Sunday, June 18, 2017

once upon a twitter and the snapchat map

Once upon a Twitter I bullied a crowd of friends into installing it for a festival. This was in the heady days when it was text message only and there were no carrier charges in the UK. I sold it to them as selective telepathy - you can let your friends know what you're doing/thinking/saying at a distance in brief form. We realised that some other people at the festival were tweeting too. The experience was diffused and intensified by the multiple viewpoints. We set off into the new festival fields, virtual and actual, and later, like good SF fans, debated the ethics of seeing strangers' thoughts into the night.

That bright summer of scattered thoughts didn't last for long, but it was long enough to polarise my friends into haters and embracers of this new communication form, to struggle through some of its early problems, and form a sadly doomed attachment myself. When lower data charges and faster phone speeds brought Twitter back to me, hashtags were in place as a way of finding the other people doing or seeing what you are doing or seeing, and nowadays doing a quick flicker across to look at what strangers are doing/thinking/saying when I'm at an event is pretty much second nature.

So, when people starting sending me through clickbait links about the new Snapchat feature that will destroy privacy and put our children at risk™ I was naturally intrigued. I had resisted the lure of Snapping (mostly because the people asking me if I was on Snapchat were usually relatives aged eight to ten) but as so often happens, the feature arrives that will crack you, and maybe even the app, into a new space. Enter the Snapmap, at which point I absolutely had to download Snapchat and check out in order to explore the privacy and safety concerns.

You can tap on a hotspot on a map and tap though a bunch of snaps that have been shared to public in that area. You're visible (or rather a daft looking cartoon version of yourself is visible) on the map to your friends, or maybe just a select group, or no-one if you're feeling ghooooostly. Heh.

My assessment of it: interesting.

  • It might create problems in poorly-curated friend groups
    When I was asked to add my contacts there were a bunch of people I'd drifted out of touch with, including a few who shouldn't be on my contacts at all. People who shortcut their settings may end up telling people they stopped talking to some time ago where they are.
  • It'll enable including and excluding people in plans
    Inner cliques and outer circles just got defined. You can hide yourself completely and cut other people out from being able to see you on the map. Friendship tensions ahoy.
  • Think before you post just got a whole lot bigger
    The public snaps on the map are being shared as "Our Story", a public post, and you have to consciously choose to do that. It doesn't remember if your last snap was public, so each public snap represents a positive (if perhaps not very well thought out) decision to share. 
  • You could use it to surprise a friend for good or bad reasons
    People started describing the Snapmap as stalky, freaky and creepy almost immediately, and I see their point; assuming they're visible to you, arranging to accidentally bump into X or hide from Y is a doddle. Of course if everyone goes into ghost mode right away and only pops out when they're at a loose end and fancy seeing if anyone else is around (and the system enables this quite well) it'll only be an issue for the risky oversharers, which brings me to...
  • It will increase the risk of risky oversharing
    Everyone knows a few risky oversharers, who like to live the open online life, Many people go through risky oversharing stages, often for good reasons like establishing yourself in a new social group, meeting new people, or attending an event. During this phase, Snapchat might now amplify the risk of a hairy post by depositing you tidily on a very precise map. If anyone happens to care and be looking, of course.
  • It may be prophylactic against stalking - or it may find or reinforce more stalkers
    Time was, technologically-enabled stalking took a bunch of effort. You had to find specialist software, you had to suborn the other person's hardware. By the time the nuisance effects began to crest into the stalked person's sphere of notice, the stalking person had knocked down so many acceptable behaviour barriers that they were very dangerous, and irreparably fixated on the stalked person, and on the activity of stalking. Now everyone can stalk a person with very little technological effort, it becomes something everyone has to think about. Acceptable behaviour can be discussed and set within peer groups. Of course, a rotten peer group can set a deviant norm; and individuals without the facility to do complex online actions may find themselves suddenly in a moral position they may otherwise have never encountered.
  • Group games, flashmobs ... bank heists?
    It's too early to tell exactly what being able to put a bunch of your friends onto a map accurately might be good for, but I'm guessing that there will be a few innovative uses, some negative. After all, there are a few situations I can think of right away where being able to locate ten friends and assemble them to your location might be very useful. Potluck picnics, demos, spur-of-the-moment lunches. Pokémon Go raids, of course.
It's tempting to think that Pokémon Go and Snapchat somehow coordinated this, but it's more likely to be the case that super-accurate location services and find my [friends, car, cat, whatever] are emergent in the field of technological human facility augmentation right now and these are simply the most obvious inflorescences of this immanence visible from my individual perspective.  

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