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The 8 Essential Elements of Facebook’s Slingshot Etiquette

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It’s a tit for tat world. We dole out Twitter faves for reciprocated Twitter faves, we Facebook “like” only with the tacit promise to be liked back. A lot of digital communication relies on the premise: if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your balls.

In the past few months, a litter of Snapchat imitators have been brought into the world by startups looking to capitalize on the freakishly addictive platform of ephemeral photo exchanges. Facebook, the kid who never wants to be left unpicked in gym class, just released Slingshot, another visual messaging app, this week. It has the get-it-while-you-can attitude of Snapchat, only, the stakes seem even higher because of one funny twist: you can only receive photo messages if you send them. Slingshot is not unlike a bank — or human friendships — in that you have to deposit something in order to withdraw. Like Snapchat, you can scribble doodles on the photos, caption them with text, and even take brief (if dizzying) videos and send them away to a few of your friends at a time. Your friends can only read or “unlock” them once they’ve sent something to you too. It’s an incentivized kind of sharing, where all participants are urged to become posters and nobody gets away with being a passive lurker.

Some are heralding Facebook’s second attempt in the ephemera game as one big, locked door dud. However, others claim it’s highly addictive. Like, waste-a-few-hours-trying-to-unlock-pics-of-your-friend’s-sushi addictive. One avid Slingshot user claims, “Slingshot is interesting in that it’s the only social device that’s out there that mirrors one important element of real life interactions: it’s always a two-way street.” Which is sort of both the brilliance and the hang up of Slingshot — you need to react in order to get the goods. But this is new terrain for us all, and we all want to sling with purpose, so let’s take a look at some of the basic Slingshot etiquette we’ve picked up from a week of slinging.

Don’t overload any one person with Slingshots.

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When you open Slingshot, you’ll get a number of Unlocked or Locked messages waiting for you. Unlocked photos you’ve earned by sending some of your own (but “reaction” shots, or split screen shots, you can get automatically from the sender.) A Locked picture is blurred out by the app, and becomes clear once you’ve slung your own. Sometimes, when you have a few Locked photos stored up, the first instinct would be to sling some more. Like, a lot more.

True, Slingshot is not a spectator sport, but my coworkers and I immediately realized that there was a bit of delay with Slingshot and if you weren’t unlocking all of your pics, chances are you should cool it and wait a bit. Nobody wants to be inundated with slings — keep in mind that for every sling you send, they need to send one back. It can also feel a bit like mutual masturbation, cheap exchanges in pursuit of your own pleasure — only the scale never tips, you never get all the photos you want, and if this were a bed, you’d never really ever get off. Don’t overload your friends. Keep it chill.

Do over-react.

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Slingshot’s best feature might be the reaction shots — split screens where you can add onto whatever sling you just received. The key components here are creativity and dramatic reactions. With the capabilities of reacting to a picture with a video and vice versa, now is your time to exercise everything your high school drama coach taught you. As you can see above, I reacted to a video of a Coke pour by opening my mouth to “catch” the stream. It might have been my idea, but it’s objectively brilliant.

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Here’s an example of a poor sling. Jeremy and I simply didn’t put in the effort. D-.

Skip the mundanities.

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Because you are taking a lot of photos in order to get other photos, you could become easily trapped in sending a stream of bullshit slings just because you want to unlock your friend’s pics. Don’t do this. That’s really dull. Avoid the mundane aspects of your life and give your friends something they can react to (remember, they have to react.) Use Slingshot less like a status update and more like a conversation or love note.

One 27 year-old woman told me, “It’s important to actually send stuff that matters. It shouldn’t feel like you’ve suddenly tapped into someone’s Google Glass and you’re just suddenly seeing every boring part of their day.”

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This sling tells a story: Nerve fucking loves sushi.

If you’re going to be a creep, do it the right way.

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Here, my coworker surreptitiously took a shot of the back of my head with the subtitle: “Don’t sleep.” It is terrifying and also brilliant. If you’re going to be a creep on Slingshot (which the medium easily lends itself to), you should probably also be clever. With that said, people can add you on Slingshot just by knowing your username. To avoid unwanted sling from actual creeps, you can hide slings by swiping left on people’s names. And your swipes won’t stick around for very long — Facebook deletes them from their system 30 days after someone’s viewed the sling.

Use text sparingly.

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It’s really easy to crowd a photo with the large font and clumsy crayon feature of Slingshot. Besides, you want to see people’s faces. Keep text messages light, punchy, and explanatory.

Avoid sexting.

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I am not saying don’t sext because I am puritanical. I am not tightening the buckle on my hat right now and heading out to forage for some burdock root. I am just saying this because sexting on Slingshot, while waiting for a reciprocating photo which will require another reciprocating photo to be delivered to you, will be an absolute nightmare. It will be a lot of give with very little receive (which is sorta kinda the worst part of bad sex). When I mentioned to my pal Jeremy, an early adopter of Slingshot, that sending a dick pic on the app seemed nigh impossible, he agreed. “Oh for sure — because there’s added pressure and this whole infrastructure whereas Snapchat is just regular fun. Slingshot is like maximum security prison and Snapchat is the Wild West.” Plus, the awesome thing is you can sling to many people at once — you don’t want your junk Unlocking for strange eyes.

Remember: keep it visual.

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Slingshots work best when they’re visual winks. That’s the addictive component of Slingshot  — the creative one-ups-man-ship it takes to uphold an interesting give and take. If you’re not a particularly visual person, this app is not for you. As one 25 year-old man told me, “I downloaded the app, saw I had to send photos, and said fuck it.” He might find more luck downloading Yo.

Know when to stop.

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The possible trap of Slingshot is that, unlike Snapchat, these aren’t one-off missives. Slingshot can run into a little bit of a ))<>(( problem. For the uninitiated, this is a back-and-forth-forever quandary in which there really is no smooth way to say goodbye, especially if someone can’t receive your “byeee” without first sending their own “k night,” with an accompanying pillow photo. One 24 year-old user confessed to me, “I will say that it stresses me out because I don’t like the idea of always having another photo to unlock and respond to — I want to finish an exchange and move on to something else.”

So here’s the real way to think of Slingshot: a casual, lingering conversation with a friend. Unlike most digital communication, since there’s no real way to send a casual goodbye emoji and cap the conversation, it can remain ongoing. So, take your time to respond. Chill out. Don’t hurry the conversational foreplay — give when you wanna give.