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Culture

Even after blocking an ex on Facebook, the platform continues to promote painful reminders

Even after blocking an ex on Facebook, the platform continues to promote painful reminders
via Unsplash

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.

via Unsplash

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.

via Book Catalog / Flickr

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



Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

Photo by Tod Perry

A recreation of the note left on Brooke Lacey's car.

If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255) or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line: 741741.


There’s an old Hebrew saying that if you “save one life, you save the world entire.” Who knows if Brooke Lacey, 22, had that lofty goal when she began a campaign in 2020 to help uplift people’s spirits during the first COVID-19 wave.

But her kind efforts may have done just that.

Lacey has struggled with mental health issues throughout her life and she knew that people like her were going to have a really hard time during COVID-19 lockdowns. A study from May 2021 found that the New Zealand population had “higher depression and anxiety compared with population norms.” The study also found that “younger people” and “those most at risk of COVID-19 reported poorer mental health.”



To help those who may be struggling, Lacey printed 600 stickers with an uplifting message and posted them around places where people may take their lives, including trains, bridges and large bodies of water in Wellington, New Zealand. She also made a bumper sticker with the same message for her car.

The stickers spoke directly to those who may be contemplating taking their own life. “Please don’t take your life today,” the stickers read. “The world is so much better with you in it. More than you realize, stay.”

Earlier this month, Lacey parked her car in her university’s lot and when she returned to her vehicle to leave, she noticed a note was affixed to the windshield. Thinking it was someone complaining about how she parked or a ticket, she prepared for the worst but wound up being blindsided by the positive message.

“I left my house with a plan and asked for a sign, any sign, I was doing the right thing when I saw your car in the parking lot. Thank you,” the note read. At first, Lacey wasn’t sure what the person was referring to, then she remembered her homemade bumper sticker.

“I had these made so long ago, put one on my car and forgot about them, until now,” she tweeted on her since deactivated account. “I am so glad whoever you are chose to stay today. You never know who needs this reminder.”

Now, it’s unclear exactly what the person’s “plan” was, but there's no doubt that Lacey’s bumper sticker inspired them to choose life. Let’s hope that the sticker also inspired them to seek professional help for whatever difficulties they are going through.

Whether it was intentional or not, Lacey’s sticker was effective because it followed one of the most important strategies that people use at suicide hotlines. According to Science.org, it’s of utmost importance that people contemplating suicide are handled with “respect and empathy.”

Lacey's story is a beautiful reminder of the power that one simple, thoughtful gesture can have on another person’s life. Every day, there are people all around us who are looking for a sign to give them a reason keep going. Whether it’s a hug, a smile or the right message in the right place at the right time, we should all be like Lacey and make sure everyone knows that the world is better with them in it. In fact, much more than they ever realize.


This article originally appeared on 02.24.22

A young mom with her kids in the ER.

Sage Pasch’s unique family situation has attracted a lot of attention recently. The 20-something mother of 2 shared a 6-second TikTok video on September 29 that has been viewed over 33 million times because it shows how hard it can be for young moms to be taken seriously.

In the video, the young-looking Pasch took her son Nick to the ER after he injured his leg at school. But when the family got to the hospital, the doctor couldn’t believe Pasch was his mother. “POV, we’re at the ER, and the doctor didn’t believe I was the parent,” she captioned the post.


Pasch and her fiancé , Luke Faircloth, adopted the teen in 2022 after his parents tragically died two years apart. “Nick was already spending so much time with us, so it made sense that we would continue raising him,” Pasch told Today.com.

The couple also has a 17-month-old daughter named Lilith.

@coffee4lifesage

He really thought i was lying😭

Pasch says that people are often taken aback by her family when they are out in public. "Everybody gets a little confused because my fiancé and I are definitely younger to have a teenager," she said. "It can be very frustrating."

It may be hard for the young parents to be taken seriously, but their story has made a lot of people in a similar situation feel seen. "Omg, I feel this. I took my son to the ER, and they asked for the guardian. Yes, hi, that's me," Brittany wrote in the comments. "Meee with my teenager at a parent-teacher conference. They think I’m her older sister and say we need to talk with your parents," KatMonroy added.


This article originally appeared on 10.24.23

Pop Culture

Why Gotye gave up $10 million in ad revenue from his 'Somebody That I Used to Know' video

The humble singer-songwriter's story is a cautionary tale of viral fame.

Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" video has 2.2 billion views on YouTube.

For most musicians, creating a hit song and making it big on the international stage would be living the dream. For Gotye, it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.

Gotye is the stage name of Wouter "Wally" De Backer, the singer-songwriter behind the 2011 smash hit song, "Somebody That I Used to Know." The music video for the song becoming one of YouTube's most-liked videos, and with 2.2 billion views, the video could have earned over $10 million in ad revenue.

But De Backer has refused to place ads on it, saying, "I'm not interested in selling my music. That's the reason I don't put ads on my YouTube channel, which seems strange to people in today's climate, but that is a decision you can make. I'm like that with all my music."

It was the fame that came with the virality of the song that was the bigger issue for the artist, however. It's a simple enough thing to turn down money, but there's not much you can do to stop a viral wave.


The song took six months to write and produce, and when the video leaked a week before its official release, it quickly caught fire. At first, De Backer was just excited that his song was being played on the radio. Then the virality online took hold and that was also exciting for a while.

From the start, De Backer was grateful for the song's success, but he also managed to stayed simple and humble. He didn't buy anything large or luxurious with the money he made from song sales, being content to drive his old van. And when he was asked what was the best thing that happened in the previous year, he responded, "It probably wouldn't be anything to do with a marker of success of my song or my album. More something like a really great swim I took at Summer's Beach near where I live."

Soon the covers and parodies of the "Somebody That I Used to Know" grew more widespread and the quality of them began to wane, De Backer began to feel "burnt out" on it all. He had no control over people connecting name with whatever they were hearing done to his song, which was frustrating. He started to feel the pressures that come with fame, to have a certain personality or to follow up his huge hit with another huge hit. And he missed feeling like he had a personal connection with his audience, which becomes difficult at a certain scale.

He even began to feel self-conscious about the popularity of the song due to its theme—two people who had broken up and couldn't work out their differences. The fact that so many people were celebrating it so fiercely was uncomfortable for him; he didn't want to be responsible for spreading more angst or bitterness in the world. And then came the "overplayed" and "annoying" era of oversaturation. He even apologized to people for having to hear the song so often because radios wouldn't stop playing it.

Ultimately, he ceased putting out music as a solo artist and focused on making music with his long-time band, The Basics. There is a possibility for another solo Gotye project sometime in the next decade, but he's probably hoping he doesn't end up with a big hit next time around.

Watch SunnyV2 tell the story of Gotye's "one hit wonder" experience and how it impacted his musical career:

It's a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks they want to be famous or wishes they'd have a song go viral. Parts of that experience can be great, but fame isn't always everything it's cracked up to be.

via Pexels

A woman sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat

Everyone wants to know how long they will live and there are many indicators that can show whether someone is thriving or on the decline. But people have yet to develop a magic formula to determine exactly how long someone should expect to live.

However, a doctor recently featured on the "Today" show says a straightforward test can reveal the likelihood that someone aged 51 to 80 will die in the near future.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar was on the "Today" show on March 8 and demonstrated how to perform the simple “sit to stand test” (aka sit-rising test or SRT) that can help determine the longevity of someone between 51 to 80.


The test is pretty simple. Go from standing to sitting cross-legged, and then go back to standing without using any parts of your body besides your legs and core to help you get up and down. The test measures multiple longevity factors, including heart health, balance, agility, core and leg strength and flexibility.

You begin the test with a score of 10 and subtract points on your way up and down for doing the following:

Hand used for support: -1 point

Knee used for support: -1 point

Forearm used for support: -1 point

One hand on knee or thigh: -1 point

Side of leg used for support: -1 point

A 2012 study published by the European Society of Cardiology found a correlation between the SRT score and how long people live. The study was conducted on 2002 people, 68% of whom were men, who performed the SRT test and were followed by researchers in the coming years. The study found that “Musculoskeletal fitness, as assessed by SRT, was a significant predictor of mortality in 51–80-year-old subjects.”

Those who scored in the lowest range, 0 to 3, had up to a 6 times greater chance of dying than those in the highest scores (8 to 10). About 40% of those in the 0 to 3 range died within 11 years of the study.

Azar distilled the study on "Today," saying: "The study found that the lower the score, you were seven times more likely to die in the next six years.”

"Eight points or higher is what you want," Azar said. "As we get older, we spend time talking cardiovascular health and aerobic fitness, but balance, flexibility and agility are also really important," she stressed.

One should note that the people who scored lowest on the test were the oldest, giving them an elevated risk of death.

Dr. Greg Hartley, Board Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist and associate professor at the University of Miami, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that we should take the study with a grain of salt. “Frailty, strength, muscle mass, physical performance—those things are all correlated to mortality, but I would caution everybody that correlation doesn’t mean causation,” he said.

And of course, the test doesn't take into account injuries or disabilities that may make doing the test impossible. But one of the study's authors says that the study is a call to take our mobility seriously.

“The more active we are the better we can accommodate stressors, the more likely we are to handle something bad that happens down the road,” Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, told USA Today.


This article originally appeared on 3.10.23