Tech Companies Still Don't Get It

[Content Note: Harassment; ghosting.]

At the Guardian, Alex Hern has written about technology companies' new interest in communication prompts, developed in part to address "ghosting," i.e. when someone stops interacting without explanation.
Two dating apps have announced plans to use the season to crack down on the rudest of social media villains, the ghoster: the person who enthusiastically replies to your messages, starts a friendly chat and then, one day, just … stops.

Earlier this week, Bumble, the woman-friendly dating service, announced it had created the post of "ghosting specialist," bringing the journalist and author Kate Leaver in to hear confessions, dispense advice, and be a shoulder to cry on for those whose attempts to find love ended with messages echoing in the void.

Another dating service, Badoo, has gone one step further, announcing plans to prompt would-be ghosts to reply to their ghostees, with a series of suggested responses, such as: "Hey, sorry for the late reply. When are you free to meet?" or "Hey, I think you're great, but I don't see us as a match. Take care!"

...Cynical or not, dating apps are only the latest companies to nudge users to participate more, under the guise of helping them "connect" with each other. Google, for instance, recently updated Gmail to introduce a feature called "nudges." The service, which is on by default, prompts users to reply to emails that they "might have forgotten to respond to" and to "follow up" on emails they sent that never received a reply.
This is disturbing to me for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that a lot of women "ghost" men who have been harassing them, so being repeatedly urged to restore contact could be triggering.

The "ghosting specialist" Leaver justifies her position, which is less objectionable than automated prompts, by saying she thinks "people are too frightened, or too lazy, or too cowardly to have the difficult conversations that need to be had. There has been some pretty extreme psychological damage for people who are living without any explanation as to why they've been ghosted because we tend to fill in the silence with our own insecurity."

Which is true and fair, though that only addresses one type of ghosting and conveniently leaves out all the kinds that are centered around drawing boundaries, often because of abusive interactions.

I'm deeply sympathetic to how shitty being ghosted can feel to someone who doesn't understand why. But I don't believe that automated prompts will solve that problem. Someone who doesn't want to give an explanation isn't going to be coerced by technology into giving one.

"Ghosting" happens offline, too, of course. And, generally, when we talk about ghosting offline, people intuitively understand that we all cease communicating with other people for all sorts of reasons, and there's no universal fix-it, nor does every case need to be "fixed."

But somehow that very basic understanding of human interaction goes out the window when there's a profit motive for failing to understand it.

And, once again, abuse on these platforms is minimized or altogether ignored, concealed behind some bullshit explanation of caring about people's feelings, when the only reason for this shit is to keep people using products that are harmful, either as a bug or a feature.

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