Even after blocking an ex on Facebook, the platform continues to promote painful reminders
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This article was originally published by The Conversation. You can read it here.

Anthony Pinter, a Ph.D. student in information science at the University of Colorado Boulder, recently completed a study on people's experiences with upsetting and unexpected reminders of an ex on Facebook.

His team's findings are examples of algorithmic cruelty – instances in which algorithms are designed to do something and do it well, but end up backfiring because they can't fully grasp the nuances of human relationships and behavior.

How has social media made breakups more difficult?


Anthony Pinter: Breaking up with a loved one has always meant making difficult choices: who gets the couch, who gets the fridge, who gets the cat.

But before social media, once the messy details were sorted, it wasn't too difficult to create the physical, mental and emotional space that research has shown to help with the healing process. In the past, you could simply stop going to your ex's favorite coffee shop. You could box up photos and put them in storage.

Social media has complicated things. Platforms like Facebook are designed to encourage connecting with your network and reminiscing about the past. It recommends upcoming events, suggests people to add as friends, resurfaces old memories and photos and highlights what your friends are doing.

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But after a breakup, you probably don't want to be alerted about a new friend your ex has made on your news feed.

Nor do you want to see an old photo with your ex reappear as a "Memory." And with access to your ex's online life just a search and a click away, it's easy to succumb to forms of "Facebook stalking," in which you periodically check in on their profile to see what they're up to and whom they're hanging out with.

Not surprisingly, Facebook has been shown to prolong the healing process of a breakup. Conversely, you might also start to realize your ex has already moved on, which can be just as painful.

"Just block your ex," you'll hear people say. Why isn't this enough?

Pinter: First, blocking or unfriending isn't as simple as it sounds. It can be done in as little as three clicks. But once you've done it, it's hard to walk back from; if you ever decide to unblock someone or refriend them, social media platforms will often alert the ex that you've done so – which can send ambiguous signals and expectations.

But yes, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have features meant to prevent these unwanted encounters – unfollow, unfriend or block. A few years ago, Facebook even developed a feature called Take A Break, which effectively mutes someone for a set period of time.

However, people are still seeing reminders of their exes on social media – even when they've actively taken advantage of features that supposedly prevent these encounters.

My colleagues and I conducted in-depth interviews with 19 people who had had an unexpected and upsetting reminder of an ex on Facebook.

One participant mentioned that the mother of an ex's new partner was suggested as a possible friend. Another saw their ex commenting on a mutual friend's post.

In one case, an old photo that Facebook resurfaced via the Memories feature – from a beach vacation the two had taken when they'd been a couple – didn't even include an image of the interviewee's ex. But being prompted to think about that vacation was upsetting enough.

What's really going on here?

Pinter: This is happening because the algorithms still don't fully understand humans.

While you can tell Facebook you don't want to see your ex anymore, the algorithm doesn't realize that this might also include peripheral reminders of your ex, like a photo of his or her best friend, or a comment he or she has made on a mutual friend's wall.

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Context matters, but algorithms often don't have the ability to understand it. Even though that photo from the beach might not have anyone in it, it's loaded with memories that you'd rather not think about.

In our work, we want to bring attention to what we call the "social periphery" – the satellites of a relationship, romantic or otherwise. Systems like Facebook are built to cultivate community, but the algorithms that undergird the system often rely on simplistic representations of people's experiences like "relationship status" or "blocked."

Features meant to prevent upsetting encounters in the wake of a breakup or other fraught events similarly rely on these simplistic settings, ignoring the realities of a social periphery.

To the algorithm, the suggestion of the ex's new partner's mother is a perfectly reasonable suggestion – you probably share mutual friends that alert some sort of internal metric. But a human would know better than to make that suggestion.

Why do these findings matter?

Pinter: Algorithms are becoming more integrated into our everyday lives, and social media isn't the only place where we're seeing these undesirable outcomes occur. For example, as people begin to rely more heavily on voice assistants like Siri or Alexa to send texts, we inevitably run into situations in which the programs mishear us and, for example, send a wildly inappropriate message to a boss or parent.

Our findings present a challenge for designers and developers: How can we create algorithms that are better attuned to the deep, lived experiences of the humans who will use these systems? It's unlikely that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. On Facebook, features like Take a Break or blocking can be seen as important steps. But it's clear that there's a lot more work to do.

Anthony Pinter is a Ph.D. Student in Information Science, University of Colorado Boulder



Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."