Does Tinder’s Menprovement drive do enough to protect women?
My friend Jessie doesn’t use Tinder any more. Aside from the swipe-induced 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.
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, I’m generally in favour of anything that is designed to keep us safe. Tinder launched an anti-harassment feature last week called Reactions: a selection of animated responses onlynly 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 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 belief that flirting and abuse are two sides of the same coin. “It’s simple. It’s sassy. It’s satisfying,” says the company. But is it? Tinder says 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 cofounder of dating app H Hugglel aboutb her strategies for combating harassment. “We’re using technology that maps
160 points on your face,” says S 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.” T This sense of accountability means men are less likely to make inappropriate comments. Louise Troen, global brand director of Bumble, 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.) 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.
That Tinder – with about 50 million users a month – is trying to police its app 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?
Yesterday I logged into Tinder and in my inbox was a message asking if earlier that day I had been near a tube station. 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.
Hannah J Davies