There are so many perks to dating apps and online dating. In a perfect world, you might find your perfect match - that much-needed distraction away from the stresses of work. You may not have that spark with someone, but might make a lifelong friend. You might just get that little adrenaline rush that drives the human soul!
Online dating and dating sites were popular before the pandemic but force a bunch of horny singles (and often non-singles) into isolation and suddenly you’ve got a whole host of folks with repetitive strain syndrome in their thumbs scrolling through your online dating profile.
In March 2020, Tinder hit three billion swipes in a single day. Not three million, three BILLION. And that was just the beginning. The number has risen since then, and the speed at which online dating sites are being tapped up is mindblowing. Apparently you didn’t need to physically meet in lockdown, the chat was more than enough.
And therein lies the potential problem. Are these swipers genuinely interested in finding the one? Or are these platforms breeding a culture of harassment? Hiding behind an app is easy for those just looking to push the boundaries beyond acceptability. Abuse can be rife with unacceptable messages proliferating across platforms to both men and women.
If you speak to most women who’ve been on a dating app, most will proclaim they have received some form of a sexually explicit message from someone they've met online. Perhaps a photo beyond the realms of what they’d asked or even had not asked for.
Let’s not underestimate the psychological effects of dating online. Personal safety, threats, and the actual stress of online harassment are commonly reported. And yet we all still flock to dating apps, we all still do it and we all still normalize less than ideal experiences.
The burning question then is why are inappropriate interactions on dating websites allowed to perpetuate and what can we do about it?
Online safety and policing dating apps is a huge task and one that dating app companies must walk a very thin and tricky tightrope. Companies need to be accountable but without having a detrimental effect on their target users. That’s no easy task.
The big machines Tinder and Bumble have brought in Artificial Intelligence to try and detect abuse in messages before they are sent. The user is then asked to rephrase their text. Images are also blurred where they’re deemed not right for the receiver. The effort is there. But the results are often not there.
As a user your only line of defense is the blocking features. In order to activate that block button, you’ve already received the unwanted message or photo. It’s a flimsy solution to a problem that’s already occurred. Could you be talking to a fake account? Is their profile picture actually them? Is it a fake profile?
And this is just online. Meeting up in person for a first date comes with all of its own potential hazards and date pressures. As a user meeting a stranger through an app you are vulnerable and beyond telling a friend where you’re going and who you’re meeting, there is very little that can prevent a potential risk of sexual violence.
So can things improve and what steps can we take to stay safe on online dating apps?
Beyond the current screening processes and monitoring account information that some apps have in place, there is very little protection for users. So the onus is on us, the users, to keep ourselves safe. You’re putting yourself out there with a complete stranger which is not to be underestimated!
Here are some useful safety tips as to how to use a dating app safely and stay aware.
Meet in a public place and use your own transportation to get there.
Sounds simple and obvious but we’re spelling it out here. Tell someone where you’re going, what time you’re going, and then tell them when you’re leaving. Put a code system in place, a word that you can text them which then triggers a call to get you out of there.
Buy your own drinks or have sight of yours being bought for you.
It’s sad that this is even a thing. But its a thing. So don’t let it be you that it becomes a thing to. Go one further than this and don’t leave your drink unattended.
Google image search.
Ever seen the programme Catfish? If you haven't then watch it. It’s utterly terrifying but utterly reflective of what is happening in many situations. So before your date, screen grab their image and pop it in google.
Check-in with a friend in front of your date.
Ask a friend to call you mid-date. Have a very public conversation about where you are, who you’re with and what they look like. It’ll throw them, send them slightly off balance and if they stick around after being called out then they’re a keeper.
Ask for their sexual health history.
Awkward conversation alert. Yep, but wouldn’t you rather know than risk it? Imagine if every dating app had an iPlaySafe 'Play Badge'. How transparent would that be! But they don’t (and they should) so in absence of this, ask them to be upfront. If they’re respectful and serious about meeting up and possibly progressing ‘things’ then it won’t be an issue to share.
Don’t share personal information.
About yourself, your likes, your quirks? Go for it. Your home address, social media accounts, real life movements, anything else that might make you feel uncomfortable holdback. Don’t link your profile to social media accounts as the more personal information you share online, the more you open yourself up to hackers and scammers.
Meet in a busy place.
If you’re lining up a potential date, suggest meeting in public. A bar or even a coffee shop, go where there'll be some hustle and bustle around you. If you then move locations make sure to share your movements with a friend.
Make parking meters your ally.
This is a random curveball idea but we think its genius. If you’re driving to your date and need to pay for parking, pop an hour on the meter. Then when your reminder text pings up on your screen tell your date you need to dash out. You either top it up and head back or jump in the car and drive away. Told you it was a random one.
Don’t be afraid to walk away.
Every date is your call to make. If it’s not working and you’re getting a bad vibe then walk away. Why stay? Hold your head high, take a deep breath, puff out your chest, adopt your Superwoman stance and just say “I’m sorry this isn’t for me”. And then walk away.
That first ‘sleepover’.
That’s a whole other step on this online dating journey. We all know chemistry when it hits us in the face. That warm fuzzy tingly feeling you get, sweaty palms, pounding heart, throbbing libido. And there’s no denying that the thrills, the highs, the adrenaline rush are immense. Yes we can all err on the side of caution and wait until we’re a few dates along. But what’s to say we can’t also throw caution to the wind.
If you’re spreading your wings and flying then fly safe. Tell someone where you’re going, tell your date that you’ve told someone where you’re going. Then be safe, and play safe. This is your body, your boundaries, your rules.
Most dating apps are working tirelessly towards better security, more rigorous screening, faster reaction times to complaints. To feel unsafe is their worst possible outcome. As with any sites and apps they come with their issues but on the flip side there are so many benefits!
The build up, the intensity, the butterflies, not to mention the possibility of meeting your soulmate, that’s got to be worth the scrolling! So get out there, be your authentic self, but do it safely.