Sorry, but I feel kinda weird about ‘Snap Map’

It’s a curious thing being able to see the location of many of your friends, colleagues, lovers and even family members on a virtual map. But, that’s precisely what Snapchat’s new feature Snap Maps is offering up. And, honestly, this new feature released just a day ago has already turned me into a creepy lurker.

Your Snap Map is essentially a virtual map populated by your friends who are represented in Bitmoji. The map, accessible by pinching your fingers in the app’s camera, updates users’ locations whenever the app is in use. While the feature doesn’t track your location while you’re off the app, if you’re a heavy Snapchat user, the map can give a reliable idea to friends as to your whereabouts.

Snap Map is off by default and users have to opt in if they want to make themselves visible on the map. And, you can also choose who sees that location be all your friends, a select group of friends, or just you.

Image: snap

From the moment I started using the feature I felt privy to the kind of information I knew I shouldn’t have access to. Like, where one of my esteemed colleagues was sleeping? In fact, the Snap Map’s level of accuracy gave me the actual cross street of her address. When I asked her if that was her address, she confirmed that she lives on that very street. This level of accuracy when it comes to location data is no accident. The map intends to make it easy for friends in crowded parks and festivals.

Once I’d established the reliability of the map, that’s when I really began to explore. I saw what my teenage cousin was getting up to throughout the day. I could see she was at home; her Bitmoji hovering on her lane in a rural village in Devon, UK. Naturally, as a protective older cousin, I don’t exactly relish the idea of anyone let alone myself being able to track a young person’s location throughout a day.

My worries didn’t end there, though. What if one evening, when perusing the map, I learn that all my friends are hanging out without me? Instagram and Snapchat Stories already give me heaps of FOMO. I’m not sure I can handle anymore. I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, lots of people have taken to social media to say the map is yet another FOMO-inducing feature:

What if the map informs me that an ex-boyfriend starts occasionally sleeping in a location different to his own address? Social media is already ripe with opportunities for lurking on exes, crushes and even current partners. And, sometimes that lurking leads to unpleasant discoveries.

The app’s Ghost Mode also makes it possible to lurk in a clandestine fashion. You can be entirely invisible on the map while still seeing where your pals are. When you activate Ghost Mode your previously-broadcast location clears in seconds, much like donning an invisibility cloak. Creepy much?

The actual idea behind the new feature is to encourage Snapchatters to use the app to facilitate their social life. And, the revelation of intimate location data is symptomatic of that.

The feature is, of course, great when you’re actively using it to socialise with people, but heavy users will need to take the data with a pinch of salt lest they fall into dangerous and unhealthy habits. Don’t get sucked in by the map’s revelatory nature, and don’t read too much into people’s locations. After all, it only updates when people are actually using the app. So, while you’re panicking about your boyfriend’s sleeping location, he could very well be tucked up in his own bed with a hot water bottle.

Proceed with caution, friends.

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7 ways to protect yourself online when social media is harming your self-esteem

Image: vicky leta / mashable

Social media can help us feel more connected to our friends, even when we’re far away. But, for many of us, the culture of of oversharing and #humblebragging can have a serious impact on our self-esteem.

With 10 million new photographs uploaded to Facebook every hour, experts say social media is a mine of endless potential for young people to be drawn into appearance-based comparisons. Instagram has been recently ranked worst for young people’s mental health, and causes feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

In the age of ubiquitous social media, how can we protect ourselves online when our use of social media is directly impacting on our self-esteem?

Create a self-appreciation folder on your phone

Student Issie Lakin, 17, says that constantly looking at “beautiful women with ‘perfect’ bodies, curves, expensive clothing and constant travelling” has had a definite impact on the way she views herself. This constant comparison to other people on Instagram is damaging, she says, so she tries to remind herself of the positive things in her life.”The best coping strategy for me was acceptance and looking at motivational images and daily reminders to remind myself of how much I have achieved,” says Lakin.

“Cheesy as it sounds, a thing for me to do was to look up self-motivation and appreciation quotes, downloading them onto my phone and putting them into a folder. Whenever I have a bad day I look at the folder,” she says.

Delete the apps from your phone

You don’t need to delete your actual accounts, but deleting the apps from your phone can help with the urge to constantly check these platforms. If you find that checking Instagram is sending you into a spiral of negative thoughts, deleting the apps even if for a short period of time could give you the distance you need.

Avoid Instagram’s ‘Explore’ tab

Some people find Instagram’s “Explore” tab to be full of photographs and videos that make them feel bad about themselves. Steering clear of it can prevent you from encountering photos that you don’t need to see and that wouldn’t ordinarily appear in your timeline.

Image: vicky leta / mashable

Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad

Jenny Rae, a 25-year-old blogger who’s currently “flashpacking” in southeast Asia, says social media has harmed her self-esteem in the past and she often feels insecure when comparing herself to others.”I protect myself online by attempting to consume social media mindfully. Someone once advised me to unfollow any accounts that made you feel negative in any way, and only follow ones that inspire you or make you feel good,” says Rae.

Impose a limit on your social media usage

Integrative psychotherapist Hilda Burke says the main challenge for many people is that social media triggers the tendency to compare oneself to others. Burke says that “a certain amount” of comparing oneself to others is “part of human nature.” She recommends imposing limits on how much time you spend on social media per day. She says that limit often affords people the space to focus on building their own confidence. Some people only check Facebook during their working day, and keep their free time strictly Facebook-free. Others limit their Instagram activity to when they’re on holiday.

Woman using touchscreen smartphone

Image: Getty Images

Turn off your push notifications

Social media is invasive, and a constant stream of push notifications can draw us into apps that are toxic for our self-esteem. Some people turn off their push notifications so that their phone isn’t constantly tempting them to enter those apps.

Talk to someone

If social media is getting to be too much, try talking to someone about how you’re feeling. is a free anonymous and confidential online text chat and you can talk to trained listeners and online therapists who will listen to you.

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This app claims to tell you if someone’s into you by reading your texts

Image: ambar del moral / mashable

Text messages are the currency of modern-day courtship. But, when the texts start to become scarce, many of us search for signs of a relationship’s demise.

Instead of passing around your phone over brunch with friends, how about getting an app to overthink and analyse your text messages for you? Crushh is an algorithm-driven app that reads your text messages and according to its creator can interpret how much the other person likes you and detect any possible shifts in a relationship.

Creator Es Lee says the idea for the app came when he was sitting in a park with a “confused” friend who was new to the New York City dating scene. “He’d gone on a date that he thought had gone really well, but the woman hadn’t responded to his last text,” says Lee.

“I flipped through the text exchange and I could tell that she liked him from the ‘body language’ displayed in the texts. But that hadn’t been too obvious to my friend,” he continued. This textual body language refers to the punctuation, emoji and language used in a text, as well as the frequency of the messages and the time it takes to respond.

Lee decided to convert this analysis into an algorithm that works in a similar way to a human brain, minus the memory problems. The app takes the role of a friend and decodes text message chains using data and algorithms developed from analyzing more than 200,000 relationships and consulting with sociologists, psychologists and dating experts, says Lee.

To use the app, you need to select a contact and specify your relationship to that person. It then analyses your text messages already in your phone.

Image: rachel thompson / mashable

The app analyses sentiment, punctuation, emoji usage as well as message length and response rate to give you a score out of 5, telling you if that person likes you more, less or the same as you like them.

Image: rachel thompson / mashable

Machine learning algorithms are used to adjust scoring for personal behaviour, taking into account factors like age, and personality. “It takes into account personal behaviours,” says Lee. “Things like, the features he or she does and doesn’t use. It looks at individual patterns prevalent in a person’s messaging behaviour.”

The app also charts your relationship over time, and can point out any changes in messaging behaviour. Very useful if you’re trying to pinpoint the moment your relationship began turning sweet or sour.

Image: crushh

Does it actually work, though?

Can an app really tell you how much a person likes you based on a string of texts? We contacted two experts and neither were entirely convinced.

Stephen Pulman, a professor at Oxford University’s Department of Computer Science, says the app looks like a “straightforward application” of sentiment analysis and emotion detection techniques, which can be “reasonably accurate.”

“The problem is that nuances like sarcasm and metaphor are still difficult for this kind of technology to detect. Problems may arise in the interpretation of the contents of a message,” says Pulman. “The only technical problem I can see is determining whether the topic of the text actually concerns the person or the relationship, rather than being generally warm about something else,” Pulman continues.

Furthermore, the technology needed to analyse a relationship via text messages is very advanced and likely still at the academic research phase.

“What I can say for certain is that the app doesnt understand the messages and it’s making a decision based on the syntactical attributes of the messages without understanding the semantics behind it,” says Mark Bishop, Director of the Tungsten Centre for Intelligent Data Analytics at Goldsmiths, University of London.

“We’re crowdsourcing intelligence about how a person texts” – Es Lee, creator of Crushh.

The app is only available on Android because iPhones don’t allow apps to access iMessages. Lee is hopeful that Apple will change this. The app also doesn’t pull in messages sent on apps like WhatsApp, Messenger or Snapchat, so if your convos are happening on multiple apps, your score and history won’t give an accurate reflection of your relationship.

Lee regards Crushh as a “diagnostic tool” for relationships, and a way to use data to pinpoint problems and potential areas to work on. “We’re crowdsourcing intelligence about how a person texts,” says Lee. He says there are no plans to sell that data and wants to convert that intelligence into advice and tips.

Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be able to use data to figure out why we’re being ghosted? Alas, if you’re an iPhone user, it looks you’ll have to keep going to brunch with friends for your answers.

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‘Digital wellness lady’ wants students to unplug or at least look up

Put down the phone.
Image: bob al-greene/mashalbe

Step into the Center for Digital Wellness and you’ll likely hear people chatting and that’s about it. Because that’s what the Wi-Fi disabled room at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is for re-connecting and interacting with your fellow humans no screens, gizmos, or gadgets in the way.

You might find the center’s founder, Sylvia Frejd, a minister and counselor by training, in the conversation corner with the fireplace lit, or at the so-called “kitchen table,” ready for a chat and face-to-face interaction. “Look up,” she advises students and faculty and staff often walking with their heads down in their phones. “Experience the world around you.”

It’s no wonder she’s known as the “digital wellness lady.”

Most recently, Frejd challenged students to take a 24-hour digital fast in conjunction with the National Day of Unplugging, which is no easy feat. “Some students look at us like ‘I could never do that,'” she said.

Some of the feedback she got back about the day was positive: how enjoyable it was; how stress levels dropped; how it felt like a refreshing recharge. Others told her how challenging it was and how they couldn’t do it. That’s OK, she said in a phone call last week at least they are trying.

The conversation corner gets used at the Center for Digital Wellness.

Image: courtesy of sylvia frejd

She knows it’s hard to go cold turkey from checking our phones constantly, so she offers some tips and advice to work up to a full day gadget-free. She suggests “mini habit changes,” like keeping the phone in the backseat while driving; keeping the phone off the table during meals or committing to a digital-free meeting or conversation with a friend.

Too much of a good thing

Frejd said many students leave home for college lacking real-life conversation skills. That’s compounded by the freedom of being on their own for the first time with what feels like unlimited access to mindless video game sessions, long Netflix binges and endless scrolling through Instagram. “A lot of students havent developed those muscles for face-to-face conversation,” she said.

To get those muscles working, she opened the wellness center at the Christian university in the fall of 2014, shortly after co-authoring the book, The Digital Invasion: How Technology Is Shaping You and Your Relationships. She says the center’s name is purposely positive and not something like “the Center for Internet Addiction.” “We love our technology,” she acknowledges, but it can go too far. The center has plastered the campus with posters and chalk messages on the ground. Supporters have even set up pop-up tents around campus to encourage passersby to “look up” and staged a dining hall flash mob.

The “Look Up” flash mob encourages students to unplug.

Image: courtesy of sylvia frejd

She has students referred to her who are on academic probation because of a social media or video game addiction. She said many can’t turn off streaming videos. She talks them through their addictions which she says usually stem from anxiety. Research shows one of the biggest mental health issues at college campuses is anxiety, usually in the form of social anxiety.

Learning to unplug

Shaquille Cook, 23, graduated from Liberty University two years ago and still works at the school as an adviser but in a recent phone call he was still as excited about the digital detox program as when he was a student-worker at the center. Before he graduated with a degree in psychology in 2015, he wrote a review on the center’s Facebook page: “This center is focused on preparing people for a healthy digital life as well as being aware of others by not being distracted by being on cell phones all day. Love this place!!!!!!!”

And he still does. The center taught him how to live a more meaningful life. “The best benefit that I got from it was I was purposefully engaging with people.” His trips on the bus usually were devoted to checking Facebook and the news on his phone and listening to music while plugged into his headphones. But because of the center, he realized, “Theres a whole bus full of people I could engage with.” Most importantly, he’s maintained this lifestyle.

Cook said he’s “intentional and engaged with my surroundings” as much as possible, but he knows this is a struggle for a lot of people. Many have trouble making eye contact, having real conversations, and staying away from the allure of social media pings, notifications and online popularity. “Do not trade your Facebook friends for your real friends,” he said. “Be engaged with real conversation.”

“My job is getting harder and harder,” Frejd said.

The digital detox concept is nothing new with expensive gadget-free retreats and movements to unplug, but Frejd is trying to tap into the early stages of our phone dependency by working with new students. She hopes her ideas can permeate to even younger students whom she speaks with at middle school and high school presentations. With young people getting their first cellphones closer to 10 years old, according to recent findings, they are “even more immersed in that technology.”

“My job is getting harder and harder,” she said.

Personal connection

Her digital crusade all started after looking at her personal life with her kids constantly playing video games and retorting back that she was always on her laptop. So she started researching how to manage her digital life.

Frejd opened the Center for Digital Wellness after examining her own digital habits.

Image: courtesy of sylvia frejd

After she worked on the book about the impact of our devices on our relationships, she went all in on teaching students, adults, and parents on how to handle the digital overload keeping us from talking to each other or exploring nature. People tell Frejd, Wow we need this. So she continues teaching prevention, awareness, and education. “I keep talking about it,” she said.

While Liberty University claims to be the only college campus with a dedicated center like this, colleges are well aware of the pitfalls of social media and smartphone addictions and have been for years. Frejd said she’s contacted by other schools often who want to implement this type of dedicated space for their internet-dependent students.

It’s not all meaningful conversations and phone-free walks through the quad for Frejd. “People catch me” on the phone, she said, and they say her well-worn phrase back to her: “Digital wellness lady, look up!” She knows she’ll continue to get busted for her own bad habits they are very hard to break. Like she said, “We all need to work harder at it.”

WATCH: When the internet goes out, there’s nowhere to hide

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The dos and don’ts of dealing with death on Facebook

Image: vicky leta / mashable

When someone you love passes away, turning to Facebook can be a profoundly helpful way of processing that loss and expressing your grief. But, for the deceased’s nearest and dearest, social media can be deeply overwhelming and upsetting in the immediate aftermath and even the long after a person’s death.

People grieve in different ways. What’s upsetting for some people can be comforting for others. Knowing what is and isn’t appropriate can be extremely hard to gauge. Mashable spoke to grief experts and a number of people who’ve dealt with loss to find out what one should and should not do on Facebook following a bereavement:

Don’t rush to post your farewell message

Some people feel compelled to write a farewell message on a the deceased persons wall as soon as they learn of their passing. Be mindful that some family members and close friends might not have been informed yet. Don’t let them find out about it on Facebook by rushing to say your goodbyes.

Costanza Passeri, an account executive at the PR agency Dimoso, found out about the death of two friends because people posted farewell messages on Facebook hours after. “I know that everyone has the right of express the pain in many different ways but I feel there is still a timing to respect. I felt heartbroken about the news and for the way I discovered it, which was so impersonal,” says Passeri.

Tamanna Miah agrees. She found out via Facebook that her best friend had died. “It was awful waking up to it first thing, seeing the news on there, and seeing people bombard his Facebook and Twitter with comments, photos and messages.”

Do follow the family’s lead

Taking the lead from the deceased’s family is best. Wait for the family to officially announce the person’s death before you consider commenting or posting anything.

Keep the ‘miss you’ messages to a minimum

When you’ve lost a friend and you really miss them, it’s hard to know what to do with those feelings. It’s worth bearing in mind that tagging the deceased in a post might show up on their friends’ and family members’ News Feeds. And, if you’re not the only one posting messages like these, it could be overwhelming for their loved ones.

When art director Mirella Aponte’s boyfriend Dan died four years ago, she says around 30 different people posted “miss my best friend” on his wall after he died. “Its weird to keep on posting how much you miss someone and tagging that person,” says Aponte. “If it’s a birthday or an anniversary I think it’s forgivable. Otherwise it is annoying. Call your best friend when you’re sad, dont bother his Facebook friends with it.”

Image: bob al-greene / mashable

Do share memories in private messages

Sharing your thoughts about or memories of the deceased with a member of their family via a private message can be comforting for loved ones. But, being inundated with messages like these can be overwhelming. Make it known that there’s no obligation for them to respond.

Psychotherapist Hilda Burke says that for many it’s a huge comfort to receive messages of condolences, memories and images of the person who’s died. “That can be overwhelming and they’d rather make sense of their feelings in a more private way,” says Burke.

Don’t constantly tag the deceased

On Facebook, we’re forever sharing videos that we know our friends will enjoy. But, when your friend passes away and you spot something you know they’d love, it’s hard to know what to do. Dr. Sheri Jacobson, clinical director of Harley Therapy, says it’s important to keep others in mind when you’re considering tagging the deceased in a post.

“Don’t keep sharing posts that tag the deceased,” says Jacobson. “While you do need to mourn, and while you might feel you are honouring the memory of your loved one, others might find it disrespectful or an unnecessary reminder,” she says.

Keep in mind that whatever you post on their wall will likely appear in family members’ and close friends’ feeds. Consider typing the person’s name without tagging them in the post, which still gets the point across.

Don’t ‘showboat’

If you’re tempted to make a big post rather than just offering condolences, it’s wise to consider working through some of your emotions first. If you aren’t sure if your post is over-the-top, you could ask someone who isn’t mourning what they think before sharing it online. With long posts, it’s important not to ‘showboat’. There is no need to prove to the world how close you were to the deceased with long, detailed posts about all the moments you shared together,” says Sheri Jacobson. “It can feel good in the moment, like a sort of honouring of the one you’ve lost. But do consider how it might affect others.”

Do keep your questions offline

Asking questions about a person’s death could cause upset to others. “I hated it when people kept asking so many questions again and again when they could have easily found out from other sources,” says Tamanna Miah. Explaining the same thing over and over again upset her even more.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Do know your place

When you’re thinking about posting on Facebook, consider where you would sit at the funeral. “Would you sit on the front row? Are you family or their best friend? Dont start posting about it if youre not part of the front row,” says Mirella Aponte. “When Dan died an old friend picked up on it and posted “Rest In Peace” on his wall. This was while we were still contacting the rest of the family.So not cool,” Aponte continues.

Don’t share anything too personal

Aponte says that by sharing your deep feelings on Facebook you reach people that shouldnt be in contact with that information. Your deeply personal message could be construed as a cryptic message from a stranger by the deceased’s family and close friends.

By sharing a private moment on a public platform, you might accidentally mention an event that another friend wasn’t invited to, or expose a secret that the family wasn’t aware of. “It’s not the time to ruffle feathers. Remember, others are suffering too, and everyone will be more emotional,” Jacobson says.

Don’t appropriate an image of the deceased

If you’re not an immediate family member or best friend, posting a Photoshopped photo of the deceased isn’t a good thing to do. This might sound like common sense, but unfortunately, it happens. Don’t Photoshop the deceased onto anything and don’t turn their photos into memes.

Don’t feel guilty for unfriending

If you are a family member or friend of the deceased, don’t feel guilty about unfollowing or blocking the deceased. If it’s too painful to keep seeing them tagged in posts, then do what is right for you.

We all deal with loss in our own unique ways. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to expressing your grief or leaving a message of condolence. Most important of all: Be mindful of other people when you’re posting on Facebook. And, don’t do anything that could risk upset.

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