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

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

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

Photo: Tin­der

Tin­der’s new Re­ac­tions are at­tempts to com­bat “douchebags”.

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