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Social and Dating

Congress plans probe of Instagram’s effect on teenage girls

Lawmakers respond to published report stating Facebook knows the platform is ‘toxic’

Two U.S. senators say they will launch an investigation into allegations that Facebook is aware that its popular Instagram platform is “toxic” for teenage girls.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who lead a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, were spurred to action by an investigative report published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal.

The report cited company documents and sources it said showed Facebook is aware that many te...

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    Connecting networks of friends can increase feelings of support

    The best emotional outcomes are likely to arise when close connections all get along

    Having a strong social network can yield several physical and mental health benefits for consumers, and now a new study is exploring what makes some friends feel more supported than others. 

    According to researchers from Ohio State University, consumers are most likely to feel supported when their closest contacts all know and like each other. 

    “The more cohesive, the more dense this network you have, the more you feel you can rely on them for support,” said researcher David Lee. “It matters if your friends can depend on each other, just like you depend on them.” 

    Making the most of social connections

    The researchers conducted two online studies to determine how consumers best felt supported by their friends and family. In one study, 240 participants were asked to make two lists of the people closest to them based on those who knew each other and those who didn’t know each other. They were then given a hypothetical scenario in which they’d need to reach out to one of the two groups for support in the case of an emergency. 

    Participants reported that they’d feel more supported by the group that knew each other rather than the group that was unconnected. The researchers explained that there could be several reasons for this trend, but one of the primary takeaways is that connected support networks are often viewed as just that: connected. Rather than thinking of each friend or family member individually, thinking of them as a group yields more support. 

    “You can have two friends who are both very supportive of you, but if they are both friends with each other, that makes you feel even more supported,” said researcher Jonathan Stahl. 

    The second study had over 330 participants list the eight people they felt the closest to and how supported they felt by each connection. To understand how support can shift depending on the interconnectedness of those on the lists, the participants also ranked how close each connection was to each other. 

    Ultimately, the researchers learned that closeness between support systems once again played a role, as the participants rated connections as more supportive when they were close with other friends or family on the list. 

    Moving forward, the researchers hope that consumers understand how beneficial it can be to have groups of family and friends spend time together and feel close to one another, because this is a key component in feeling loved and supported. 

    “We found that our support networks are more than the sum of their parts,” said researcher Joseph Bayer. “People who feel they have more social support in their lives may be focusing more on the collective support they feel from being part of a strong, cohesive group. It’s having a real crew, as opposed to just having a set of friends.” 

    Having a strong social network can yield several physical and mental health benefits for consumers, and now a new study is exploring what makes some friend...
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    Would you date someone who won’t wear a mask?

    An annual Match survey shows how dating has changed in 2020

    A deadly pandemic and social upheaval have created chaos and change in wide areas of life this year, including relationships.

    The changes are on display in Match’s annual Singles In America study, which underscores the obstacles 2020 has brought to relationships. Dr. Helen Fisher, chief scientific advisor at Match, says the changes to the dating landscape this year are unprecedented.

    "Prior to 2020, no one expected that singles would consider a date's willingness to wear a mask,” she said. “Recent cataclysmic events have led singles to want more from dating: a desire for a relationship over casual dating; more meaningful conversations, and more honesty and transparency during a date." 

    In other words, people are a little more serious about who they go out with. Fisher says the study found that the typical single now wants to know who you are, where you're headed financially, and what you expect from a possible partnership. 

    Social distancing in dating

    How exactly do you date in an era of social distancing? Fisher says singles have found a way.

    “With the rise of video dating -- a new stage in the courtship process -- singles are saving time, money, and kissing fewer frogs."

    According to the study authors, the pandemic sped up a trend that was already unfolding. People are waiting until their late 20s or even later before seeking a relationship. Relationships are also developing more slowly, with singles taking more time to get to know potential partners.

    Priorities have also shifted. Forty-four percent of singles in the study said they had more meaningful conversations with a date in the last month than they generally had before the pandemic. For Gen Z, it was 50 percent.

    Looks less important

    Sixty-one percent of Gen Z daters and 49 percent of millennials say they are less focused on their potential partner’s looks. Sixty-three percent of active Match users say they are spending more time learning about their potential partners, and 69 percent believe those interactions are more honest.

    The study clearly shows that the pandemic has brought about new rules in dating, including whether or not to date at all. About two-thirds of singles are open to going out with someone right now, but 36 percent say they have been highly selective about going on a date.

    A question that may come up before a date is offered or agreed to is whether the person has been practicing social distancing. Twenty percent say they are more careful about touching and kissing. Face masks have also become a significant part of dating, with 20 percent of singles saying they insist that both people on the date wear a face covering.

    The survey shows the pandemic has been a strain on existing relationships. One in four singles broke up with their significant other during the spring’s coronavirus lockdown. Twenty-two percent said they lost contact with someone they hoped to date.

    A deadly pandemic and social upheaval have created chaos and change in wide areas of life this year, including relationships.The changes are on display...
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    People feel more connected to others when talking on the phone instead of texting

    A study found that hearing another person’s voice made communication more personal

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult for consumers to gather with their friends and loved ones face-to-face. Though gathering virtually has become easier than ever, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin explored what types of virtual communication left consumers feeling the most connected to the people in their lives. 

    The study revealed that phone calls were the best way for consumers to feel connected and bond with their friends or family, more so than any type of texting-based communication. 

    “People feel significantly more connected through voice-based media, but they have these fears about awkwardness that are pushing them towards text-based media,” said researcher Amit Kumar. “When it came to actual experience, people reported they did form a significantly stronger bond with their old friend on the phone versus email, and they did not feel more awkward.” 

    Building connection

    The researchers conducted two experiments to determine what form of communication best served consumers who were trying to stay connected to their family or friends. One experiment paired strangers with various types of communication -- including video chat, phone call, or texting -- and had them ask deeply personal questions to one another. The other experiment gauged how participants felt reconnecting with an old friend via phone call or email, and then had them do just that. 

    In both instances, phone calls came out on top in terms of building connection. Whether with a stranger or an old friend, hearing someone’s voice was an integral component of feeling a real connection, which is something that was lost over text or email. 

    For both tests, the researchers asked participants about various styles of communication, both in terms of what they preferred and what they believed would produce the best results. All of the participants felt that the form of communication wasn’t as important as what was being said, which made these results all the more surprising. 

    Moving forward, the researchers hope that consumers use these findings to feel more connected to their loved ones, especially as in-person gatherings are still limited. 

    “We’re being asked to maintain physical distance, but we still need these social ties for our well-being -- even for our health,” said Kumar. 

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult for consumers to gather with their friends and loved ones face-to-face. Though gathering virt...
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    Being generous makes you seem more physically attractive, study finds

    Researchers say consumers also tend to expect attractive people to be more giving

    A new study conducted by researchers from Indiana University explored how being generous can affect how others perceive you. Their work revealed that not only are more generous people typically viewed as more attractive, but the opposite was also true: Those who were seen as more attractive were more likely to be more generous. 

    “Poets and philosophers have suggested the link between moral and physical beauty for centuries,” said researcher Sara Konrath. “This study confirms that people who are perceived as more attractive are more likely to give and givers are seen as more attractive.” 

    People are attracted to generosity 

    To understand how attractiveness and generosity are linked, the researchers analyzed results from three different studies that included responses from participants of all different ages. The researchers’ overarching goal was to have participants rate other people’s attractiveness without knowing anything about their background or personality. Their second goal was to assess whether attractive people are more or less likely to be altruistic. 

    Participants were also asked about which traits they typically find attractive in other people, which helped the researchers determine how physical attractiveness stacked up against other attributes. 

    Regardless of age, the findings showed that attractiveness and generosity are undeniably linked. The study revealed that consumers are more likely to expect people they find attractive to be more generous, and being generous, regardless of physical appearance, was an attractive trait to the majority of the participants. 

    Researcher Femida Handy explained that “despite being conducted at different times, using different participants, and using different methods and measures,” the outcome was clear across all three studies. 

    The next beauty trend?

    Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings spark a new wave of generosity among consumers. Considering how highly so many of the participants rated generosity as an attractive trait, these findings could ignite positive changes for the future. 

    “Our findings suggest that beauty products and procedures may not be the only way to enhance an individual’s attractiveness,” Konrath said. “Perhaps being generous could be the next beauty trend.” 

    A new study conducted by researchers from Indiana University explored how being generous can affect how others perceive you. Their work revealed that not o...
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    Social media makes breakups harder for consumers

    Researchers say it’s harder than ever for consumers to distance themselves from ex-partners

    While previous studies have explored how social media can make users feel excluded by their friends, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that it can also make users feel worse after a breakup. 

    According to the researchers, social media platforms have made it harder than ever for users to get distance from relationships that have recently ended. These platforms can serve as a constant reminder of what ex-partners are up to -- including forming new relationships. Moreover, the researchers found that utilizing tools to block, mute, or unfriend exes didn’t make things better. 

    “Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person,” said researcher Anthony Pinter. “It can almost make it impossible to move on if you are constantly bombarded with reminders in different places online.” 

    Why it’s so hard to move on

    The researchers had 19 people involved in the study, all of whom had experienced the end of a relationship in the last 18 months and had a poor experience with social media after the breakup. 

    The participants were interviewed for over an hour each about their social media use after their breakup. They answered questions about how the internet contributed, either positively or negatively, to their coping. 

    The researchers learned that there were several features -- particularly on Facebook -- that made it difficult for consumers to get distance from their exes and move on from their past relationships. Participants were frequently reminded of their relationship bliss via the Memories feature, which calls up pictures, videos, and posts from past years, making it harder for social media users to put that part of their lives behind them. 

    Moreover, Facebook made it nearly impossible for the study participants to ignore their former partners’ life updates, as the News Feed is a constant reminder of things going on with a person they no longer want to be updated on. And while this could be a way for users to upload a new profile picture or share news about a job, it could also be the way to share a new relationship, making it all the more difficult for exes to move on. 

    Unfriending isn’t the answer 

    While Facebook, like several social media platforms, gives users the option to block, unfriend, or mute others, the researchers learned that these tools weren’t enough for the participants. 

    “A lot of people make the assumption that they can just unfriend their ex or unfollow them and they are not going to have to deal with this anymore,” Pinter said. “Our work shows that this is not the case.” 

    He explained that exes’ information can pop up via comments or likes from mutual friends or in mutual groups, or even from their family members or friends who haven’t been unfriended. This can leave heartbroken consumers with constant reminders of their lives pre-breakup. 

    While these tools certainly aren’t going to rid exes from consumers’ social media profiles, Pinter suggests using them anyway, as they can offer some peace of mind when a relationship ends. Perhaps most importantly, he says staying off social media for a while can work wonders while consumers process their feelings. 

    “In real life, you get to decide who gets the cat and who gets the couch, but online it’s a lot harder to determine who gets this picture or who gets this group,” Pinter said. 

    While previous studies have explored how social media can make users feel excluded by their friends, a new study conducted by researchers from the Universi...
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    Tinder rolls out new panic button safety feature

    Users will also have access to AI-driven photo verification and other services

    Personal safety is starting to get the attention it deserves from connection-driven companies.

    First, there was Uber’s integration of an in-app 911 text feature to increase passenger safety amid reports of sexual assaults. Now, dating app Tinder joins in by adding three new features to its app: 

    • A safety service that connects users to personal emergency services; 

    • Photo Verification, which will compare a posed photo taken in real-time to profile photos, which can help verify a match's authenticity and increase trust in member profiles; and 

    • An in-app Safety Center.

    “Every day, millions of our members trust us to introduce them to new people, and we’re dedicated to building innovative safety features powered by best-in-class technology that meet the needs of today’s daters,” said Elie Seidman, CEO of Tinder, announcing the new features. “I’m proud to share these updates, which represent an important step in driving our safety work forward at an unmatched scale.”

    The protections

    Tinder uses the Noonlight platform for its app, which allows users to trigger an alarm by clicking a button; users can connect other smart devices to automatically trigger alarms for them. Until now, most of Noonlight’s partners have been universities like Washington University in St. Louis and Southern Methodist University.

    In Tinder’s situation, the app’s members will also be able to share details about upcoming dates -- including who, where, and when they are meeting. It’s sort of a “bodyguard [and] quick backup for daters” when a user is meeting someone for the first time, claims Brittany LeComte, Co-founder and CCO of Noonlight. “It’s a first-of-its-kind added security measure to help protect Tinder members even when they’ve taken their interactions off the app into real life.”

    If at any time a Tinder user feels they’re in a dangerous situation, a quick press of the Noonlight app will quietly contact Noonlight dispatchers who, in turn, will send a text to confirm the situation. If that text goes unanswered, Noonlight will send a code and call them. If the user doesn’t answer the phone at all, Noonlight will dispatch emergency services.

    The Photo Verification feature allows users to make sure that who they’re meeting is who they say they are. The feature utilizes artificial intelligence to give Tinder users access to a series of real-time posed selfies, which are compared to existing profile photos of the person they’re meeting.

    The feature is still in the incubation phase, according to Tinder’s Safety Center. The team says it will treat it like an on-going update of Tinder’s overall safety features.

    Personal safety is starting to get the attention it deserves from connection-driven companies.First, there was Uber’s integration of an in-app 911 text...
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    YouTube unveils stricter harassment policy

    The company says it will now prohibit even ‘veiled or implied threats’

    YouTube announced on Wednesday that it’s implementing a more stringent harassment policy in an effort to reduce the prevalence of hate speech and threats on its platform. 

    The Google-owned video streaming giant said it will be removing videos that insult people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the victim is a private individual or well-known YouTube creator. 

    YouTube said explicit threats, even those that are “veiled or implied,” will not be allowed on the site. Additionally, channels that exhibit a pattern of harassing behavior are subject to removal. 

    “Channels that repeatedly brush up against our harassment policy will be suspended from the YouTube Partner Program (YPP), eliminating their ability to make money on YouTube,” the company said in a blog post. “We may also remove content from channels if they repeatedly harass someone. If this behavior continues, we’ll take more severe action including issuing strikes or terminating a channel altogether.” 

    Cracking down on hateful comments

    YouTube also said that almost all content creators now have the ability to review potentially harmful comments. 

    “Beyond comments that we remove, we also empower creators to further shape the conversation on their channels and have a variety of tools that help,” YouTube said. “When we're not sure a comment violates our policies, but it seems potentially inappropriate, we give creators the option to review it before it's posted on their channel.” 

    YouTube said channels that enabled the feature when it was first introduced saw a 75 percent reduction in user flags on comments. The feature is expected to be extended to most channels by the end of 2019. 

    The enactment of a tougher harassment policy on YouTube comes a few months after conservative comedian Stephen Crowder repeatedly mocked a progressive journalist based on his homosexuality and Latino background. The company said at the time that Crowder didn’t technically violate YouTube’s policies, but later it responded to the matter by stripping Crowder of his ability to make money off of ads.

    YouTube says its tougher position on harassment is intended to create a healthier environment for users to share their ideas and opinions.   

    "Harassment hurts our community by making people less inclined to share their opinions and engage with each other," wrote Matt Halprin, YouTube's global head of trust and safety.   

    YouTube announced on Wednesday that it’s implementing a more stringent harassment policy in an effort to reduce the prevalence of hate speech and threats o...
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    Consumers are wary of social media’s impact on news

    Over half of respondents to a poll said they’re more likely to see a ‘worse mix of news’ on social media sites

    New data from the Pew Research Center indicates that U.S. consumers are wary of letting social media sites handle news coverage.

    Pew said it conducted a poll of more than 5,000 consumers this past July and found that 62 percent of people believe social media has “too much control” over the selection of news that users see on their platforms. 

    Roughly half of respondents said they believe people may be more likely to see problematic news -- such as bias and sensationalism -- as a result of social media sites dispersing news information. 

    The top three concerns held by consumers regarding the issue were “one-sided news,” “inaccurate news,” and “censorship.” A majority of respondents (55 percent) said the role social media companies play in delivering the news on their sites results in a “worse mix of news.” 

    In terms of political leanings, Republicans were found to be more skeptical about giving social sites control over the flow of news. A majority of Republicans (75 percent) believed social media has too much control, compared to 53 percent of Democrats. 

    Facebook’s news initiative 

    The report comes ahead of Facebook’s launch of a dedicated news tab featuring a selection of news from “high quality, trusted” sources. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the idea to carve out a dedicated space for news was derived from the success of Facebook Watch for video. 

    "One of the things that's really worked over the last year or two is we've launched [Facebook Watch] for video, where people who weren't getting all the video they wanted in News Feed could go to a place that's a dedicated space to get video,” Zuckerberg said. “Because that has started to really grow quickly, we've decided that there really is an opportunity to do something like that with news as well."

    "It's important to me that we help people get trustworthy news and find solutions that help journalists around the world do their important work," Zuckerberg wrote.

    Facebook’s News Tab is rumored to be slated for a fall rollout. Last month, The Information published details from an internal Facebook memo, which provided a few guidelines for how the site will decide which stories are shown. 

    The memo stated that human editors will be responsible for curating a “Top News” tab. Those editors will look at articles’ sourcing when deciding what to feature. Additionally, Facebook will reportedly “seek to promote the media outlet that first reported a particular story, and additionally prioritize stories broken by local news outlets.” 

    New data from the Pew Research Center indicates that U.S. consumers are wary of letting social media sites handle news coverage.Pew said it conducted a...
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    Kindness is key when consumers think about life partners

    The positive personality trait beat out physical attractiveness

    A new study conducted by researchers from Swansea University found that being kind is the best personality trait when it comes to finding a lifelong partner. 

    Researchers enlisted over 2,700 college students from all over the world to theoretically “buy” the personality traits of their ideal partner choosing from eight possible attributes: 

    • Religiosity 

    • Secure finances 

    • Humor 

    • Creativity 

    • Attractiveness 

    • Kindness 

    • Desire for children 

    • Chastity 

    Participants hailed from western countries like Norway, Australia, and the U.K., and Eastern countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The researchers noted that men and women from either side of the globe had different priorities when it came to their partners. 

    While the women involved in the study spent more on financial security than their male counterparts, male participants spent more on physical attractiveness than female participants. However, kindness ultimately won out across the board, as the trait comprised between 22 and 26 percent of all participants’ “purchases” overall. 

    The researchers believe that having cross-cultural studies of this nature is an effective way to really crack open consumers’ mindsets and provide insights into decision-making. 

    “Looking at very different culture groups allows us to test the idea that some behaviours are human universals,” said researcher Dr. Andrew G. Thomas. “If men and women act in similar ways across the globe, then this adds weight to the idea that some behaviours develop in spite of culture rather than because of it.” 

    Finances could be important down the line

    Other recent studies have looked more deeply at how finances can make it or break it for some couples. 

    While one recent from earlier this year found that almost half of consumers would end their relationship due to excessive spending habits, another found that overall financial compatibility could also be a deal breaker in relationships. 

    "It's probably not a great idea to ask for someone's financial history on the first date," said credit card analyst Mike Cetera. "However, it's better to know if a potential partner has a history of bad financial decisions before the relationship goes too far, especially if you plan on making large purchases together or sharing bank accounts." 

    A new study conducted by researchers from Swansea University found that being kind is the best personality trait when it comes to finding a lifelong partne...
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    Instagram rolls out new anti-bullying features

    The platform is warning users ahead of time if their post runs the risk of being flagged

    Instagram has had its fill of hateful and mean comments. The social media platform rolled out two new anti-bullying tools on Tuesday, underscoring its fight with the mantra: “We are committed to leading the industry in the fight against online bullying, and we are rethinking the whole experience of Instagram to meet that commitment.”

    Bullying is a much larger issue than some might think. At ConsumerAffairs, we’ve seen reports that 1 out of 3 parents worry about their children being cyber-bullied, as well as research from the Mayo Clinic that found children who are bullied are at an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several other conditions when they become adults. Even Congress senses the rising tide of the issue and is trying to do its share via the Children and Media Research Advancement Act (CAMRA Act).

    It’s apparent that Instagram has also done its homework on the effects of bullying, claiming its new tools “are grounded in a deep understanding of how people bully each other and how they respond to bullying on Instagram.” 

    Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, made a point of protecting the sanctity of its teen base in particular. “This is especially crucial for teens since they are less likely to report online bullying even when they are the ones who experience it the most,” he said.

    What Instagram users can expect

    Up to bat first is an artificial intelligence-powered feature that notifies Instagram users when their comment runs the risk of being considered offensive before it’s posted. 

    “This intervention gives people a chance to reflect and undo their comment and prevents the recipient from receiving the harmful comment notification,” Mosseri said. “From early tests of this feature, we have found that it encourages some people to undo their comment and share something less hurtful once they have had a chance to reflect.”

    The second feature is called “Restrict,” and it works just like it sounds -- a user “Restricts” someone when they feel there are “unwanted interactions” from another user. After taking this step, comments from that person will only be visible to that person. 

    “We wanted to create a feature that allows people to control their Instagram experience, without notifying someone who may be targeting them,” Mosseri explained.

    “You can choose to make a restricted person’s comments visible to others by approving their comments. Restricted people won’t be able to see when you’re active on Instagram or when you’ve read their direct messages.”

    Instagram has had its fill of hateful and mean comments. The social media platform rolled out two new anti-bullying tools on Tuesday, underscoring its figh...
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