Bold new app allows users to shun ‘friends’

The antisocial network: Are we now using social media to avoid each other?

Cloak, the latest app to cause a stir in the tech world, enables users to deliberately avoid people. Are social networks becoming more intelligent, or simply making us more antisocial?

Tweeting, tagging, uploading, ‘liking’ and checking-in – thanks to social networking, there is now an exhausting number of ways to express ourselves and share our lives online. Tinder allows us to find a date, Foursquare lets people know where we are, and Twitter broadcasts our most mundane thoughts to the entire world.

But the backlash to all this merry socialising has arrived in the form of a new app called Cloak, advertised as an ‘incognito mode for real life’. It uses public location data from Foursquare and Instagram to alert its users to the nearby presence of someone they may wish to avoid.

It is almost like a virtual invisibility cloak from the world of Harry Potter, bringing a degree of anonymity back into people’s hyper-connected lives. And similar apps that deal with privacy and secrecy, such as Secret which broadcasts messages anonymously, are also growing in popularity.

The mastermind behind Cloak has designed a whole range of misanthropic apps that shut people and information out. One website, Rather, allows users to block content and photos from their Twitter and Facebook feeds, while another, Hate with Friends, lets Facebook users find out what they really think of each other.

Social media is often heralded as a force for good, capable of uniting people behind a common cause and even inspiring social change. There have even been calls for Twitter to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, such is its perceived ability to generate harmony and peace.

But there is also a growing chorus of those who believe social networking has a more insidious effect, making us obsessed with how many ‘followers’ we have and encouraging ‘digital Dorian-Graying’– our need to portray the most attractive versions of ourselves.

Worse still, it can be downright dangerous, with apps like Twitter enabling people to assert themselves and threaten others. The Chicago police department estimates that an astonishing 80% of all school disturbances in the city resulted from online exchanges, sometimes leading to violence and even death.

Cloak and dagger

Despite being branded by some as a gimmick, others are embracing the anonymity that Cloak offers. Allowing space and distance back into our frantically connected lives is no bad thing. It also shows the increasing sophistication of technology to mimic the ways we behave and interact as humans in the real world.

But social networking already panders to our most vain and destructive tendencies, argue others, and apps which encourage us to ignore our fellow humans are dangerous. Worrying trends like happy slapping show that while social media can be used for good, it can just as easily do the opposite.

You Decide

  1. How popular do you think Cloak will be? Would you use it?
  2. Does social media ultimately make us more or less social?

Activities

  1. In groups, make a list of three examples of how social media benefits your life, and three examples where it has the opposite effect.
  2. Class debate: This House believes that social media does more harm than good.

Some People Say...

“The Internet is the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.’Eric Schmidt”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is it bad to want to avoid someone?
Not necessarily – there’s no law that says we should all get on with one another, and some people just don’t click. But an app that deliberately allows us to avoid each other strikes some as a bit depressing. Besides, a chance encounter might be more pleasing than you initially thought, or even an opportunity to reconcile with a former enemy – do we really want apps like Cloak to determine our social interactions?
So should I spend less time using apps?
It depends whether you use it in a positive way or not. In the past, Facebook has been linked to low self-esteem among young people. Ensuring that it enhances our lives, rather than making us miserable, is important.

Word Watch

Foursquare
Foursquare allows users to ‘check-in’ at venues using GPS technology. Because Cloak only pulls in location data from Foursquare and Instagram, a user has to already be following the person it wants to avoid on these two networks. This is a key flaw, say critics.
Growing
Another popular app, Snapchat, allows users to take photos and videos which disappear seconds after being initially shared with recipients. In 2013, both Facebook and Google offered to buy it for around $4 billion.
Mastermind
Cloak was partly set up by the former creative director of the viral news site BuzzFeed, Chris Baker.
Misanthropic
Marked by hatred or contempt for humankind.
Nobel Peace Prize
Mark Pfeifle, a former US national-security adviser, called for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize after student protests, generated by the social-networking site, rocked the Iranian capital city of Tehran in 2009.
Dorian-Graying
Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is the story of a young, handsome man who exchanges his soul in order to never grow old. Instead his portrait, which he keeps hidden, shows the signs of his ageing and his debauched way of life.
Death
Lil JoJo, a rapper in Chicago, was fatally shot in 2012 by a rival rapper, after a series of altercations on Twitter.
Happy slapping
A youth craze in which groups of teenagers armed with camera phones slap or mug unsuspecting children or passersby while filming the attacks.

Subjects

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