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Do dress up, don’t get drunk: how to have a great virtual date | Online dating

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As if first dates aren’t awkward enough, along comes video dating to add an extra layer of tech frustration and misinterpreted body language to the mix. During lockdown, video calls – either within a dating app, or on platforms such as Zoom – took off. But as restrictions lift, many dating experts predict the format is here to stay – or at least that it has become a helpful additional step. Dating apps rolled out video call functions last year, and Hinge found that 65% of people who had been on a virtual date planned to continue post-pandemic. Of Tinder’s younger users (Generation Z daters, in their late teens and early 20s), half have used video dating. So you may as well perfect your on-screen hairstyle, decide what to wear on your upper half and embrace it. Here are some tips on how to succeed.

Get to know the technology

You want to appear to be a functioning, capable person, so make sure you know how your chosen virtual dating platform works – you could practise with a friend first. Think about flattering lighting and angles. If you are looking down at the camera, you will be all chins and nostrils; face on is better, or looking slightly up, so prop your phone or laptop up on something so it’s at the right height. Zoom has an appearance-enhancing filter option, but is this cheating? “Do what you want, but it’s the same with your pictures online,” says the dating and relationships coach Kate Mansfield. “If you’re going to make yourself look better than in normal life, be prepared for the person to be slightly disappointed when they meet you. It’s better the other way around.”

Look at your environment

If you have been using video calls while working from home, consider moving away from your workspace for a date. “Get the ambience as relaxed as possible,” says the psychologist and relationship coach Jo Hemmings. “Tidy up the space behind you. You are gauging somebody on the environment they live in – and we look at people’s bookcases, you notice all sorts of things.” It shouldn’t feel like a job interview – sit in a more relaxed position, even if you are in your workspace. Is doing it from your bedroom too suggestive? If this is the look you’re aiming for, go for it; if not, Hemmings advises against it..

Avoid interruptions

You wouldn’t take your flatmates, parents or pets to a first date, so try to reduce any chance they will gatecrash your video call. If they do, laugh it off, says the dating coach James Preece. “Life does get in the way. It’s funny, something to break the ice.” It may mean revealing something earlier than you would like – perhaps you have children – but be honest, he says. “Let them know that your baby is sleeping and might wake up. If you haven’t told them you have kids, they will think: what are you keeping from me? If you have nosy flatmates, say, ‘My flatmates are probably listening in, but I’m wearing headphones so they can’t hear you.’ It’s about making them feel comfortable.”

Set a time limit

Video calls are more draining than meeting in person so it’s a good idea to set a time limit. Hemmings suggests an hour at most, “and then return to it another day”. Preece thinks half an hour is enough for a first video date. “The whole point is to get you excited to meet someone in real life. It’s not a date replacement.”

Maintain (some) eye contact

It’s the fastest way to a connection in an unnatural situation, so make sure you look at the camera rather than the screen. Obviously if you’re both doing this, then you won’t be looking at each other’s faces, but will switch naturally between the two. It’s preferable anyway – Hemmings points out that prolonged eye contact in person is sexy but on a screen, “It looks slightly sinister.”

Woman on a video date
Wear clothes that make you feel good, but also comfortable. Photograph: PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/Getty Images

Dress up

It is a first date, after all, but keep it appropriate. “I wouldn’t go for a ball gown and full makeup for a Zoom call,” says Hemmings. “Wear something you feel comfortable and relaxed in, but which know you look good in. Don’t just look like you are slobbing around in your jim-jams because you want to present yourself in a good way.”

Be safe

Video dating is “probably a lot safer than meeting in person” says psychologist and dating coach Madeleine Mason Roantree. However, you should be aware of the risks. Don’t give out any information that could identify your address. Be wary, says Roantree, of “someone recording the video date, asking you very personal questions or requesting you to be sexual in any way. Do not do anything you are not comfortable with.” Zoom will notify you if the call is being recorded, but not if someone is taking screenshots – and they may be recording with another device or application.

Line the dates up – if you like

One benefit of video dating is that it’s easier, logistics-wise, to have several dates in one evening, as long as you have the stamina. “Just make sure you know why you are doing it,” says Roantree. “Is it to get attention? Is it to be efficient with time in your search for love? If it’s the latter, think about whether you will be fatigued after two video dates, so that a third or fourth date is not showing you at your best. How many times can you talk enthusiastically about yourself?”

Keep the conversation flowing

Both Preece and Roantree are fans of the “36 questions to fall in love”, which can act as prompts to an interesting chat. Preece advises against talking about anything too negative. The pandemic will inevitably be mentioned, “but talk about your experiences in a good way. Don’t say: ‘I really hate it.’ Say: ‘It has been a really good opportunity to reflect on what I want.’ Don’t talk about politics because even if you both agree on the same thing, it’s still putting something else down.”

Mansfield advises a mix of “lighthearted topics with some deeper conversation – just be wary of it not being too weighted one way or another.” Ask “riskier questions that most people tend to shy away from about what the other person is looking for – try to find out if you share the same values. I would suggest that people have a list of non-negotiables, perhaps that they want to find out before the end of the first video date.” It can save time and feelings if you find out you’re not really after the same things, without being dazzled by in-person chemistry.

Acknowledge awkwardness

Video calls can feel weird, but “the more you do it, the easier it becomes,” says Hemmings. “Don’t expect your first one to run smoothly.” Bring humour in, advises Mansfield, or be “a little bit vulnerable in terms of saying you feel nervous or shy – saying those things out loud can defuse the situation and help everyone relax.” It is normal to be self-conscious on a first date, and video can make it worse as you can see yourself on screen. “Focus on the other person,” says Preece. “If you’re conscious of them, there’s no time to be self-conscious. Spend 60% of the time asking questions and listening. People like people who like them.”

Experts agree a video date is just a bridge between messaging and meeting in person.
Experts agree a video date is just a bridge between messaging and meeting in person. Photograph: Tim Scott/Getty Images

Use activities sparingly

There has been a trend for doing things together, whether eating dinner at the same time, taking a class or making cocktails. “They are OK for a second date,” says Preece. “The problem with having something too intense and fun is that you are not having good conversation, and that’s the important thing on a first date.” If you would normally have a drink during a date, that’s fine, says Preece. But on a 30-minute date, one drink is probably enough. “Don’t do what one of my clients did and have a five-and-a-half-hour Zoom date and three bottles of wine,” he says.

Plan to meet in person

Most dating experts agree that a video date is only a bridge between messaging and meeting up, and can be useful to weed out time-wasters or those to whom you are not attracted. “Chemistry is almost impossible by video,” says Hemmings. “But I think you can get to know somebody – you can ask questions about their background or what they are interested in.” Don’t do too many video dates or you will run the risk of either friend-zoning your potential partner, or building up a fantasy they won’t live up to in person. “Have one or two video dates and if you’re excited, get on with meeting them,” says Preece. “Make plans there and then. There’s nothing worse than saying, ‘I’ll get back to you when I check my diary’, because you’re at home and your diary is there in front of you. The worst thing you can do with any form of dating is to lose momentum.”

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New Donegal digital hub opens doors to local start-ups and entrepreneurs

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Stranorlar’s new digital hub will provide local workers with hotdesks, reliable internet connectivity, access to local supports and more.

A new digital hub has opened today (17 September) in Stranorlar in Co Donegal. DigiHub at the Base Enterprise Centre aims to support the growth of ICT and digital businesses in Donegal.

The hub will provide the area’s workers, start-ups and entrepreneurs with hotdesk and workspaces on flexible arrangements, as well as office units of various sizes, training facilities and a range of meeting rooms.

The DigiHub was developed as part of the Digiwest programme with funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund and the Connected Hubs Fund, which was launched earlier this year to help promote remote working around the country. The hub is also supported by Donegal County Council and the Western Development Commission.

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The development of digital hubs in rural areas is part of Our Rural Future, the Government’s five-year strategy to revitalise towns and villages, promote remote working and ensure balanced regional development.

Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphries, TD, who launched the new Donegal facility today, said she hoped the hub would entice digital entrepreneurs to move to the Stranorlar area.

“As we phase out restrictions put in place during Covid-19, it’s more relevant than ever to invest in co-working spaces for those who wish to remain in their home counties and avoid long commutes to Dublin and larger cities,” she added.

“The launch of today’s hub in the heart of Stranorlar highlights the appetite for hybrid working in regional Ireland to remain. This fine facility is one of four digital hubs along the western seaboard that received almost €650,000 under my Department’s Rural Regeneration Development Fund.

“All four of these hubs are members of the Connected Hubs initiative, which is the department’s platform of mapping together all of the hubs across the country so that they belong to one single network.”

The Connected Hubs network currently has more than 140 members nationwide.

The Stranorlar hub, which received €67,ooo in funding, will have 23 desks available for short-term and casual hire, while the hub’s offices can accommodate more than 20 tenants. Business units will be made available for permanent hire with the capacity to accommodate an additional 50 tenants.

The hub’s range of supports for start-ups will include one-to-one business mentoring, as well as access to mentoring through a network of support businesses via the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Chamber of Commerce.

It will also provide workers with networking and informal learning opportunities, promotion on its social media channels and it will offer them information on agencies and organisations for assistance.

Internet access, which is a key concern for many remote workers living in rural areas, will be provided by Siro, a joint venture by the ESB and Vodafone to provide homes and businesses with fibre-optic gigabit connectivity.

Siro’s partnership with DigiHub in Stranorlar will bring the total number of remote working hubs around the country using its service to 16.

Kieran Doherty, chair of Basicc, the local social enterprise that manages the Base Enterprise Centre, said: “In order for the area to flourish, we have to be able to connect to any part of the world instantly and gigabit connectivity means that we have the same world-class broadband that is available in international hubs like Tokyo or Singapore.”

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Teenage girls, body image and Instagram’s ‘perfect storm’ | Instagram

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Emily started using Instagram when she was in her mid-teens and found it helpful at first. She used the photo-sharing app to follow fitness influencers, but what began as a constructive relationship with the platform spiralled into a crisis centred on body image. At 19 she was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

“I felt like my body wasn’t good enough, because even though I did go to the gym a lot, my body still never looked like the bodies of these influencers,” says Emily, now a 20-year-old a student who is in recovery.

Emily, who preferred not to use her real name, uses Instagram sparingly now. She is one of many Instagram users whose suffering came to prominence this week with revelations that the platform’s owner, Facebook, seemed to know it was damaging teenage girls’ mental health.

According to internal research leaked to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the app has made body image issues worse for one in three girls and in one Facebook study of teenagers in the UK and the US, more than 40% of Instagram users who said they felt “unattractive” said the feeling began while using the app.

Instagram has more than 1 billion users worldwide and an estimated 30 million in the UK, with Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande among the accounts with hundreds of millions of followers between them. In the UK, the Love Island couple Liam Reardon and Millie Court have already raced to a combined following of nearly 3 million since winning the 2021 title.

Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande has more than 250 million Instagram followers. Photograph: John Shearer/Getty Images for the Recording Academy

Two in five girls (40%) aged 11 to 16 in the UK say they have seen images online that have made them feel insecure or less confident about themselves. This increases to half (50%) in girls aged 17 to 21, according to research by Girlguiding in its annual girls’ attitudes survey.

Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the department of media and communications, LSE, describes adolescence for teenage girls as an “arc” that tends to begin with the staple experiences of interest in pets, painting or playing with younger siblings, through to the more confident young woman ready to face the world. But it is the experience in the middle of that parabola that represents a particular challenge, and where Instagram can be most troubling.

“It is at that point where they are assailed with many answers to their dilemmas and a prominent answer at the moment is that it might be what they look like, that it matters what they bought,” says Livingstone, who next week is due to give evidence to MPs and peers scrutinising the draft UK online safety bill, which imposes a duty of care on social media companies to protect users from harmful content.

Facebook’s in-depth research into the photo-sharing app stated that Instagram had a deeper effect on teenage girls because it focused more on the body and lifestyle, compared with TikTok’s emphasis on performance videos such as dancing, and Snapchat’s jokey face features. “Social comparison is worse on Instagram,” said the Facebook study. The leaked research pointed to the app’s Explore page, where an algorithm tailors the photos and videos that a user sees, potentially creating a spiral of harmful content.

“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” said the research.

Livingstone says a key feature of the online safety bill will be its provisions on regulating the algorithms that constantly tailor and tweak what you view according to your perceived needs and tastes – and can push teenage girls into that vortex of esteem-damaging content. “There is a lot to be done about algorithms and AI [artificial intelligence].”

Beeban Kidron, the crossbench peer who sits on the joint committee into the online safety bill and was behind the recent introduction of a children’s privacy code, says Ofcom, the UK communications watchdog, will have a vital role in scrutinising algorithms.

“The value in algorithmic oversight for regulators, is that the decisions that tech companies make will become transparent, including decisions like FB took to allow Instagram to target teenage girls with images and features that ended in anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Algorithmic oversight is the key to society wrestling back some control.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says the bill will address those concerns. “As part of their duty of care, companies will need to mitigate the risks of their algorithms promoting illegal or harmful content, particularly to children. Ofcom will have a range of powers to ensure they do this, including the ability to request information and enter companies’ premises to access data and equipment.”

Liam Reardon and Millie Court
Liam Reardon and Millie Court have a combined Instagram following of 3 million since winning Love Island 2021. Photograph: Matt Frost/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

For others, there is a wider issue of educating the young how to navigate a world dominated by social media. Deana Puccio, co-founder of the Rap project, which visits schools across the UK and abroad to discuss issues such as consent, online and offline safety and building confidence in body image and self-esteem, says the bill should be accompanied by a wider education drive.

“We, parents, educators, politicians need to equip our young people with the tools, the analytical skills to make healthy choices for themselves. Because they will get access to whatever they want to. They are better at navigating the online world than we are.”

Puccio adds that teenagers should be encouraged to make their social media posts reflect a more realistic vision of the world. “We need to start building up people’s confidence to post real-life ups and downs.”

The head of Instagram risked fanning criticism of the app on Thursday with comments that compared social media’s impact on society to that of cars. “We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create way more value in the world than they destroy. And I think social media is similar,” said Adam Mosseri.

Facebook referred the Guardian to a blogpost by Karina Newton, the head of public policy at Instagram, who said the internal research showed “our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues”.

The Instagram revelations came as part of a WSJ investigation into Facebook, in which the newspaper revealed that Facebook gives high-profile users special treatment, that changes to its news feed algorithm in 2018 made the platform’s users angrier and more divisive, and that employees had warned Facebook was being used by drug cartels and human traffickers in developing countries.

Responding to the algorithm and drug cartel allegations, Facebook said divisions had existed in society long before its platform appeared and that it had a “comprehensive strategy” for keeping people safe in countries where there was a risk of conflict and violence.

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Apple, Google yank opposition voting strategy app from Russian software stores • The Register

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A tactical-voting app built by allies of Vladimir Putin’s jailed political opponent Alexei Navalny is now unavailable in Russian Apple and Google app stores following threats of fines from the Kremlin.

According to state-owned news agency TASS, Russian lawmaker Andrei Klimov told reporters on Thursday that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office sent statutory notices to Google and Apple ordering a takedown of the Navalny app on the grounds it was collecting personal data of Russian citizens and sought to interfere in the nation’s elections. Refusal to do so would result in penalties.

“The app particularly deliberately and illegally spreads election campaign materials in the interests of some candidates vying for positions in elective agencies or against the interests of such,” Klimov said.

Apple and Google, which say they comply with local laws where they operate, removed the app in Russia, willingly or unwillingly contributing to what Navalny’s supporters called political censorship in Russia. The app remains available outside the country. Those in Russia who already have the application may still be able to use it.

With the app stores out of the way, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov took time to throw some shade at the US government. “We have reason to believe that the US authorities are also not completely helpless on this particular issue,” Lavrov stated.

President Putin’s allies are already sowing seeds of doubt in the election process, claiming foreign agents in election monitoring org Golos are plotting to discredit the results, despite the expectation that Putin’s United Russia party will remain in power.

The election takes place from September 17, and will run for three days. Many cities are electing lawmakers to the State Duma – the lower house of parliament – via electronic voting. Putin himself will vote online. Also included in the election are the selection of nine Russian region heads and 39 regional parliaments. It’s an important election for Putin as he would rather retain tight control of the country as the 2024 presidential poll approaches.

The verboten app in question tells users who to tactically vote for, out of those running on behalf of as many as 14 parties, to prevent Kremlin-favored candidates from winning. It uses a system dubbed Smart Voting that was devised by Navalny. However, the vast majority of anti-Putin candidates have already been blocked from running, including those associated with Navalny.

Yesterday, Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption organization that developed the app, tweeted what appears to be an email from Apple explaining the reasoning for removing the application: prosecutors claimed the software would interfere with the elections, and that the foundation had been deemed an extremist org. As such the app is illegal in Russia. Its website was earlier this month blocked in the country by authorities.

Zhdanov called the removal a “mockery of common sense,” and a “huge mistake.” A tweet today from Zhdanov said in Russian:

Navalny – leader of the opposition Russia of the Future party, a Putin critic, and an anti-corruption campaigner – suffered Novichok nerve-agent poisoning in 2020 that he accused the president of orchestrating. The Kremlin denied any involvement, though it did arrest him when he returned to Russia after seeking medical treatment in Berlin for the poisoning. While receiving this treatment outside of Russia, he violated his parole regarding a 2014 embezzlement conviction – which he claims was brought against him for political reasons – and was sentenced to 30 months behind bars.

His poisoning and detention was condemned by the West, and sparked anti-Kremlin protests in Russia. In a response to that unrest, the Russian government throttled Twitter in March and ordered social networks to delete posts related to any “participation in unauthorized mass events” as they deemed them illegal adolescent activities.

Google received a $40,700 fine for failing to fully comply.

Today, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal body that monitors, controls and censors Russian mass media, announced it had sent a letter to Twitter to demand why Moscow’s City Election Committee account had been restricted. The missive accused Twitter of foreign interference in the election. ®



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