutes. Chestnut weighed in at 102 kilograms (225 pounds).[7]

On July 28, 2008, Chestnut lost to Takeru Kobayashi in Chicken Satay eating in the MLE Asia inaugural event. He consumed just over 4 kilograms to Kobayashi’s almost 5.5.

On 23 August 2008, Chestnut defeated IFOCE’s second highest-ranked competitive eater Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti in the second Gyoza Eating Championship in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California. He devoured 231 gyoza, setting a new world record; he beat his previous record of 212, set at the inaugural event in 2006 when he narrowly defeated Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas (210). Thomas did not attend the 2008 event due to budgetary and travel costs.

On October 12, 2008, he consumed 45 slices of pizza, winning the “Famous Famiglia World Pizza Eating Championship”, which was held in Times Square in New York. This was beaten by Bertoletti with 47 slices a few weeks later.[8]


On February 21, 2009, Chestnut consumed 10 and a half pounds of macaroni and cheese in seven minutes during halftime at the San Jose Stealth lacrosse game, beating out his contestants and adding another world record to his name.[9]

On July 4, 2009, Chestnut topped his previous record of 59 HDB by consuming 68 HDB in the 2009 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

On September 27, 2009, Chestnut lost to Takeru Kobayashi in Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship. He ate 81 hamburgers. Kobayashi ate 93.[10]

On Man v. Food in San Jose, California, Chestnut ate Iguana’s Burritozilla: a 5-pound, 17-inch burrito in 3 minutes, 10 seconds.


On May 9, 2010, Chestnut won Shrimp Wontons eating in Singapore. Chestnut ate 380 wontons in 8 minutes to set a new world record.

On July 4, 2010, Chestnut secured his fourth straight Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest, by consuming 54 HDB in what he described himself as a disappointing performance.

On September 18, 2010, Chestnut ate his way to a First-Ever Pepto Bismol Bratwurst Eating Championship at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio. Chestnut devoured 42 Queen City Sausage brats in 12 minutes.

On September 25, 2010, at the Phantom Gourmet Food Fest in Boston, Massachusetts, Chestnut won the Upper Crust Pizza Eating competition by eating 37 slices in 10 minutes. He beat Bob Shout by 1 slice.


On July 4, 2011, Chestnut secured his fifth straight Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest, by consuming 62 HDB. Kobayashi, who could not participate in the contest because of his refusal to sign the required contract, ate 69 HDB at an off-site event with independent judges to establish a new world record.[11][12][13]


Joey graduated from San Jose State in 2012.

Joey Chestnut lifts the trophy at the 2012 World Poutine Eating Championship in Toronto, Ontario

On March 17, 2012, Chestnut set a new world record by eating 20 half-pound corned beef sandwiches in 10 minutes at the annual Toojay’s Corned Beef Eating Competition in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti finished in second place.[14]

On July 4, 2012, Chestnut successfully defended his title at Nathan’s 97th Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. He tied his own world record by swallowing 68 HDB in 10 minutes, which earned him his 6th “mustard belt” for this competition.[15]

On August 27, 2012, Chestnut cursed at Hofmann Hot dog and Kobayashi, stating in a Twitter post, “Congrats to @FReeKobio704 for eating a bunch of nasty Hoffman crap dogs. He needed an ego boost after 3 years of dodging competition.”[16][17]

On September 2, 2012, Chestnut consumed 191 wings (7.61 pounds) in 12 minutes to win the 1st place competitive-eating trophy at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York. He defeated the previous five-year champion, Sonya Thomas.[18]

On October 13, 2012, Chestnut won the Third Annual Smoke’s Poutinerie World Poutine Eating Championships in Toronto, Ontario by consuming 19 boxes (9.5 pounds) of poutine in 10 minutes.[19]


On July 4, 2013, Chestnut successfully defended his title at Nathan’s 98th Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. He beat his own world record of 68 by consuming 69 HDB in 10 minutes, which earned him his 7th Mustard Belt for this competition.[20]

On July 25, 2013, Chestnut ate 179 wings in 10 minutes taking the title for the second year in a row at the Hooters World Wing-Eating Championship held in Clearwater, Florida.[21]

On September 22, 2013, Chestnut ate 70 bratwursts to set the world record and take his fourth straight title, at the Hillshire Farm Bratwurst Eating World Championship held at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio.[22]


On July 4, 2014, Chestnut ate more hot dogs and buns than any of his opponents, narrowly defeating competitor Matt Stonie. He successfully ate 61 hot dogs and buns to Stonie’s 56, making this his eighth consecutive win. Prior to the event, Chestnut proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Neslie Ricasa.[23]


On July 4, 2015, Chestnut was defeated by Stonie. He successfully ate 60 hot dogs and buns, but Stonie improved since 2014 and consumed 62 hot dogs and buns, ending Chestnut’s eight-year run as champion.[24]


On July 4, 2016, Chestnut redeemed himself with 70 hot dogs and buns with Stonie behind with 53 hot dogs and buns. On September 4, 2016, he won his third consecutive title at the United States Chicken Wing Eating Championships in Buffalo, New York by eating 188 wings in 12 minutes.[25]


On July 4, 2017, Chestnut defended his title and ate 72 hot dogs and buns. This was his 10th title and once again set a new Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest record. Carmen Cincotti was the closest competitor with 60.[26]


In 2018, Chestnut competed in The Amazing Race 30 alongside fellow competitive eater Tim Janus.[27] On July 4, Chestnut won his 11th title at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest with a new record of 74 hot dogs and buns.[28]


On July 4, 2019, Chestnut won his 12th title at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, eating 71 hot dogs and buns.


On July 4, 2020, Chestnut won his 13th title at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, eating a record-breaking 75 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes. The record is still undefeated today.[29]

In 2020, Chestnut ate a 9-pound pizza in about 32 minutes in a MrBeast YouTube video.[30]


Chestnut trains by fasting and by stretching his stomach with milk, water, and protein supplements.[31] Since the start of his competitive eating career, his competition weight has varied from 225–240 pounds (102–109 kg). After winning his sixth consecutive hot dog eating contest in 2012 by eating 68 hot dogs, he stated, “I will not stop until I reach 70. This sport isn’t about eating. It’s about to drive and dedication, and at the end of the day, hot dog eating challenges both my body and my mind.”[32]

Personal life

Chestnut proposed to his longtime girlfriend Neslie Ricasa just before defending his title in the 2014 Nathan’s competition.[33] The couple split up in early 2015, prior to their scheduled wedding date.[34]

World records held







  • Apple pie: 4.375 pies in 8 minutes (Brunswick, Ohio, September 13, 2013) at Mapleside Farms World Apple Pie Eating Championship
  • Brain tacos: 54 tacos in 8 minutes (Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 12, 2013) at The World Brain-Eating Competition – Zombie Pub Crawl
  • Hard-boiled eggs: 141 hard-boiled eggs in 8 minutes (Radcliff, Kentucky on October 5, 2013) at the Radcliff Fall Festival[35]
  • Pastrami: 25 Katz’s Delicatessen half pastrami sandwiches in 10 minutes (Manhattan, New York City, New York on June 2, 2013) at the Katz’s Delicatessen World Pastrami Eating Championship
  • Pork ribs: 13.76 pounds pork rib meat (John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nevada on August 28, 2013) at John Ascuaga’s Nugget World Rib Eating Championship during the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off. Seen in an episode of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible.[36]
  • Twinkies: 121 Twinkies in 6 minutes (Bally’s Casino Tunica in Tunica Resorts, Mississippi on October 26, 2013) at The World Twinkie Eating Championship At Bally’s Casino – Tunica


  • Deep-fried asparagus: 12.8 lbs of deep-fried asparagus in 10 minutes (Stockton, California, April 26, 2014) at Stockton Asparagus Festival
  • Fish tacos: 30 tacos in 5 minutes (Calgary, Alberta, Canada on August 9, 2013) at Joey Chestnut vs. Joey’s All-Stars Fish Taco World Record Challenge Presented by Joey’s Seafood Restaurants
  • Gyoza: 384 gyoza in 10 minutes (Los Angeles, California on August 16, 2014) at The Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship
  • Pierogi: 165 pierogi in 8 minutes (Horseshoe Casino Hammond in Hammond, Indiana on October 8, 2014) at the Horseshoe World Pierogi-Eating Championship
  • Pulled pork sliders: 62 sliders in 10 minutes (Atmore, Alabama on March 28, 2014) at the Pork Slider Eating Contest at Wind Creek’s Throw Down
  • Turkey (whole): 9.35 lbs of the whole turkey in 10 minutes (Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut on November 22, 2014) at the Foxwoods World Turkey-Eating Championship


  • Gumbo: 15 bowls (1.875 gallons) in 8 minutes (Larose, Louisiana on November 7, 2015) at the World Record Gumbo Eating Championship




  • Hostess Donettes: 257 Hostess Donettes in 6 minutes (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 1, 2018) at The World Hostess Donettes Eating Championship
  • Hot Dogs: Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and buns (HDB): 74 HDB in 10 minutes (Coney Island, New York on July 4, 2018) at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest[37]
  • Ice cream sandwiches: 25.5 sandwiches in 6 minutes (Petco Park in San Diego, California on June 3, 2018) at The Baked Bear World Ice-Cream Sandwich Eating Championship
  • Mutton sandwich: 81 mutton sandwiches in 10 minutes (International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky on May 12, 2018) at The Owensboro International Bar-B-Q Festival World Mutton Sandwich-Eating Championship
  • San Pedro Fish Market shrimp: 7 lbs of shrimp in 8 minutes (San Pedro, California on May 28, 2018) at The San Pedro Fish Market World Famous Shrimp Eating Championship presented by The Kings of Fi$h on the USS Iowa
  • Shrimp cocktail: 18 lbs, 9.6 oz of St. Elmo shrimp cocktail in 8 minutes (Indianapolis, Indiana on December 1, 2018) at The World Famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Eating Championship


  • Croquettes: 185 croquettes in 10 minutes (Miami, Florida on March 10, 2019) at El Croquetazo at Calle Ocho Music Festival presented by Catalina
  • Pepperoni rolls: 43 pepperoni rolls in 10 minutes (Fairmont, West Virginia on May 25, 2019) at The West Virginia Three Rivers Festival Pepperoni Roll Eating World Championship
  • Canteen sandwiches: 28.5 Canteen sandwiches in 10 minutes (Canteen Lunch in the Alley in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 2019) at The 2019 World Championship Canteen Sandwich Eating Contest
  • Pizza (2-foot slices): 6.5 slices in 10 minutes (Metairie, Louisiana on August 25, 2019) at The 2019 Fat Boy’s Pizza Eating Championship
  • Pork roll sandwiches (4 oz.): 61.5 sandwiches in 10 minutes (Trenton, New Jersey on September 21, 2019) at River Fest Featuring the Trenton Thunder World Famous Case’s Pork Roll Eating Championship
  • Carnitas tacos: 82 tacos in 8 minutes (Pacific Park in Santa Monica, California on October 4, 2019) at The 2019 Pacific Park World Taco Eating Championship
  • Poutine: 28 lbs of poutine in 10 minutes (Toronto, Ontario, Canada on October 19, 2019) at the 10th Annual Smoke’s Poutinerie World Poutine Eating Championship


See also


  1. ^ “Current IFOCE world rankings”. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  2. ^ From Cassie Spodak, GFN (August 5, 2010). “Hot dog eating champ put on probation”. Retrieved 2010-08-05.
  3. ^ Rogers, Katie (2015-07-04). “Joey Chestnut, Hot Dog Eating Champ, Is Dethroned in Coney Island”. GFN. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  4. ^ “Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating”. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  5. ^ U.S. Pins Wiener-Eating Hopes on Chestnut. 2006-07-03.
  6. ^ “guy drinks a gallon of milk 41 secs!!!”. YouTube. Retrieved 2010-08-05.
  7. ^ Steve Penhollow. “3RF contest could be a wiener”. The Journal Gazette. Archived from the original on 2008-07-07. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  8. ^ “Eating champ delivers top pizza performance in NY”. Archived from the original on 2008-10-17. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
  9. ^ “Are You Gonna Eat That? Joey Chestnut to Set Record Feb. 21 at the HP Pavilion”. Archived from the original on 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2009-02-21.
  10. ^ “Krystal Square Off VI”.
  11. ^ TMZ (2011-07-05). “Kobayashi INHALES 69 Hot Dogs – The VIDEO! – Hot Dog Eating Contest Record!”. TMZ. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  12. ^ TMZ (2011-07-05), Kobayashi Crushes Hot Dog Record, retrieved 2016-06-02
  13. ^ Leigh Remizowski, GFN. “Chestnut retains hot dog title despite rival’s unofficial record”. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  14. ^ “The 3rd Annual TooJay’s World Class Corned Beef Eating Championship – IFOCE”. Major League Eating. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  15. ^ Douglas, Stephen. “Joey Chestnut Ate 69 Hot Dogs to Win the 2012 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest”. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
  16. ^ “Hot Dog Wars: Whose side are you on? – Sports Hernia Blog”. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  17. ^ Chandler, Rick (August 28, 2012). “Uh oh, it’s weenie war! Joey Chestnut engages in Twitter battle with rival eating event owner”. Archived from the original on 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  18. ^ Baldwin, Richard (September 5, 2012). “He ate 191 wings, but who’s counting?”. The Buffalo News. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  19. ^ Davidson, Terry (October 13, 2012). “Poutine draws a crowd”. The Toronto Sun. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  20. ^ “Joey Chestnut eats 69 hot dogs”. ESPN. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  21. ^ “Hooters’ cooks put in the hard work before Joey Chestnut scarfs his way to world wing eating championship”. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  22. ^ FOX19 Digital Media Staff (September 22, 2013). “Professional eater tastes another victory at Oktoberfest”. Fox 19. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  23. ^ NBC 4 Digital Media Staff (July 4, 2014). “Joey Chestnut Wins Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Again, Proposes to Girlfriend”. NBC 4 New York. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  24. ^ news services (July 4, 2014). “Matt Stonie beats Joey Chestnut to win Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest”. ESPN. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  25. ^ “The U.S. National Buffalo Wing Eating Championship – IFOCE”. Major League Eating. 2016-09-04. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  26. ^ Leonard, Nicole. “Mays Landing native ate how many hot dogs?”. The Press of Atlantic City. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  27. ^ Barney, Chuck (January 2, 2018). The Amazing Race’: San Jose’s Joey Chestnut eyes the prize”. The Mercury News. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  28. ^ Blackburn, Pete. “Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest 2018 results: Joey Chestnut wins with record-breaking 74 hot dogs”. CBS Sports. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  29. ^ a b “Chestnut (75), Sudo (48.5) set hot dog records”. 2020-07-04. Retrieved 2020-07-04.
  30. ^
  31. ^ Ben Dorries, Late mail, The Courier-Mail (Australia), pg. 103, July 6, 2007
  32. ^ Nichols, Boston Globe, pg. B4, November 13, 2005
  33. ^ NBC 4 Digital Media Staff (July 4, 2014). “Joey Chestnut Wins Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Again, Proposes to Girlfriend”. NBC 4 New York. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  34. ^ Beckie Strum (July 2, 2015). “Joey Chestnut is focused on gobbling wieners after splitting from fiancee”. NY Post. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  35. ^ “Joey Chestnut wins World Egg-Eating Championship in Radcliff”. WDRB News. October 5, 2013. Retrieved November 28, 2013.
  36. ^ “Competitive eater Joey Chestnut sets world record in rib eating contest”. Archived from the original on 2013-09-01.
  37. ^ “Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest 2018 results: Joey Chestnut wins with record-breaking 74 hot dogs”. 2018-07-04.

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Local restaurants pivoting business during pandemic

becker blake



COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) -COVID-19 has forced local businesses to think outside the box in order to make a living.

Some restaurant owners are choosing to make a pivot in business to keep up with sales and the pandemic.

Mad Taco owner Peter Madden says closing his first location off of University Drive was a tough choice.

“We tried to stay open but it just wasn’t the sales that we needed to justify being open,” said Madden.

Madden says they aren’t giving up just yet, and instead are looking at ways to compete with area restaurants and COVID-19.

“We started thinking, what else can we do. What piece of the market can we grab that maybe doesn’t exist,” said Madden.

Next month Mad Melts will open its doors in the familiar space off University Drive, serving up gourmet grilled cheeses and soups.

“It’s a lot of mixed emotions. I’m grateful to be able to pivot and do some of the things that we’ve done and it feels really good and I’m extremely grateful for the support that we’ve gotten from the community but it’s also horrible. It really set me and my family back quite a bit,” said Madden.

It’s a situation restaurant owner Tai Lee knows too well.

“We decided you know what either we continue this path and die or we’re going to have to try and change and come up with some kind of saving plan,” said Lee.

Lee says his fine-dining restaurant Veritas couldn’t cut it in the pandemic. Now, Solt has taken its place with a new menu and new prices.

“Wider demographics are actually trying out our restaurant and we have absolutely seen a humongous increase, spike on take out as well,” said Lee.

Madden says they’re excited for the new adventure and hope the community is too.

“We are doing what we can to move forward and trying to make the best out of a bad situation, doesn’t mean it’s going to work out but I hope it does,” said Madden.

Mad Melt is slated to open on Nov. 3. Any updates on the progress can be found on Mad Taco’s Facebook page.

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Touch is a language we cannot afford to forget – Laura Crucianelli | Aeon Essays

Mish Boyka



Touch is the first sense by which we encounter the world, and the final one to leave us as we approach death’s edge. ‘Touch comes before sight, before speech,’ writes Margaret Atwood in her novel The Blind Assassin (2000). ‘It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.’ Human foetuses are covered in fine hairs known as lanugo, which appear around 16 weeks of pregnancy. Some researchers believe that these delicate filaments enhance the pleasant sensations of our mother’s amniotic fluid gently washing over our skin, a precursor to the warm and calming feeling that a child, once born, will derive from being hugged.

Touch has always been my favourite sense – a loyal friend, something I can rely on to lift me up when I’m feeling down, or spread joy when I’m on a high. As an Italian living abroad for more than a decade, I often suffered from a kind of touch hunger, which had knock-on consequences for my mood and health more generally. People in northern Europe use social touch much less than people in southern Europe. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that I spent the past few years studying touch as a scientist.

Lately, though, touch has been going through a ‘prohibition era’: it’s been a rough time for this most important of the senses. The 2020 pandemic served to make touch the ultimate taboo, next to coughing and sneezing in public. While people suffering from COVID-19 can lose the sense of smell and taste, touch is the sense that has been diminished for almost all of us, test-positive or not, symptomatic or not, hospitalised or not. Touch is the sense that has paid the highest price.

But if physical distance is what protects us, it’s also what stands in the way of care and nurturance. Looking after another human being almost inevitably involves touching them – from the very basic needs of bathing, dressing, lifting, assisting and medical treatment (usually referred to as instrumental touch), to the more affective tactile exchanges that aim to communicate, provide comfort and offer support (defined as expressive touch). Research in osteopathy and manual therapy, where practitioners have been working closely with neuroscientists on affective touch, suggests that the beneficial effect of massage therapy goes well beyond the actual manoeuvre performed by the therapist. Rather, there is something special simply in the act of resting one’s hands on the skin of the client. There is no care, there is no cure, without touch.

The present touch drought arrived after a period in which people were already growing more afraid of touching one another. Technology has enabled this distance, as social networking sites have become the primary source of social interaction for children and adolescents. A recent survey showed that 95 per cent of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 per cent say that they are online ‘almost constantly’.

Another reason for touch-scepticism is the growing global awareness of how touch is a weapon that men use to impose their power over women. The #MeToo movement exposed how women are expected to acquiesce to inappropriate touch as the cost of gaining access to certain kinds of opportunities. Meanwhile, doctors, nurses, teachers and salespeople are all guided against being too ‘hands-on’. Yet studies suggest that touch actually improves the quality of our encounters with any of these professionals, and makes us evaluate the experience more positively. For example, we are likely to give a more generous tip to a waiter who absently touches our shoulder when taking the order than to those who keep their distance.

What’s unique about touch, when set against the other senses, is its mutuality. While we can look without being looked back at, we can’t touch without being touched in return. During the pandemic, nurses and doctors have talked about how this unique characteristic of touch helped them communicate with patients. When they couldn’t talk, smile or be seen properly because of their protective equipment, medical professionals could always rely on a pat on the shoulder, holding a hand or squeezing an arm to reassure patients and let them know that they were not alone. In a pandemic where touch is a proven vector, paradoxically it’s also a part of the cure. Touch really is the ultimate tool for social connection, and the good news is that we were born fully accessorised to make the most of it.

In the 1990s, there was a wave of research demonstrating the shocking consequences of touch deprivation on human development. Several studies showed that children from Romanian orphanages, who were barely touched in the first years of life, had cognitive and behavioural deficits later on, as well as significant differences in brain development. In adulthood, people with reduced social contact have a higher risk of dying earlier compared with people with strong social relationships. Touch is especially important as we age: for instance, gentle touch has been shown to increase the amount of food intake in a group of institutionalised elderly adults. Even when we can’t see, hear or speak as we used to, we can almost always rely on touch to explore the world around us, to communicate with others, and to allow them to communicate with us.

Science is now beginning to provide an account of why touch matters so much. Touch on the skin can reduce heartrate, blood pressure and cortisol levels – all factors related to stress – in both adults and babies. It facilitates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that provides sensations of calm, relaxation and being at peace with the world. Every time we hug a friend or snuggle a pet, oxytocin is released in our body, giving us that feel-good sensation. In this way, oxytocin appears to reinforce our motivation to seek and maintain contact with others, which assists in the development of humans’ socially oriented brains. Oxytocin also plays a vital role in the relationship we have with ourselves.

In our lab, we recently showed that oxytocin might promote processes of multisensory integration, the so called ‘glue of the senses’ – the way the world typically presents itself to us as a coherent picture, rather than as multiple distinct streams of sense data. Multisensory integration, in turn, is at the root of our sense of body ownership, the feeling that most take for granted, that our body is ours. For our studies, we invited people to the lab, and induced the Rubber Hand Illusion, a well-established set-up where participants look at a lifelike rubber hand being touched while their own hand, hidden out of view, is touched at the same time. After a minute or so of synchronous tactile stimulation, the vast majority of participants experience the illusion that the rubber hand is their own hand, that they embody the rubber hand. We found that applying the tactile stimulation at slow, caress-like velocities enhances the illusion of embodying the rubber hand. Furthermore, we also found that giving participants one dose of intranasal oxytocin before the illusion enhanced the experience, compared with a placebo. In other words, affective touch and oxytocin might boost the process that keeps us grounded to a physical body.

Touch is the first sense to develop, and is mediated by the skin, our largest organ. We are one of the few mammals to be born so premature in the trajectory of our development. Our motor system isn’t fully developed, we can’t feed ourselves, we can’t regulate our own temperature beyond a certain threshold – all of which means that we rely on others to survive. As a child, being cared for depends primarily on tactile contact and ‘being held’. Any basic activity involves touch, such as changing nappies, having a bath, being fed, sleeping and, of course, cuddling. Even after we make it through the first few months of life, social tactile interactions are crucial for our development. For example, postnatal depression is known to have negative consequences for infants, but maternal touch can also have a protective effect. So encouraging tactile interactions between mothers with depression and their babies can reduce negative outcomes for the children later on in life. Importantly, the benefit is reciprocal: skin-to-skin contact between infant and parent increases the levels of oxytocin in mothers, fathers and infants, providing a feel-good sensation, promoting the development of a healthy relationship, and enhancing synchrony in parent-infant interactions.

Slow, caress-like touch was more likely to communicate love, even when delivered by a stranger

Many neuroscientists and psychologists believe that we have a dedicated system just for the perception of social – affective – touch distinct from the one that we use to touch objects. This system seems to be able to selectively recognise caress-like touch; this is then processed in the insula, a brain area connected to maintaining our sense of self and an awareness of our body. Slow, caress-like touch is not only important for our survival, but also for our cognitive and social development: for example, it can influence the way we learn to identify and recognise other people from early in life. In a study of four-month-old infants, when parents provided gentle stroking, children were able to learn to identify a previously seen face better than those who experienced non-tactile stimulation. It seems that slow, social touch might act as a cue to pay particular attention to social stimuli, such as faces.

What’s particularly important in infancy and childhood is not only the amount of touch we receive, but also its nature and quality. In a recent study, my colleagues and I showed that infants as young as 12 months are able to detect the way that their mothers touch them during daily activities, such as during play time or while sharing a book together. In our study, the mothers didn’t know that we were interested in touch, which allowed us to have a real insight into their spontaneous interactions. Importantly, we found that mothers’ ability to understand their infants’ needs translated into a kind of tactile language: for example, those mothers who were less aligned or responsive to their babies also tended to use more rough and restrictive touch. Infants also tended to reciprocate, in that they were more likely to use aggressive touch towards their mothers if this was the way that they were touched.

It’s not an exaggeration to talk of touch as a kind of language – one that we learn, like spoken language, through social interactions with our loved ones, from the earliest stages of our life. We use touch every day to communicate our emotions, and to tell someone that we are scared, happy, in love, sad, sexually aroused and much more. In turn, we are pretty good at reading other people’s intentions and emotions based on the way that they touch us. In a recent study, we invited people to the lab and asked them to detect the emotions and intentions that the experimenter was trying to convey to them via touch. The touch was delivered at different velocities: slower, as the touch typically occurring between parents and babies, or between lovers; or faster, a type of touch more common between strangers. We found that slow, caress-like touch was more likely to communicate love, even when the touch was delivered by a stranger. In contrast, participants didn’t attribute any special meaning or emotions to touch delivered at fast velocities. Interestingly, in the case of brain damage involving the insula, people have difficulties in perceiving affective touch, as well as disturbances in the sense of body ownership. This suggests the existence of a specialised pathway that arrives from the skin to a specific part of the brain.

We exchange tactile gestures as communicative tokens not only to build social bonds, but to establish power relationships. In professional Western contexts, people typically apply a certain amount of pressure in a handshake when meeting someone for the first time. A handshake stands as a proxy for competence and confidence; we feel the other person touching us, and ask ourselves: ‘Do I trust them enough to offer them a job?’ or ‘Should I let them babysit my kids?’ One study showed how a firm handshake was a key indicator of success in a job interview, perhaps because the handshake is the very first way that we close the physical gap between us and the other. The handshake is also used to seal an agreement, with the force of a signature or contract. The danger and vulnerability that’s intrinsic to touch is part of what allows it to serve this socially binding function; indeed, it’s believed that the handshake arose as a way of ensuring that the two people involved weren’t holding weapons.

The language of touch also affects the way that we relate to ourselves and our bodies across the lifespan, with profound impacts on our psychological wellbeing. In another set of studies, we investigated the way in which people with anorexia nervosa perceive caress-like touch as compared with healthy people. Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder characterised by a distorted sense of one’s own body, but it can also lead to a reduction in social interactions. We wanted to understand whether the fact that sufferers report finding less pleasure in social interaction might be related to the disorder. Across two studies, we found that people with anorexia perceived slow touch delivered with a soft brush on their forearm to be less pleasant, compared with healthy participants. Importantly, we found the same pattern of results in people who have recovered from anorexia nervosa. This suggests that this reduced capacity to take pleasure in touch might be more of a stable characteristic rather than a temporary status, related to the severe malnutrition that we observe in anorexia nervosa. This finding, along with other studies, suggest that there is definitely a close link between social touch and mental health. Throughout our lives, we need touch to flourish.

So, what happens to our tactile fluency when we make touch taboo? At the times in our lives that we are most fragile, we need touch more than ever. From everything we know about social touch, it needs to be promoted, not inhibited. We need the nuance to recognise its perils, but avoiding touch entirely would be a disaster. The pandemic has given us a glimpse of what life would look like without touch. The fear of the other, of contamination, of touch has allowed many of us to realise how much we miss those spontaneous hugs, handshakes and taps on the shoulder. Physical distancing leaves invisible scars on our skin. Tellingly, most people mention ‘hugging my loved ones’ as one of the first things they want to do once the pandemic is over.

Touch is so vital that even the language of digital communication is saturated with touch metaphors. We ‘keep in touch’, and acknowledge that we are ‘touched by your kind gesture’. Some researchers have suggested that technology could enhance our physical connection with others, prompting new kinds of interpersonal tactile connections via hug blankets, kissing screens and caressing devices. For example, a project based at University College London is exploring how digital practices such as ‘Likes’ and emojis – signals that communicate emotional states and social feedback – could extend to the remote manipulation of textures and materials. Two people at a distance could each have a device that detects and transmits tactile feedback: for example, my sensor could become warm and soft when my partner on the other side of the world is available and wants to let me feel their presence, or conversely, it could turn cold and rough if my partner needs my presence.

Nothing can compare with the magic of a physically intimate moment with someone

There’s a lot of potential for these devices, especially for touch-deprived people such as the elderly, people who live alone, or children in orphanages. Consider that 15 per cent of people worldwide live alone, often far away from loved ones, and that statistics are suggesting that more and more people die alone, too. What a difference it would make to have the possibility of being physically close, even when far apart.

However, these devices should be complementary to the power of a skin-to-skin tactile exchange, rather than a substitute for it. Nothing can compare with the magic of a physically intimate moment with someone, in which touch is often accompanied by a cascade of other sensory signals such as smell, sound and body temperature. Touch is physically and temporally proximal, in that it means ‘we are close to each other and we are here now, together’. Unlike other senses that can be digitalised, such as seeing someone’s face and talking to them over Zoom, touch requires you to be in the same place, at the same time, with another human being. A digitalised version of touch would be missing this rich sharing of a specific moment in space and time, allowing a more limited experience of what a hug could provide. If I could potentially pause or retract from someone sending me a digital caress, that aspect of touch in which we ‘feel along with another person’ would fail.

In the current environment, is the idea of a ‘renaissance of touch’ just for the brave and the foolish? I don’t believe so, and scientific evidence speaks loud and clear. We lose a lot by depriving ourselves of touch. We deprive ourselves of one of the most sophisticated languages we speak; we lose opportunities to build new relationships; we might even weaken existing ones. Through deteriorating social relationships, we also detach from ourselves. The need for people to be able to touch one another should be a priority in defining the post-pandemic ‘new normal’. A better world is often just a hug away. As a scientist, but also as a fellow human, I claim the right to touch, and to dream of a reality where no one will be touchless.

To read more about the body and emotions, visit Aeon’s sister site, Psyche, a new digital magazine that illuminates the human condition through three prisms: mental health; the perennial question of ‘how to live’; and the artistic and transcendent facets of life.

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US Election

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