Some users also report psychological stress – and even more extreme experiences. A 2017 study from the Pew Research Center indicated 36% of online daters found their interactions “either extremely or very upsetting”. Woman daters 18 to 35 in the 2020 Pew study also reported high occurrences of threats of physical harm – 19% (as compared to 9% of men). And, generally, one study showed cisgender heterosexual and bisexual men seldom expressed concerns about their personal safety while using dating apps, while women had far higher concern.
Youth-culture writer Nancy Jo Sales was so rocked by her experience on these platforms that she wrote a memoir about it: Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno.
“These things have become normalised so quickly – things that are not normal, and should never be normal, like the amount of abuse that happens, and the risk and the danger of it, not only physical but emotional,” she says, citing her experiences. She cautions that not everyone on dating apps is having negative experiences, but there are enough who are that “we need to talk about the harm coming to people”.
As this unnerving behaviour taints women’s experience on dating apps, why are interactions like these allowed to perpetuate? Part of the answer lies in the way these platforms are policed, both by the companies who make them as well as larger governmental structures. This means detrimental effects for their targeted users – and changing the situation may be an uphill battle.
There are some mechanisms in place to cut down on these problems.
Tinder, for instance, has introduced machine learning to detect abusive messages and language, and then ask the writer to reconsider the message before sending it. In 2020, Bumble introduced AI to blur specific images and require user consent to view them. Some platforms have also introduced user verification, in which the platform matches the photos uploaded to a profile with a user-provided selfie (wherein the user is photographed doing a highly specific action, so the platform can verify the authenticity of the image). The measure is meant to help prevent catfishing and abuse, since users can’t hide behind fake identities.
The effort is nice, and it’s “better than nothing – but I think we have a long way to go”, says Silver. Many users agree. “The only thing that we have at our disposal is a block button. And while it’s there and you can block people, what we don’t take into account is that in order to block someone, you have to experience the negativity of that action before you can block them,” she says.