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Van life looks idyllic on social media. But for couples, it can be challenging – CNN



(CNN)It looks like a dreamy life of freedom on the open road: golden sunsets, cozy bunks and endless photo ops amidst stunning views of nature.

A growing cult of nomads are taking long road trips — sometimes for months — in tricked-out camper vans, often documenting their travel highlights on Instagram with the hashtag #vanlife.
But for couples, especially inexperienced ones, this seemingly carefree lifestyle can come with unique problems. Sharing cramped quarters and isolated from their support networks, couples on the road say they must battle boredom and logistical challenges day after day without driving each other crazy.
The death of Gabby Petito, 22, while on a cross-country trip this summer with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, has brought new attention to aspects of van life that don’t make it into sunny social media posts. Evidence shows the couple had some tense moments on the road in the days before she disappeared.
Petito’s remains were found Sunday in Wyoming. Nobody has been charged in her death. Authorities are looking for Laundrie, 23, who has gone missing since returning alone earlier this month to his parents’ home in Florida.
Many couples romanticize the idea of road trips but fail to plan key details in advance and end up trapped in a toxic situation, says Chicago-area psychologist John Duffy, who has worked with van life couples.
“A trip like this may feel like a heady, exciting adventure that will draw you closer together, and often it is. But the days, I’ve heard, can be long and arduous. Naturally, you get on each other’s nerves, at least some of the time,” Duffy said.
“And if you haven’t spent some significant time together, you may find yourselves in an uncomfortable — and, in the extreme, dangerous — level of discomfort and conflict.”

Sharing a small space can take a toll

The #vanlife lifestyle has grown in popularity in recent years, fueled by social media posts, DIY van conversion videos on YouTube and the desire to escape crowds during the pandemic.
CNN spoke to a handful of couples who have roamed the US in vans. They say they have been following developments in the Petito case, riveted by the story of the young couple who shared their interests and appeared on social media to have a perfect life.
“I followed the case borderline obsessively. Gabby had devastating and heartbreaking bad luck,” says Sierra Peters-Buckland, 28, a van lifer who’s gone on monthslong trips with her girlfriend, Annette Hayward. “But, vanlife did not kill Gabby, traveling did not kill Gabby, the national parks did not kill Gabby. A person killed Gabby.”
For Peters-Buckland, the allure of the van life beckoned last year. She quit her job at a sporting goods store in Oceanside, California, packed her bags and started planning a cross-country trip.
Sierra Peters-Buckland and her girlfriend have traveled so far to 42 states and 50 national parks.

Sierra Peters-Buckland and her girlfriend have traveled so far to 42 states and 50 national parks.

In April, she and Hayward bought a white Mercedes Sprinter van they nicknamed Chance. They decked it out in crisp white linen and curtains to soften the van’s wooden interior, packed a few belongings and stashed bear spray in various spots to protect against intruders. Then they hit the road.
On their last trip Peters-Buckland and her girlfriend drove 24,000 miles and visited 42 states and 50 national parks. They saw buffalo, bears, moose and bighorn sheep. One Instagram pic showed a sunrise over Death Valley National Park; the coffee mug in the foreground says, “Enjoy the Journey.”
But long days and numerous daily tasks on the road can take a toll, says Peters-Buckland. She says their journeys taught them valuable lessons on handling conflict.
“Travel, especially budget travel, can be tiring and cause extra strains having to make decisions every day … expect the hard times, expect the unexpected and have strategies in place if you’re in a relationship that can get into heated arguments,” Peters-Buckland says, adding that she and Hayward learned to resolve their disputes quickly.
Of course, some couples have abusive relationships from the beginning, and their problems can’t be blamed on a long journey in a van.
But even so, too much bickering on the road is a bad sign, van lifers say.
“If the arguments are happening super regularly, becoming aggressive, or causing deep sadness, the reality is you should not be traveling together in a small space. And probably not be in a relationship,” Peters-Buckland says. “We need to stop normalizing toxic behavior so more people don’t end up like Gabby.”

Van lifers must take care of their mental health

Van lifers say they meet like-minded people and make friends all over the country. But it can be lonely being away from their social circles.
Navod Ahmir has been driving his black 2018 Ford Transit van cross-country on a part-time basis for a year now. He’s been up and down the East Coast and to a gathering of Black nomads in Georgia. His partner regularly comes along for the ride.
“I think the importance of community and how much being alone on the road for long periods can take a toll on your mental health isn’t discussed enough,” says Ahmir, 28, of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. “It’s a balancing act between learning to be more social and living with fewer attachments to people and things.”
With a support system hundreds of miles away and nowhere to flee after a disagreement, couples are forced to get creative about resolving conflicts, he says. Ahmir and his partner are careful to take breaks from each other when needed.
Navod Ahmir, 28, drives his 2018 Ford Transit van on frequent long road trips. His partner regularly comes along for the ride.

Navod Ahmir, 28, drives his 2018 Ford Transit van on frequent long road trips. His partner regularly comes along for the ride.

“For example, if I’m taking a nap, then my partner may relax in the cabin, work at a nearby park bench or explore the area until I wake,” he says. “Communication is key, as it’s equal parts listening to understand and speaking up for yourself.”
Like stationary couples, van life couples must practice patience and find what works best for their lifestyle, he says.
Ahmir works remotely in finance and is planning to make his van life permanent later this year. But he says Petito’s case has made him and his partner refocus their priorities to maintain a healthy relationship while on the road.
“We read a lot of personal development books and strive to apply that knowledge to our daily lives, which filters into our relationship,” he says. “Because of this case, we’ll be highlighting our focus on better communication.”

Long trips take a lot of planning

Chicago resident Katherine Kulpa, 31, has gone on several road trips with her boyfriend in a rented ProMaster cargo van.
Van life for couples involves detailed planning that factors both people into the equation, she says.
“It requires a lot of teamwork and communication. You have to make joint decisions on travel plans, often times on the fly,” she says. “Traveling as a couple is fun, but sharing a smaller space can be challenging if you’re not organized.”
Katherine Kulpa has taken a few road trips with her boyfriend in a rented van. "There are definitely parts of van trips that are tough," she says.

Katherine Kulpa has taken a few road trips with her boyfriend in a rented van. "There are definitely parts of van trips that are tough," she says.

On their most recent trips — to North Carolina’s Outer Banks last fall and Shawnee National Forest in Illinois this summer, security was also a concern. They traveled with their dogs, Kasper and Daisy, and stuck to campsites at night.
They also shared their travel itinerary in advance with family and friends.
“Social media makes most travel look more glamorous than it is. There are definitely parts of van trips that are tough,” she says. “If you don’t have a shower or bathroom inside either that can be a challenge, and usually means you have to find a campsite or public restroom. The van can get messy easily, so you have to stay organized.”

Couples should first ask themselves key questions

Heading out on the road for weeks or months at a time requires major logistical and financial planning.
For couples, that should also include talking with a therapist or life coach, says Duffy, the psychologist.
“Talk through a series of questions: How long do we plan to be gone? What is the purpose of the trip? How much do we plan to spend?” he says. “One couple I worked with spent some time in session talking at length about who would be driving, leading to a discussion about control in their relationship. These are important discussions to engage in ahead of the trip.”
Gabby Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. Many van lifers have followed Petito's disappearance and death with interest.

Gabby Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. Many van lifers have followed Petito's disappearance and death with interest.

Couples should also figure out how they will manage changes in plans or emergencies, he says. And while road-trippers can’t prepare for every contingency, a plan can help with problem solving and conflict management, Duffy says.
Young couples often have less experience living together and resolving issues together. Confine them to a small space for days or weeks at a time and there is an increased potential for conflict, he says.
A core idea of such trips is to create memories together, but couples should also have a plan for spending time apart to give each other space, Duffy says.
“Some can do that silently within the vehicle, even seated next to one another,” he says. “Others will need to pull over in a town or out on the road, and allow each other that space. Without planning a method for conflict management ahead of time, the van … can quickly become a toxic and unhealthy environment.”

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Social media giants YouTube, TikTok, Snap questioned at Senate hearing over kids’ safety – Global News



Bearing down on hugely popular social media platforms and their impact on children, the leaders of a Senate panel have called executives from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat to face questions on what their companies are doing to ensure young users’ safety.

The Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection is fresh off a highly charged hearing with a former Facebook data scientist, who laid out internal company research showing that the company’s Instagram photo-sharing service appears to seriously harm some teens.

The panel is widening its focus to examine other tech platforms, with millions or billions of users, that also compete for young people’s attention and loyalty.

The three executives — Michael Beckerman, a TikTok vice president and head of public policy for the Americas; Leslie Miller, vice president for government affairs and public policy of YouTube’s owner Google; and Jennifer Stout, vice president for global public policy of Snapchat parent Snap Inc. — are due to appear at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

The three platforms are woven into the fabric of young people’s lives, often influencing their dress, dance moves and diet, potentially to the point of obsession. Peer pressure to get on the apps is strong. Social media can offer entertainment and education, but platforms have been misused to harm children and promote bullying, vandalism in schools, eating disorders and manipulative marketing, lawmakers say.

“We need to understand the impact of popular platforms like Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube on children and what companies can do better to keep them safe,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a statement.

Read more:
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The panel wants to learn how algorithms and product designs can magnify harm to children, foster addiction and intrusions of privacy, Blumenthal says. The aim is to develop legislation to protect young people and give parents tools to protect their children.

The video platform TikTok, wildly popular with teens and younger children, is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In only five years since launching, it has gained an estimated 1 billion monthly users.

Click to play video: 'Mental Health Matters: Dealing with ‘doomscrolling’ on social media'

Mental Health Matters: Dealing with ‘doomscrolling’ on social media

Mental Health Matters: Dealing with ‘doomscrolling’ on social media – Sep 15, 2021

TikTok denies allegations, most notably from conservative Republican lawmakers, that it operates at the behest of the Chinese government and provides it with users’ personal data. The company says it stores all TikTok U.S. data in the United States. The company also rejects criticisms of promoting harmful content to children.

TikTok says it has tools in place, such as screen time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see. The company says it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users.

Early this year after federal regulators ordered TikTok to disclose how its practices affect children and teenagers, the platform tightened its privacy practices for the under-18 crowd.

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A separate House committee has investigated video service YouTube Kids this year. Lawmakers said the YouTube offshoot feeds children inappropriate material in “a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content” so it can serve ads to them. The app, with both video hosting and original shows, is available in about 70 countries.

A panel of the House Oversight and Reform Committee told YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki that the service doesn’t do enough to protect children from potentially harmful material. Instead it relies on artificial intelligence and self-policing by content creators to decide which videos make it onto the platform, the panel’s chairman said in a letter to Wojcicki.

Parent company Google agreed to pay $170 million in 2019 settlements with the Federal Trade Commission and New York state of allegations that YouTube collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.

Click to play video: 'Instagram for kids idea questioned'

Instagram for kids idea questioned

Instagram for kids idea questioned – May 11, 2021

Despite changes made after the settlements, the lawmaker’s letter said, YouTube Kids still shows ads to children.

YouTube says it has worked to provide children and families with protections and parental controls like time limits, to limit viewing to age-appropriate content. It emphasizes that the 2019 settlements involved the primary YouTube platform, not the kids’ version.

“We took action on more than 7 million accounts in the first three quarters of 2021 when we learned they may belong to a user under the age of 13 — 3 million of those in the third quarter alone — as we have ramped up our automated removal efforts,” Miller, the Google vice president, says in written testimony prepared for the hearing.

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Here’s how parents can navigate kids’ screen time during COVID-19

Snap Inc.’s Snapchat service allows people to send photos, videos and messages that are meant to quickly disappear, an enticement to its young users seeking to avoid snooping parents and teachers. Hence its “Ghostface Chillah” faceless (and word-less) white logo.

Only 10 years old, Snapchat says an eye-popping 90% of 13- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. use the service. It reported 306 million daily users in the July-September quarter.

The company agreed in 2014 to settle the FTC’s allegations that it deceived users about how effectively the shared material vanished and that it collected users’ contacts without telling them or asking permission. The messages, known as “snaps,” could be saved by using third-party apps or other ways, the regulators said.

Snapchat wasn’t fined but agreed to establish a privacy program to be monitored by an outside expert for the next 20 years — similar to oversight imposed on Facebook, Google and Myspace in privacy settlements in recent years.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Trudeau’s heritage minister has a chance to reset social media regulations. Will he take it? – Global News



Justin Trudeau’s new heritage minister has a chance to reset the Liberal government’s controversial plans to regulate social media and internet giants. The question is whether he will take it.

Trudeau tapped veteran MP and cabinet minister Pablo Rodriguez to lead the heritage portfolio Tuesday, part of a wider reset of his cabinet after September’s general election.

The heritage file has presented surprising political risks for Trudeau’s ministers. Melanie Joly ran into trouble over a deal with Netflix that saw the streaming giant promise a $500-million investment in Canadian content, but did not subject the company to Canadian sale taxes.

More recently, rookie minister Steven Guilbeault introduced Bill C-10, a poorly received attempt to modernize broadcasting rules to reflect the new internet-driven landscape.

Click to play video: 'Canadian heritage minister won’t say whether Bill C-10 could regulate users’ social media algorithms'

Canadian heritage minister won’t say whether Bill C-10 could regulate users’ social media algorithms

Canadian heritage minister won’t say whether Bill C-10 could regulate users’ social media algorithms – May 14, 2021

The legislation was meant to bring internet content under broadcasting rules, in recognition that Canadians consume media differently in the internet age than when the Broadcasting Act was last reformed in 1991.

But it became a political lightning rod after the Liberals removed protections for user-generated content, which critics argued would subject Canadians’ social media accounts to CRTC regulations. And it wasn’t just opposition parties that were critical of the bill; it was widely panned by civil society organizations and academics.

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Trudeau unveils new cabinet with 9 new faces, major shake ups to top jobs

Rodriguez, who served as Trudeau’s House leader in the last Parliament, is a longtime Quebec MP and seen as a steady hand in the Liberals’ front bench. He also remains Trudeau’s Quebec lieutenant in cabinet.

That responsibility could play a role in C-10’s fate. While the legislation was widely criticized, it was politically popular in Quebec – where C-10’s stated purpose of making Canadian content more “discoverable” on streaming platforms was well received.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Facebook, YouTube take down Bolsonaro video over false vaccine claim



Facebook and YouTube have removed from their platforms a video by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in which the far-right leader made a false claim that COVID-19 vaccines were linked with developing AIDS.

Both Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube said the video, which was recorded on Thursday, violated their policies.

“Our policies don’t allow claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.

YouTube confirmed that it had taken the same step later in the day.

“We removed a video from Jair Bolsonaro’s channel for violating our medical disinformation policy regarding COVID-19 for alleging that vaccines don’t reduce the risk of contracting the disease and that they cause other infectious diseases,” YouTube said in a statement.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), COVID-19 vaccines approved by health regulators are safe for most people, including those living with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, known as AIDS.

Bolsonaro’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment outside normal hours.

In July, YouTube removed videos from Bolsonaro’s official channel in which he recommended using hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin against COVID-19, despite scientific proof that these drugs are not effective in treating the disease.

Since then, Bolsonaro has avoided naming both drugs on his live broadcasts, saying the videos could be removed and advocating “early treatment” in general for COVID-19.

Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July last year, had credited his taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, for his mild symptoms. While Bolsonaro himself last January said that he wouldn’t take any COVID-19 vaccine, he did vow to quickly inoculate all Brazilians.

In addition to removing the video, YouTube has suspended Bolsonaro for seven days, national newspapers O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo reported, citing a source familiar with the matter.

YouTube did not respond to a separate Reuters request for comment regarding the suspension on Monday night.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Gram Slattery in Rio de Janeiro and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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