The dating app recently launched a new antiharassment feature – but virtual eye rolls and martini throws may not be the best way to combat abuse M
Y friend Jessie doesn’t use Tinder any more. Aside from the swipeinduced RSI and the serial ghosters, her main motivation for giving up the dating app was the time she matched with a man who sent her a threatening message. “He said: ‘I’m gonna fuck you from behind, and I don’t care whether you want to or not,’” she recalls.
Unfortunately, threats of sexual assault and abuse against women are not uncommon on dating apps. Reports of crimes related to apps such as Tinder and Grindr in the UK have risen by 382% in the past five years with many inappropriate messages documented on blogs such as Bye Felipe and Instagram accounts such as Tinder Nightmare. For every sweet bachelor just looking for someone to share a two-for-one Pizza Express deal, there are plenty more firing off creepy or abusive messages into the semi-anonymous ether, from “requests” to “sit on my face” to illegally doxxing women who reject them by making their contact details public.
Women behave abusively, but by and large this is a problem perpetrated by men and male-identifying app users. And so, as I and many of my female friends work our way through various dating apps known to womankind, I’m generally in favour of anything that is designed to keep us safe. Tinder – the biggest dating app of them all, which recently celebrated its fifth birthday – launched a new anti-harassment feature last week called Reactions: a selection of animated responses only available to female users, allowing them – among other things – to throw a virtual martini in the face of a user who is bothering them, or send a sarcastic eye roll. It is part of the company’s Menprovement initiative, launched with a video featuring US comedian Whitney Cummings, in which the company’s female employees decide that “calling out douchebags should be easy and fun”.
Encouraging women to engage in conversation with the “douchebags” who threaten or demean them risks further enforcing the dangerous belief that flirting and abuse are two sides of the same coin. And then there is the pseudo-empowerment vibe: “It’s simple. It’s sassy. It’s satisfying,” says the company. But is it? Tinder say Reactions weren’t designed to fight harassment on the app: “To achieve that, we’ve instituted a number of initiatives across the board, including stricter community guidelines, new messaging standards for all users, and updated our reporting system to make it easier to use .... Tinder has a zero-tolerance policy on abuse and takes the appropriate actions to combat it.”
I speak to Valerie Stark, CEO and co-founder of location-powered dating app Huggle about her strategies for combating harassment and, thankfully, her answer isn’t emojis but super-smart verification. “We’re using technology that maps 160 points on your face,” says Stark. “This is how we verify your profile. So you take a picture of yourself copying one of the gestures we show you on screen, then compare it against the pictures you uploaded.” This sense of accountability means men are less likely to make inappropriate comments – adding that, as a female app founder, women’s safety has been her priority from the start. “It was quite controversial to see [Tinder] try to move in that direction,,” she says.
Likewise, Louise Troen, the international brand director of Bumble, whose USP is that women must message men first, is also keen to highlight the importance of keeping women safe. (Indeed, the app was founded by a former Tinder exec, Whitney Wolfe, after she sued the company for sexual harassment.) While Troen is reticent to comment on Wolfe’s former employer and its “different offering”, she stresses that Bumble has a zero-tolerance policy to abuse, adding that “as soon as you create a response to harassment through things like emojis or gifs, you almost end up lessening the severity of it”. Bumble previously went public in its response, publishing an open letter that outlined why a perpetrator of abuse, named as Connor, would never be allowed back.
On the one hand, that Tinder – with about 50 million users a month – is trying to police its app, which can feel like a veritable wild west of fake profiles, scammers, creeps and narcissists, is surely a step in the right direction. But Reactions still puts the onus on users. Why not target male users, too, and ask them to moderate their behaviour or risk being turfed out? Tinder does have existing facilities to report abuse – but Reactions risks gamifying it.
Yesterday I logged into Tinder and in my inbox, was a message asking if earlier that day I had been near a tube station, where this user thought they had seen me a few times before. I filed this under “pretty creepy”. I hovered over a Reaction of a big red cross with the word “strike” underneath but, rather than spurring the conversation on further, I opted to unmatch and block. Unlike a virtual slap on the wrist, it offered at least a little peace of mind. – The Guardian
Tinder’s new Reactions are attempts to combat “douchebags”.