No, a Remote Amazon Tribe Did Not Get Addicted to Porn

Trisha D.
5 Min Read


In April, I hiked more than 50 miles through the Amazon rainforest to visit the remote villages of the Marubo people. The 2,000-member tribe had recently received high-speed internet, and I wanted to understand how it had affected their lives.

During a weeklong visit, I saw how they used the internet to communicate between villages, chat with faraway loved ones and call for help in emergencies. Many Marubo also told me they were deeply concerned that the connection with the outside world would upend their culture, which they had preserved for generations by living deep in the forest. Some elders complained of teenagers glued to phones, group chats full of gossip and minors who watched pornography.

As a result, the story we published June 2 was in part about the Marubo people’s introduction to the ills of the internet.

But after publication, that angle took on a whole different dimension.

Over the past week, more than 100 websites around the world have published headlines that falsely claim the Marubo have become addicted to porn. Alongside those headlines, the sites published images of the Marubo people in their villages.

The New York Post was among the first, saying last week that the Marubo people was “hooked on porn.” Dozens quickly followed that take. TMZ’s headline was perhaps the most blunt: “TRIBE’S STARLINK HOOKUP RESULTS IN PORN ADDICTION!!!”

The Post and TMZ did not respond to requests for comment.

Similar headlines proliferated across the world, including in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Nigeria, Mexico and Chile. RT, Russia’s state media outlet, published the claim in Arabic. There were countless videos, memes and social media posts.

In Brazil, the rumor spread fast, including in the small Amazonian cities where some Marubo now live, work and study.

The Marubo people are not addicted to pornography. There was no hint of this in the forest, and there was no suggestion of it in The New York Times’s article.

Instead, the article mentioned a complaint from one Marubo leader that some Marubo minors had shared pornography in WhatsApp group chats. This was especially concerning, he said, because Marubo culture frowns upon even kissing in public.

Many of the sites that distorted this detail are news aggregators, meaning their business model is largely designed around repackaging the reporting of other news organizations, with often sensationalist headlines to sell ads.

Because these sites also link to the original reporting, they are generally legally protected, even if they misrepresent the material.

By now, these sorts of sites and misleading headlines are just another part of the internet economy. To an informed internet user, their tactics are familiar.

For the Marubo, however, the experience was bewildering and infuriating.

“These claims are unfounded, untrue and reflect a prejudiced ideological current that disrespects our autonomy and identity,” Enoque Marubo, the Marubo leader who brought Starlink to his tribe’s villages, said in a video posted online Sunday night.

The Times article had overemphasized the negatives of the internet, he said, “resulting in the spread of a distorted and damaging picture.”

Alfredo Marubo (all Marubo use the same last name), the leader who said in the Times article that he was concerned about pornography, released a statement Tuesday from his tribal association saying that the misleading headlines “have the potential to cause irreversible damage to people’s image, and therefore we feel exposed in the face of this misinterpretation of the accurate reporting.”

Eliseo Marubo, a lawyer and Indigenous rights activist, has become one of the most public faces of the Marubo tribe. So when the headlines went viral, Eliseo said he had tens of thousands of notifications of messages and tags in comments on social networks. Many mocked the Marubo people, he said.

Eliseo said the article had raised an important debate about the sudden arrival of high-speed internet to remote Indigenous groups, showing the promise of the internet in its own way. But the resulting misinformation had also illustrated the internet’s perils.

“The internet brings a lot of advantages,” he said, “but it also brings a lot of challenges.”

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