© 2024 Blaze Media LLC. All rights reserved.
Blaze News investigates: 'Machines are made for man': The bittersweet reality of offering internet access to a remote Amazon tribe
Photo by PATRICK FORT/AFP via Getty Images

Blaze News investigates: 'Machines are made for man': The bittersweet reality of offering internet access to a remote Amazon tribe

Some members became hooked on pornography and social media, but the technology has also solved key issues.

Elon Musk's Starlink service finally penetrated through the remote Amazon jungle to offer members of the Marubo tribe access to the internet for the first time. The development was revealed earlier this month, but it appears that it has also caused serious issues.

While this technology could represent an upward shift in the tribe's way of life, it has also produced issues that were nonexistent before, such as addiction to pornography and social media, according to tribe elders.

The Brazilian tribe — made up of about 2,000 members — has been split on whether the advanced technology is truly a benefit to the community or not. The tribe resides around the Itui River.

Tsainama Marubo, 73, told the New York Times that when the technology first arrived, "everyone was happy. But now, things have gotten worse. Young people have gotten lazy because of the internet, they're learning the ways of the white people."

Tsainama may be on to something with this observation. Unlike painting or playing an instrument, the internet is often a passive medium, where the user sits back and consumes media with little effort. This is especially the case with pornography and social media, which are the two primary issues the tribe has addressed since receiving the technology.

'We need to abandon the naive belief that the internet is magically going to liberate societies.'

Additionally, the Marubo tribe is unlike most advanced cultures around the world. It is a chaste tribe, and kissing in public is often frowned upon. Alfredo Marubo — all members of the tribe use the same last name — expressed that offering the internet and all it encompasses to developing tribes could obliterate modes of decorum.

The Marubo tribe and pornography

Alfredo mentioned that young men in the tribe have demonstrated "aggressive sexual behavior" since gaining access to pornography through the technology. Some have even shared pornographic videos in group chats.

He went on to say that "we're worried young people are going to want to try it," noting that there have been sexual kinks and fetishes the men have been exposed to.

"Everyone is so connected that sometimes they don't even talk to their own family."

Blaze News reached out to Michael Toscano, the executive director of the Institute for Family Studies, who said: "We have to remember that technologies should be designed to serve individuals, communities, families, and nations, not destroy them. Today, we see many families and institutions in America coming to realize that it is their right and responsibility to reject technologies that threaten them and their way of life."

Questions have been raised about the ethics of introducing the internet to remote peoples whose tribes could be adversely affected by it.

"This is not easy to do, because technologies have a tendency to spread and become culturally and politically dominant, and social life and human activity become organized around them," Toscano added.

"This is the story of social media, smartphones, the internet more broadly, but also automobiles and so much else. A certain heroism, therefore, is required to say no to the latest technological product."

If elders among the Marubo tribe have expressed that pornography represents a detriment to their way of life, it is worthwhile to ask whether they should have the means of accessing that material at all.

The Institute for Family Studies reported in 2022 that pornography is not a harmless activity. While pornographic material has become more widespread throughout the U.S., it has been associated with several negative social outcomes and personal experiences. Additionally, these issues arise more often among men than they do in women. This falls in line with what the Marubo tribe elders have reported since receiving access to such material.

Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, said: "This is just the latest evidence of the internet's addictiveness. This should be no surprise to us by now."

"We know that social media, for example, was purposefully developed to be addictive, since these companies profit from keeping people on their platforms for as long as possible," Schilling continued. "And there are many other segments of the internet — such as video games ... which are similarly effective in addicting users."

What this tribe's plight should drive home for us is that we cannot ignore the internet's downsides. This technology, while it does provide many benefits, can also be dangerous if we are not disciplined in how we use it.

The institute reported that those who reported watching pornography also represent higher rates of loneliness. Pornography also appears to distort one's view of his own personal appearance, which, again, is more prevalent in men than it is in women.

Additionally, men who reported watching pornography on a regular basis noted that they often feel insecure. "[Seventy-four] percent of men who report having watched pornography in the past 24 hours say they have felt self-conscious or insecure in the past week. Only 45% of men who say they have never watched pornography say the same."

Nathan Leamer, executive director of the Digital First Project, told Blaze News it appears that "Starlink has just unleashed a sudden revolution that could have real consequences."

Leamer compared what has happened to the Marubo tribe with giving a "10-year-old the keys to a brand-new car. I don't know about addiction, but it is clear that a challenge for this community in the Amazon is finding a way to balance the benefits of this transformative power with recognition that there are downsides like rampant porn, rampant distraction, etc."

Internet and a culture of distraction

When the internet was first introduced to the Marubo tribe, it was hailed as a positive advancement. Members of the tribe could quickly contact the authorities for help in emergency situations, such as deadly snake bites.

Enoque Marubo, 40, said the technology has already "saved lives." Members of the tribe have also discovered how to share educational information with surrounding tribes in the Amazon, and members have been able to get in touch with family members who have moved away.

Not only has the internet given the tribe the ability to solve practical issues, it has also given the youth in the tribe the ability to imagine what lies outside their immediate daily experience. They have been able to observe locations and cultures that are completely different from their own.

One teen wished to travel the world, and another aspired to be a dentist in São Paulo. Despite these advantages, the downsides cannot be ignored.

Enoque said that the day-to-day routine has suffered because of the technology. "In the village, if you don't hunt, fish, and plant, you don't eat."

TamaSay Marubo, 42, noted that while "some young people maintain our traditions," there are "others [who] just want to spend the whole afternoon on their phones."

"At this point, perhaps the only group of people who still have not been introduced to the internet ... is children," Schilling said.

"Each new generation of children who are born must be introduced anew to this technology. And given the mental issues our younger generations have developed as a result of social media use, it's obvious we must drastically change our approach," he added.

"At a minimum, we should enact age verification protections for all addictive and harmful aspects of the internet starting with pornography and then eventually enacting a minimum age for social media usage," Schilling concluded.

Some of these same trends have already been observed in the most advanced countries in the world. The National Institutes of Health reported in 2020 that "in the U.S., the proportion of young people between the ages of 13 and 17 years who have a smartphone has reached 89%, more than doubling over a six-year period; moreover, 70% of teenagers use social media multiple times per day, up from a third of teens in 2012."

Statista reported that in a 2023 survey, "97% of teenagers in the United States between 15 and 17 years had smartphone access at home. The percentage of younger respondents owning a smartphone was lower, 92%. Overall, 94% of the surveyed teens stated owning a smartphone device."

Members of the Marubo tribe fear that if this trend continues, their history and culture could be lost. As a result, they have limited access to the internet to two hours each morning, five hours each evening, and all day on Sunday, according to reports.

Aside from pornography and other addictive elements the technology presents, the tribespeople have fallen victim to online scams because they lack digital literacy. And some of the youth are conversing with strangers online.

Mike Wacker, a software engineer, told Blaze News that "we need to abandon the naive belief that the internet is magically going to liberate societies."

It appears that the Marubo tribe is lacking the ability to regulate the internet in a sufficient way that benefits the community.

Toscano said that the desire for guardrails around certain elements of the internet is why many are "turning to lawmakers to regulate technologies, because the most effective solutions to the problems that they present turn out to be collective solutions."

"Only law and state regulation are up to the challenge. This is what makes the effect of the internet on these tribesmen so tragic," he added.

"They were given powerful systems that could only be developed under the condition of advanced state capacity, and that very same advanced state capacity is necessary to bring these systems to heel. By sending them Starlink, the tribesmen have been totally exposed to a power with which they are not equipped to contend."

However, it appears that Flora Dutra, a Brazilian activist who works with indigenous tribes, does not see it this way. She suggested that the worries and fears around the technology have been overblown. She went on to say that the tribespeople "wanted and deserved" access to the internet.

It seems there is still something to be said for equipping a culture with powerful tools that they do not yet have the language or knowledge to navigate in a safe and productive way.

"We ourselves are only now realizing the power that the internet has over us," Toscano said. "They [the Marubo tribe] would have been better off without it. Machines are made for man, not man for the machine."

Like Blaze News? Bypass the censors, sign up for our newsletters, and get stories like this direct to your inbox. Sign up here!

Want to leave a tip?

We answer to you. Help keep our content free of advertisers and big tech censorship by leaving a tip today.
Want to join the conversation?
Already a subscriber?