The freedom that comes with disabling your read receipts

Last year a good friend sent me a WhatsApp message asking where I wanted to meet for coffee. I sent her a message back with the time and place. Three hours later, I arrived at the coffee shop, a few minutes early. I checked the WhatsApp thread and noticed that the double checkmark had not yet turned blue. I switched to my iPhone’s dialer app and was about to call her to make sure she knew where we were meeting when she suddenly walked through the front door.

After greeting her I said that it looked like she hadn’t gotten my message, so I was surprised she knew where to meet (although it was our normal hangout). She said she had meant to confirm the meeting but got caught up at work and then she added something which fundamentally changed the way I view my digital privacy. “I’ve just disabled my WhatsApp read receipts, by the way.”

I asked why. “Why should people have a right to know when I have or haven’t read something?” she replied.

And like that, I realized that when we talk about digital privacy, we’re usually only talking about one side of the coin: our right to keep our digital activity private from tech companies and data brokers. But the reality is that because of all the digital tools we use–especially messaging apps–we frequently give up our right to privacy from our friends and coworkers, too.

From that day forward I decided to follow in my friend’s footsteps. I began disabling read receipts on all the messaging apps I used. In doing so, I at first only noticed what I had lost. When you disable read receipts in most messaging apps, it’s a reciprocal thing–you can limit someone from seeing when you’ve read a message, but then you also don’t get to see when they’ve read your message. For a few days, this caused some anxiety in me. Had my friends actually received the message? Should I send another message asking them for confirmation?

But after a few days, this pointless uncertainty receded. It’s highly unlikely that any message you send via a modern messaging app won’t be delivered, after all. And by the end of the first week of disabling read receipts, I noticed a fundamental change come over me when it came to the messages I received.

After reading a message, I no longer felt that anxiety or guilt compelling me to reply right away. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. After all, how many times have you gotten a read receipt confirmation that a friend has read your message and been annoyed or even hurt that they didn’t reply right away? By disabling read receipts so my friends and coworkers could no longer see when I’ve read a message, I felt like I had more time to reply to them on my terms and in my own time. This meant my replies could be more thoughtful and detailed, instead of a haphazard shoot-from-the-hip response.

Most importantly, by disabling read receipts I discovered a glorious freedom I’d never had before: the freedom to not have everyone knowing what I’ve seen or done, in an age when technology is designed to encourage us to do the opposite.

Disabling read receipts is nothing short of liberating, breaking us from our digital chains to others. Not only does it alleviate the guilt and anxiety to instantaneously reply, but it also helps set boundaries and manage expectations between me and my friends: I will reply to you, but when I have the time.

One friend even confided in me that she has learned not to take a lack of an instant reply personally. She has also disabled read receipts in her apps and finds it liberating. “It helps quickly jettison the bullshit expectation that you’re due an immediate reply to every message you send,” she told me.

HOW TO DISABLE READ RECEIPTS ON FACEBOOK MESSENGER, APPLE MESSAGES, WHATSAPP, AND TWITTER DMS

Trust me, disabling read receipts will feel odd at first–but once you do it, you will not miss them. Matter of fact, you’ll quickly feel lighter and less burdened. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to disable read receipts in most major messaging apps (easier to disable than in emails, anyway). Here’s how:

Facebook Messenger: Just joking. Facebook doesn’t allow anyone to disable read receipts, even though people tell Facebook they want this feature. Facebook no doubt frames this inability to disable read receipts as a good thing: It allows your friends to know when their messages are received. But truth be told, Facebook–shocker–isn’t working for the common good here. An engineer on their Messages team recently told me that Facebook could implement the option to toggle read receipts on or off in a weekend. They said the social media giant won’t do that, however, because read receipts in Messenger guilt people into replying right away. This anxiety to reply because you know your Facebook friend has seen that you’ve read their message keeps you engaged with their Messaging platform. In other words, you don’t control Facebook, Facebook controls you.

So since you can’t disable read receipts on Facebook Messenger (both its app and web versions) what are you to do? Simple: just stop using the messaging portion of the service.

Unlike every other major messaging service, your Facebook messages aren’t even encrypted anyway, so there’s already little reason to use Facebook Messenger as your messaging app of choice. But what if people keep messaging you through there? Here’s a trick: While you can’t disable Messenger as long as you have a Facebook account, you can block every single Facebook friend you have from sending you a message on the platform. Until Facebook allows its users to reclaim their personal privacy by disabling read receipts, block your friends on Messenger and tell them to contact you through a more egalitarian messaging service.

Apple Messages: Apple’s Messages app gives you the most control over read receipts. You can enable or disable read receipts for all users in iOS’s Settings > Messages, or enable or disable read receipts on a per-person basis by tapping the “Info” button in a message thread and then toggling your preference on the next screen.

WhatsApp: Thankfully, Facebook-owned WhatsApp gives you control over whether or not you and others can view read receipts. Unlike Apple’s Messages, however, disabling read receipts in WhatsApp is an all-or-nothing option. Either everyone (including you) can see read receipts, or no one can. In WhatsApp’s in-app settings, go to Account > Privacy and toggle read receipts on or off. One bummer: read receipts are always enabled for group chats.

Twitter DMs: While I don’t use Twitter’s direct messaging feature much, I know plenty of people who do. Thankfully, Twitter is one social media platform that allows you to disable read receipts. Simply go to your Twitter account settings and tap “Privacy and safety.” Under “Direct Messages” you’ll see the read receipt toggle to disable or enabled them. Again, this is an all-or-nothing approach. If you disable read receipts, you won’t be able to see when someone has read your DMs. A fair trade-off.

There are of course other messaging services than those on this list. Most of them will also provide users with the ability to disable read receipts. And if they don’t, it’s time to trade up to a different messenger app that gives you more control over your digital privacy, no matter if that’s from the app maker or from your friends.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter represented worldwide by Marjacq Scripts Ltd
. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. Contact his agent at Marjacq Scripts Ltd
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Facebook is 15: Do you still enjoy the app?

In february 4th 2004 a young website with a baby-blue banner was born.

Founded in a dormitory at Harvard, TheFacebook.com tapped into people’s instinctive desire to see and be seen. Few guessed how successful it would become. In 2008 Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who had bought the social-networking rival MySpace, called Facebook the “flavour of the month”; the following year this newspaper warned in an article about Facebook that it is “awfully easy for one ‘next big thing’ to be overtaken by the next.”

Instead Facebook has stayed on top by spreading wildly across America and the world and buying competitors, including the photo-sharing app Instagram and the messaging firm WhatsApp. Around two-thirds of American adults use its original social network. At its peak, the average user spent nearly an hour a day on Facebook’s platforms. Few companies have exerted such a strong influence on society, changing people’s communication habits, reuniting lost contacts, shaping their perception of world events and redefining the meaning of the word “friend”. “Every once in a while, changes in technology come along which are so profound, that there is a before and an after. Facebook is one of those,” says Roger McNamee, author of a forthcoming book called “Zucked”.

Birthdays are an occasion for reflection. In the 15 years since its founding, Facebook has altered America in three notable ways. First, it has shaped what it means and feels like to be young. The company has done this twice: once with its flagship social network, which became the pastime and addiction of college students and high schoolers in the mid-2000s, and again with Instagram, which is the digital drug of choice for their successors today, along with the rival app Snapchat.

The company has fostered a virtual “me-conomy”, where people (over)share their feelings, photos and comments. Some blame Facebook for fanning teenage narcissism and for short attention spans. Others say it has caused anxiety, depression and insecurity. Researchers have shown that people who spend more time on Facebook are more likely to think other people have it better than they do and that life is unfair.

The lasting effects of social media, and Facebook in particular, on young people’s psyches will not be fully understood for years, but it is clear that Facebook has changed human interaction. At the safe remove of a screen, bullying on social media has become painfully common; some 59% of American teenagers say they have been bullied or harassed online. Facebook has cultivated far-flung, online friendships, but it has changed the nature of offline ones, too. According to research by Common Sense Media, a non-profit, in 2012 around half of 13- to 17-year-olds said their favourite way to communicate with friends was in person. Today only 32% feel that way, with 35% preferring texting.

Second, Facebook has changed attitudes to privacy. The social network thrives through trust. After Facebook was launched, for the first time people felt comfortable sharing intimate details online, including their phone number, relationship status, likes and dislikes, location and more, because they felt they could control who had access to them. Users were vaguely aware that Facebook was starting to make a fortune mining this data and selling advertisers access to specific types of users, but they mostly did not object.

Opinions about privacy may be shifting again at Facebook’s hands, this time in reverse. Public scandals about outside firms getting access to Facebook users’ data, including last year’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco, have shone a light on the firms’ massive data collection. Around half of American adult users are not comfortable with Facebook compiling such detailed information about them, according to a survey by Pew Research Centre. Concerns about privacy and lax oversight probably played into the beating that Facebook’s reputation took last year. According to the Reputation Institute, a consultancy, Facebook’s standing among Americans fell sharply in 2018, and its score ranks significantly below other technology companies, including Google. A fresh scandal over Facebook spying on users’ online activities in the name of research may further dent the company’s image.

Third, Facebook has left a lasting mark on politics. The social-networking firm has become an invaluable tool for politicians seeking office, both through paid advertisements to reach voters and free content that spreads on the social network. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a politician who’s been elected in the last ten years who didn’t use Facebook,” says David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect”, a history of the social network. Two presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, won election in no small part thanks to Facebook. In Mr Obama’s case, Facebook helped him fundraise and drum up support. In 2016 Facebook’s role was more controversial: false news spread wildly and Russians meddled with messages on social media, which may have helped Mr Trump gain an edge.

The rise of fake news and spread of filter bubbles, where people see their pre-conceptions reinforced online, have probably disillusioned many voters. Facebook has had a hand in spreading misinformation, terrorism and ethnic violence around the world. But it has also spurred civil engagement. Black Lives Matter, a campaign against police violence, began with a Facebook post and quickly spread through the social network. Much of the grassroots opposition to Mr Trump, from the women’s marches to groups like Indivisible, use the platform to organise themselves. Many other campaigns and movements have attracted members through Facebook and Twitter. “They give ordinary people a voice. That’s a net positive for society,” says Mr Kirkpatrick.

Can the social-media giant stay as influential in the next 15 years as it has already been? At the risk of being wrong about Facebook again, that seems unlikely. This is partly because its impact has already been so extensive. But it is also because of growing unease with the platform. As with all new technologies, from the printed book to the telegraph, social media can be used both for good and bad. Critics of Facebook are increasingly vocal about the harms, pointing out that Facebook is addictive, harmful for democracy and too powerful in making decisions about what content people see. “Big tobacco” is what the bosses of several top tech companies have started calling the social network, and politicians are speaking openly about regulation.

Though it has just posted record quarterly profits, it seems unlikely that Americans are going to increase the time they spend on Facebook proper. Time on its core social network is declining, probably because users are questioning whether it is as enjoyable as it used to be. Adults in America spent 11.5% of their online time on Facebook’s main platform, a fifth less than two years earlier, according to Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research. Instagram use is rising, but not enough to make up for the core social network’s decline. As more people question whether social media are good for them, Facebook could loosen its grip on America. The relationship with Facebook continues, but the love affair is over.

Fun apart, let’s look deeper into Facebook’s 10 year challenge

If you use social media, you’ve probably noticed a trend across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter of people posting their then-and-now profile pictures, mostly from 10 years ago and this year.

Instead of joining in, I posted the following semi-sarcastic tweet

My flippant tweet began to pick up traction. My intent wasn’t to claim that the meme is inherently dangerous. But I knew the facial recognition scenario was broadly plausible and indicative of a trend that people should be aware of. It’s worth considering the depth and breadth of the personal data we share without reservations.

Of those who were critical of my thesis, many argued that the pictures were already available anyway. The most common rebuttal was: “That data is already available. Facebook’s already got all the profile pictures.”

Of course they do. In various versions of the meme, people were instructed to post their first profile picture alongside their current profile picture, or a picture from 10 years ago alongside their current profile picture. So, yes: these profile pictures exist, they’ve got upload time stamps, many people have a lot of them, and for the most part they’re publicly accessible.

But let’s play out this idea.

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics, and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g. how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous data set with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.

Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise. People don’t reliably upload pictures in chronological order, and it’s not uncommon for users to post pictures of something other than themselves as a profile picture. A quick glance through my Facebook friends’ profile pictures shows a friend’s dog who just died, several cartoons, word images, abstract patterns, and more.

In other words, it would help if you had a clean, simple, helpfully-labeled set of then-and-now photos.

What’s more, for the profile pictures on Facebook, the photo posting date wouldn’t necessarily match the date that the picture was taken. Even the EXIF metadata on the photo wouldn’t always be reliable for assessing that date.

Why? People could have scanned offline photos. They might have uploaded pictures multiple times over years. Some people resort to uploading screenshots of pictures found elsewhere online. Some platforms strip EXIF data for privacy.

Through the Facebook meme, most people have been helpfully adding that context back in (e.g. “me in 2008, and me in 2018”), as well as further info, in many cases, about where and how the pic was taken (e.g. “2008 at University of Whatever, taken by Joe; 2018 visiting New City for this year’s such-and-such event”).

In other words, thanks to this meme, there’s now a very large data set of carefully curated photos of people from roughly 10 years ago and now.

Of course, not all the dismissive comments in my Twitter mentions were about the pictures being already available; some critics noted that there was too much crap data to be usable. But data researchers and scientists know how to account for this. As with hashtags that go viral, you can generally place more trust in the validity of data earlier on in the trend or campaign— before people begin to participate ironically or attempt to hijack the hashtag for irrelevant purposes.

As for bogus pictures, image recognition algorithms are plenty sophisticated enough to pick out a human face. If you uploaded an image of a cat 10 years ago and now—as one of my friends did, adorably—that particular sample would be easy to throw out.

What’s more, even if this particular meme isn’t a case of social engineering, the past few years have been rife with examples of social games and memes designed to extract and collect data. Just think of the mass data extraction of more than 70 million American Facebook users performed by Cambridge Analytica.

Is it bad that someone could use your Facebook photos to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily; in a way, it’s inevitable. Still, the broader takeaway here is that we need to approach our interactions with technology mindful of the data we generate and how it can be used at scale. I’ll offer three plausible use cases for facial recognition: one respectable, one mundane, and one risky.

The benign scenario: facial recognition technology, specifically age progression capability, could help with finding missing kids. Last year police in New Delhi, India reported tracking down nearly 3,000 missing kids in just four days using facial recognition technology. If the kids had been missing a while, they would likely look a little different from the last known photo of them, so a reliable age progression algorithm could be genuinely helpful here.

Facial recognition’s potential is mostly mundane: age recognition is probably most useful for targeted advertising. Ad displays that incorporate cameras or sensors and can adapt their messaging for age-group demographics (as well as other visually recognizable characteristics and discernible contexts) will likely be commonplace before very long. That application isn’t very exciting, but stands to make advertising more relevant. But as that data flows downstream and becomes enmeshed with our location tracking, response and purchase behavior, and other signals, it could bring about some genuinely creepy interactions.

Like most emerging technology, there’s a chance of fraught consequences. Age progression could someday factor into insurance assessment and healthcare. For example, if you seem to be aging faster than your cohorts, perhaps you’re not a very good insurance risk. You may pay more or be denied coverage.

After Amazon introduced real-time facial recognition services in late 2016, they began selling those services to law enforcement and government agencies, such as the police departments in Orlando and Washington County, Oregon. But the technology raises major privacy concerns; the police could use the technology not only to track people who are suspected of having committed crimes, but also people who are not committing crimes, such as protestors and others whom the police deem a nuisance.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked Amazon to stop selling this service. So did a portion of Amazon’s shareholders and employees, who asked Amazon to halt the service, citing concerns for the company’s valuation and reputation.

It’s tough to overstate the fullness of how technology stands to impact humanity. The opportunity exists for us to make it better, but to do that, we also must to recognize some of the ways in which it can get worse. Once we understand the issues, it’s up to all of us to weigh in.

So is this such a big deal? Are bad things going to happen because you posted some already-public profile pictures to your wall? Is it dangerous to train facial recognition algorithms for age progression and age recognition? Not exactly.

Regardless of the origin or intent behind this meme, we must all become savvier about the data we create and share, the access we grant to it, and the implications for its use. If the context was a game that explicitly stated that it was collecting pairs of then-and-now photos for age progression research, you could choose to participate with an awareness of who was supposed to have access to the photos and for what purpose.

The broader message, removed from the specifics of any one meme or even any one social platform, is that humans are the richest data sources for most of the technology emerging in the world. We should know this, and proceed with due diligence and sophistication.

Humans are the connective link between the physical and digital worlds. Human interactions are the majority of what makes the Internet of Things interesting. Our data is the fuel that makes businesses smarter and more profitable.

We should demand that businesses treat our data with due respect, by all means. But we also need to treat our own data with respect.


Kate O’Neill is the founder of KO Insights and the author of Tech Humanist and Pixels and Place: Connecting Human Experience Across Physical and Digital Spaces.

How social media can save lives during disasters

Soon after my family moved to New Orleans in the summer of 2005, we heard Mayor Ray Nagin’s first warnings about Hurricane Katrina. With two young children, a job I hadn’t started yet, and little in the way of savings, my wife and I couldn’t wrap our heads around leaving our freshly furnished home to spend money on a hotel in some distant city. So we ignored the call for evacuation.

As our neighbors began to pack up and head out, we figured they were overreacting. Then relatives began to make increasingly frantic phone calls and Kathy, a member of our religious community, dropped by at midnight to persuade us to leave. We got in our van around 3 a.m., some 12 hours before the rain began to fall.

Many deaths that occur due to flooding, fires, hurricanes, mudslides and other disasters could be prevented if more people left vulnerable areas in time – as my family did at the last minute. But people don’t always move, even after the authorities order their evacuation and warn them about imminent risks.

Since evacuating from New Orleans in 2005, I have traveled to vulnerable communities around the world to study how people get through and bounce back from major catastrophes. Through research in Japan, India, Israel and the Gulf Coast, I have sought to capture the factors that create resilience.

Given that evacuation almost always saves lives, I wanted to understand why people often don’t leave in the face of danger. To do so, I teamed up with colleagues, including some who work at Facebook, to analyze evacuation patterns based on information that people shared publicly on social media before, during and after hurricanes. We found that social networks, especially connections to those beyond immediate family, influence decisions to leave or stay in place before disasters.

Insights from social media

Many communities that are vulnerable to disasters put a lot of resources into providing residents with early warnings. For example, in Montecito, California, during the January 2018 mudslides, local authorities and disaster managers tried to warn residents through channels that included emails, social media alerts, press releases and deputies going door to door. Despite these efforts, not all residents evacuated, and nearly two dozen lost their lives.

Traditionally, much emphasis has been placed on the role of physical infrastructure preparedness during crisis. But in light of findings about the importance of social capital during crises, our team wanted to better illuminate human behavior during these events.

To understand evacuation behavior, social scientists have typically asked survivors weeks or even years after an event to recall what they did and why. Other researchers have waited at rest stops along evacuation routes and directly interviewed evacuees fleeing oncoming hurricanes or storms. We wanted to better capture nuances of human behavior without having to rely on memory or catching people as they stopped for gas and coffee.

To do so, we worked alongside researchers from Facebook using high-level, aggregated and anonymized summaries of city-level data before, during and after a disaster to construct the outcome variables “Did you evacuate?” and “If you did, how soon after the disaster did you return?”

Facebook engages in numerous academic collaborations across engineering, business and research disciplines. We believe that our research team is among the first to study the movement of so many people across multiple disasters using geolocation data.

Tight local networks may encourage staying put

Based on research showing that social ties provide resilience to people during crises, we suspected that social capital might be a critical factor in helping people decide whether to stay or go. By social capital, we mean people’s connections to others and resources available to them through their social communities, such as information and support.

Some aspects of these resources are reflected through social media. With this in mind, we set out to study whether attributes of people’s social networks impacted evacuation behavior.

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Visualizing the exodus of Miami-area residents in the days prior to Hurricane Irma’s landfall. Each dot represents an aggregate group of users within 0.5 latitude/longitude degrees, colored by evacuees (in blue) and non-evacuees (in red). Danae Metaxa and Paige Maas, CC BY-SA

We looked at three different types of social ties:

  • Bonding ties, which connect people to close family and friends
  • Bridging ties, which connect them through a shared interest, workplace or place of worship
  • Linking ties, which connect them to people in positions of power.

Our research – forthcoming in a peer-reviewed journal – indicates that, controlling for a number of other factors, individuals with more connections beyond their immediate families and close friends were more likely to evacuate from vulnerable areas in the days leading up to a hurricane.

We believe that this happens for several reasons. First, people with more bridging ties have far-reaching social networks. Those networks, in turn, may connect them to sources of support outside of areas directly affected by disasters. Second, people with more bridging ties may have built those networks by moving or traveling more, and thus feel more comfortable evacuating far from home during a disaster.

Linking ties are also important. Our data showed that users whose social networks included following politicians and political figures were more likely to evacuate. This may be because they were more likely to receive warning information and trust authority figures disseminating that information.

In contrast, we found that having stronger bonding ties – that is, family and friends – made people less likely to evacuate leading up to a hurricane. In our view, this is a critical insight. People whose immediate, close networks are strong may feel supported and better-prepared to weather the storm.

One North Carolina woman, trying to explain why she wasn’t leaving her vulnerable coastal home as Hurricane Florence approached, told a reporter that she didn’t want to leave family and friends unprotected. And staying in place could have positive outcomes, such as a higher likelihood of rebuilding in existing neighborhoods.

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Limerick at the Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West, Florida, during evacuation for Hurricane Ivan, Sept. 11, 2004. Dale M. McDonald, CC BY-ND

But it is also possible that seeing relatives, close friends and neighbors decide not to evacuate may lead people to underestimate the severity of an impending disaster. Such misconceptions could put people at higher immediate risk and increase damage to lives and property.


A version of this article appeared on The Conversation with the headline: How social networks can save lives when disasters strike

Danaë Metaxa, a Ph.D. student in computer science at Stanford University, and Paige Maas, a data scientist at Facebook, contributed to this article.

More than 800,000 angry users sign petition to change Snapchat redesign

In backlash against latest update, Snapchat users call on Snap Inc to change back to original design.

More than 800,000 angry users sign petition to change Snapchat redesign

A petition calling for Snapchat to revert its update to the original design has attracted more than 800,000 signatures. Photo: Sascha Steinbach/EPA


More than 800,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Snapchat to revert its update back to the original design.

The app’s latest redesign, which was released last week, focused on separating “media content” from that of “friends” among an array of other interface changes.

Snapchat Stories, which are videos and photos shared among users that vanish after 24 hours, also now appear with individual Snaps and direct messages.

The “Remove the new Snapchat update” petition, which is hosted on Change.org, was authored by Australian user Nic Rumsey.

“Many users have found that it has not made the app easier to use but has in fact made many features more difficult,” the petition reads.

“There is a general level of annoyance among users and many have decided to use a VPN app to go back to the old Snapchat, as that’s how annoying this new update has become.

“This petition aims to help convince Snap Inc to change the app back to the basics, before this new 2018 update”.

The update has outraged millennials and celebrities alike, with many protesting that the new interface is cluttered and difficult to use.

Under the comment section of the petition one signatory wrote, “I am signing because Snapchat is my favourite app, me and my friends use it all the time. I find this update confusing and childish-looking and I am considering no longer using it as long as the update stays.”

Deep likes and suggestive emojis: a guide to micro-cheating

Being a luddite has never been so dangerous. If you felt for the man who accidentally sent a nuclear missile alert out across Hawaii at the weekend, spare a thought for all those who also “pressed the wrong button” on Instagram, too. When I accidentally liked my ex’s photo, and my girlfriend found out, I also wished I had a nuclear bunker to hide in.

Deep likes and suggestive emojis: a guide to micro-cheating

It’s hard to keep up with what constitutes good social media etiquette and what looks like flirting. Here’s a quick guide to avoiding accidental infidelity online

According to experts, I am not alone: these social media flirtations – newly named as “micro-cheating” – threaten to ruin relationships everywhere. According to Dr Martin Graff, a reader of psychology at the University of South Wales who coined the term, “micro-cheating” is a category of infidelity that spans online flirtations, from posting the heart-eyes emoji on a picture, to privately messaging a former lover. In essence, it’s much the same as mingling by the watercooler or buying a stranger a drink in a bar, but now there’s a digital footprint, meaning you’re much more likely to get caught.

When it’s so hard to keep up with what constitutes good social media etiquette and what looks like flirting, how do we avoid accidental micro-cheating?

Liking old pictures

Under 21s call this the “deep like”: scrolling back on social media and liking someone’s photos from weeks ago. It’s micro-cheating because it’s intended to send a signal that says: “Look, I burrowed into your history and I don’t care if you know it!” or “See, I found you fit in 2016, too!” All in all, best to avoid liking anything more than one week old.

Be careful who you search for

We’ve all been there: you go to show your other half a picture of your cousin’s baby, you click on the search bar, and before you can type anything, a list of your recent searches appears. There’s the woman you went out with in college in the top spot and the last person you slept with down at number three. Your partner? Nowhere to be found. If you insist on being a creep, don’t forget the cardinal rule: always clear your search history.

Beware the wrong emoji

With every new update comes the mind-boggling confusion of new emojis. Some things we can be sure of: winky face = unequivocally flirty; waving hand = desperate; aubergine = full-blown request for an affair. For everything else, context is vital. So if you find yourself with a crush on someone who’s not your partner, it’s best not to send them any emojis at all. There was a time when we lived without them, after all.

Never follow your ex

Or loads of attractive strangers, for that matter, because the list of people you follow is public. So yes, we can see the three Sports Illustrated models you followed this week, the fact that you started following your ex again, and the ex before that. Instagram handily puts in it order, so we can even see when you decided it was a good idea to get back in touch.

Posting sexy selfies

Sexy swimwear selfies are great; everyone needs a January ego boost. But thirst traps – hot photo uploads designed for raking in likes – are a strange way to communicate with your partner, who wakes up to your snoring, nearly naked body every morning. It doesn’t take a detective to deduce that a photo of you looking your absolute best might be aimed at a wider audience.

Hanging on to Tinder

Everyone has it: that embarrassing page of apps, three or four swipes across. You may have promised to have deleted your dating apps, but nestled somewhere between your period tracker and your photo airbrusher is Tinder, Bumble or Grindr. You only go on it “to show your mates” or “because you find it relaxing”. Nope. Micro-cheating.

Tech review: Snapchat growing like Facebook, without the baggage

In today’s social media industry, you essentially have two options: Die young, or live long enough to turn into Facebook.

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, appears to be headed down the latter path. After a disappointing earnings report last week, which sent the company’s stock tumbling by nearly 20 percent, Snap announced a sweeping strategy shift that contained more than a few hints of Facebook envy.

Tech review: Snapchat growing like Facebook, without the baggage

The app, which featured a minimalist design that appealed to teenagers while often perplexing their parents, will soon have a personalized feed that uses algorithms to show relevant stories to users, rather than making them sift through a reverse-chronological feed. Twitter made a similar change last year, also under pressure from Facebook.

Snap has also revamped its ad-buying process to be more like Facebook’s, with ads that can be purchased through an automated system. And it signaled last week that it wanted to expand its presence in the developing world, where Facebook is dominant. Only about 25 percent of Snapchat’s daily active users live outside North America and Europe, compared with more than 65 percent of Facebook’s users.

It’s hard to blame Snap, which declined to comment for this column, for going the Facebook route. Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, have been trying to copy Snapchat out of existence for years, and they might be succeeding.

Instagram Stories, a near-clone of Snapchat’s most distinctive feature, has reached 300 million daily active users, nearly twice as many as Snapchat. Facebook’s enormous profits have given lofty expectations to investors in other social media companies, and its more than two billion users have made everything else seem small by comparison.

But Snap’s pivot is more than a necessary business move. It’s an indictment of our current tech landscape, and a warning sign for other start-ups hoping to take on the largest internet companies on their own terms. If a wildly creative company with an app used by 178 million people every day can still be crushed by Facebook, how is anyone supposed to succeed?

Snap still has lots of things going for it. It remains popular among American teenagers, perhaps the most highly coveted marketing demographic in the world. Snapchat has more users in the United States who are 12 to 24 years old than either Facebook or Instagram, according to eMarketer. It has also been able to buck Silicon Valley trends and introduced some truly innovative ideas, like the concept that not all digital communication should be permanently archived. And while Snap is losing money, many of its losses stem from changes it has made in order to compete with Facebook.

Still, the fact that Snap’s future is uncertain should worry you, even if you’ve never used its products. A world in which every successful internet platform is expected to behave like Facebook is a more boring, less innovative world, with no companies to challenge Facebook’s vision of the future. It’s not a good sign that in order to survive as a competitor, Snap may have to abandon the qualities that made it different in the first place.

Part of Snapchat’s appeal when it first appeared six years ago was how different it was from other messaging apps and social networks. Its disappearing photos encouraged honest sharing with close friends, rather than showing off to a large audience of acquaintances. Snapchat’s Discover program was one of the first examples of a social network paying publishers to create original, high-quality content. And unlike Mark Zuckerberg, who once said privacy was an outdated concept, Mr. Spiegel believed in safeguarding users’ data, saying in a 2015 interview that “we care about not being creepy.”

Snapchat’s distinctive qualities also helped steer it clear of some problems that are now plaguing its rivals.

It appears that Snapchat, unlike Facebook, was never exploited by Russian propagandists to influence an election, and it has taken a responsible approach to preventing false information from appearing on its platform. (Snap’s vice president for content, Nick Bell, recently told Bloomberg Businessweek, “We only work with authoritative and credible media companies, and we unashamedly have a significant team of producers, creators and journalists.”) Snapchat has not been overrun by bots and neo-Nazis, as Twitter has. And unlike Google, Snap has not harvested its users’ data in order to chase them around the internet with spammy ads for diet pills and miracle teas.

Snapchat isn’t perfect by any means, and some of the company’s wounds have been self-inflicted. Snap has misled users about its data collection practices in the past, which led to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. It spent millions of dollars developing Spectacles, a pair of sunglasses with a built-in Snapchat camera, that everyone talked about but few bought. (Last week, the company wrote off $40 million in losses on the project.) And nobody forced Mr. Spiegel to raise billions of dollars from investors who would demand Facebook-style growth.

Billy Gallagher, a former TechCrunch writer whose book on Snap’s corporate history, “How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars,” will come out next year, characterized the company’s recent changes as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” He told me that while investors might appreciate touches like an automated ad-buying system and a more intuitive app, Snapchat’s core users could feel betrayed.

“A social network acts against users’ interests when it needs to make money,” he said.

Snapchat, Mr. Gallagher writes, was never supposed to be just a photo-sharing app. It was the embodiment of Mr. Spiegel’s worldview about how the internet should work — temporary instead of permanent, private instead of public, candid instead of rehearsed. I asked Mr. Gallagher why Snap needed to compromise its values in pursuit of Facebook-style growth. Couldn’t it reject Wall Street’s demands, concentrate on making its existing users happy and be satisfied as a smaller and more focused company?

Mr. Gallagher said Snap’s employees, many of whom joined because they believed that the company would grow to enormous size, might bristle at any strategy that would hurt the value of their stock options. And he pointed out that Mr. Spiegel, a grandiose 27-year-old who reportedly keeps a portrait of Steve Jobs on a wall of his office, might not be satisfied with merely modest success.

“He has grand, sweeping visions of the future,” Mr. Gallagher said. “It would be very hard for him to eat a slice of humble pie and say: ‘We’re not going to be Facebook. We’re going to be a 150-million-user social network that plays in a well carved-out niche.’”

Last week, Mr. Spiegel pledged to keep Snap’s core values intact while expanding its business. But growth often comes at the expense of experimentation, and Snap’s decision to become more like Facebook is a worrisome sign for people who care about preserving the internet’s quirky heterogeneity. Snapchat’s users were once offered something genuinely different, but it may be time for them to expect more of the same.


SOURCE: The Bloomgist/NYSE/New York Times

Facebook users bigger than Africa’s population

Facebook Inc said on Tuesday that two billion people are regularly using its flagship service, marching past another milestone in its growth from a college curiosity in the United States to the world’s largest social media network.

 

The user base is bigger than the population of any single country, and of six of the seven continents. It represents more than a quarter of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg disclosed the number to his followers in a Facebook post. “It’s an honor to be on this journey with you,” he wrote.

Africa with a continent of over 1.2 billion helped Facebook reach the remarkable milestone with over 300 million Internet users of which 170 million are active Facebook users.

Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria, Egypt and south Africa all set the pace for other countries in the continent with the the highest active users in Africa.

Although only 170 million out of 300 million internet users are active on Facebook, the 94 percent increase of last year from 2015 shows more Africans are getting more aware of the social network.

Facebook defines a monthly active user as a registered Facebook user who logged in and visited Facebook through its website or a mobile device, or used its Messenger app, in the past 30 days. It does not include people who use the Instagram or WhatsApp networks but not Facebook.

The company said in May that duplicate accounts, according to an estimate from last year, may have represented some 6 per cent of its worldwide user base.

The social network’s user population dwarfs that of similar companies. Twitter Inc reported in April monthly active users of 328 million, while Snap Inc’s Snapchat had 166 million daily users at the end of the first quarter.

WeChat, a unit of Tencent Holdings Ltd and a widely used service in China, said in May that it had 938 million monthly active users in the first quarter.

Facebook had 1.94 billion people using its service monthly as of March 31, an increase of 17 per cent from a year earlier. It reached 1 billion in October 2012.

The company, which Zuckerberg started in 2004 in his college dorm room, uses its huge size advantage to lure advertisers, offering them highly targeted marketing capabilities based on its data about users.

The number of advertisers topped 5 million in April, the company said.

Facebook’s growth has increasingly come from outside the United States, Canada and Europe. Three years ago, those regions accounted for some 38 percent of users, compared with about 30 percent in the first quarter of this year.

To increase penetration rates in developing nations, Facebook has rolled out pared-down versions of its apps that use less data, and it has been developing solar-powered drones to extend internet connectivity around the planet.

What is wrong with slaying?

By Olaleye Omoteniola Akinwalere


So, the other day I was just going through my Facebook page when I saw this post on slay queens. It was awfully shaming people who regarded themselves as slay queens or added ‘pepper dem gang’ to their posts on their pictures. I was taken aback, like seriously? I am a slay queen o and I slay for Jesus.

What is wrong with slaying?

Yes! Need I remind you all that this slang was actually gotten from a song? Yes! Olamide’s song – ‘Oh baby’. He wasn’t referring to a slut or an ashawo in that song. He was singing for his queen; the love of his life. So, what’s wrong with you all? Why can’t someone just slay in peace with clothes and shoes she got with her hard-earned money? Why can’t someone slay in pictures that she took with a phone/tab she bought with her own money?

They see your slaying pictures and come for you. Talking about how her mother sells pepper and she’s slaying on IG, uncle mind your business. She’s slaying because she’s working hard, trying so much to free herself from the pepper-selling spirit so she doesn’t end up like her mother. ‘Isn’t that Kemi posting slaying pictures of herself on Facebook? I know her. Her mum hawks pap early in the mornings, we live on the same street.’ Yes, auntie, we know. She’s the one. Please, where in Nigeria’s constitution did they write the category of people who can and cannot slay?

People see you working hard, trying to break free from the norm but because they cannot understand why you won’t just conform to the norm, they start talking. They don’t understand why you want to be more. They say: ‘why can’t she just be like everyone else?’ We all hate whatwe don’t understand. People tend to resent what they can’t comprehend. That’s normal, but please, leave her alone, let her be. Let her slay. Mind your business and focus on achieving your own goals. I love to SLAY. I work hard for my money, in fact, so hard that sometimes I break down because I stretch myself to its limits but I don’t care. I’m afraid of poverty and so I work some more. I’m not normal, I’m not average. I am not the status quo. I am that extra piece of cake on your dessert plate, I am the stew on your jollof rice. Yes! I am the M&M in your Coldstone ice-cream. I am different and I’ll never fit in.

AND SO…. I KEEP ON TRYING.

I keep on trying

Trying day and night

To see the glorious future

I so much desire for myself

The road is very rough

The tides are furious

The storm is wailing

But I remain undaunted

I put in my best possible

Most nights I’m brainstorming

I’m restless

Because I yearn for something more

 

Something better

Something great

My spirit is restless

It’s tired of being confined to this space

I want to explore

To lift my wings and soar

To try and try again

To know success can be achieved

To do my own thing

To love what I do

To do what I love

And create a future for others

I yearn to soar far higher

Than my strength can even afford

To stretch myself to its limits

For so great men were made