[b:ac71d7af93]This post edited for clarity and detail on June 9, 2006.[/b:ac71d7af93]
Abusive Online Groups and Relationships:
It's possible for people to be "brainwashed" over the internet. During my research on a certain dangerous religious group, a leading cult expert examined some of the text written by this group's leader and advised me that was written in a way that can create a [b:ac71d7af93]hypnotic[/b:ac71d7af93] state. The writing that was being examined was comprised of lengthy text segments, and I observed it to make various points which were supposed to make logical sense among one another but the logic was actually self-referencing and the points did not necessarily lead to one another when read with a clear and alert mind.
I experienced this hypnotic state myself (unintentionally of course), before I was aware of the hypnotic issue with this writing. During my research of this group, it was necessary to read a large amount of the group leader's written material. In spite of the fact that I had conclusive evidence that this was an unsafe religious group whose information should not be internalized as truth without very in-depth evaluation, I found that when I was fatigued, it was possible to unintentionally enter a markedly different, suggestible state of mind. For me, this state would last between 1 and 2 seconds, and during those few seconds, the kinds of impressions I had about the material were markedly different and not in-line with the facts I knew to be true. It was obvious to me at the time that these brief incidents represented an altered state of consciousness and were not based upon a conscious decision on my part to accept the material. In order for it to happen, I had to both spend a long time reading the material and become fatigued while doing it (I don't know if both of these conditions are required for other people). I did not realize these incidents were specifically the result of text-based hypnosis until the cult expert noted this about the writing style and presentation (I had not told the cult expert about my own experiences with it at that point).
This type of hypnosis-generating writing could be be presented on paper or posted to the internet and it would have the same effect.
Furthermore, controlling relationships that capitalize upon undue influence can be developed over internet chat or instant messaging, with the group's leadership functioning as the gurus or counselors and the others functioning as the followers. This is most likely to happen when the followers have previously become very comfortable with internet chat -- the average grandmother is probably not going to be able to develop the right level of intimacy in an online relationship for this to be successful.
A comment I got from a parent regarding an internet-active cult I researched went like this: "Out of all the things I knew to watch out for, I didn't know I had to protect my children from [b:ac71d7af93]religion[/b:ac71d7af93] on the [b:ac71d7af93] internet![/b:ac71d7af93]" (emphasis is from the source).