Hundreds of millions of people around the world use dating apps. But only half of users say they had a positive experience. In fact, 11% of female users under the age of 50 have received threats of harm. Surely there is a better way to build these apps.
Dating sites and applications have made it easier to find sexual and romantic partners, which has expanded the pool of potential mates to encompass the entire internet. About 10% of heterosexual people and 24% of LGB people met their long-term partner online. But apps have also introduced (or modernized) many ethical dating concerns.
Before dating apps, many people met partners through family, friends or work, which meant that potential partners were “checked out” by people we trusted. When you meet someone on an app, you often don’t know anything about them except what they choose to tell you. The pursuit of more private and individual intimacy increases the potential for negative or harmful experiences.
Apps help you control how you present yourself and refine your chat pool with filters. Many see this as a helpful and liberating tool to clarify their identity and meet like-minded people. There are even dating applications that are exclusive to people with certain political views.
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But the more discerning you can be, the more you could be contributing – often unknowingly – to unfair discrimination. Many people are walked away or screened out on the basis of race, ability, class and appearance. For example, 99.8% of young minority black male sex users experienced some form of racial sexual discrimination. And only 3% of contacts initiated by white people are with black people. People with disabilities reported receiving “offensive, mean or aggressive comments”, or doubts about their ability to have sex.
Apps are carefully designed to keep your attention using elements and rewards that make it possible to play a game. This can separate your behavior from your values. You may want some caring interactions and vows, or committed romantic love, but you’ll still be bombarded with ads, or thrust into countless conversations in exotic ways. It could be argued that ghosting – which suddenly leaves an interaction unexplained – is disrespectful, but it may be logical when apps send you into conversations that are nowhere near causing harassment.
Using apps even becomes an activity in itself, making it less a way to meet people and more a source of attention, validation and sexual intrigue in your pocket.
Finally, dating apps encourage users to objectify each other through quick judgment based on appearance. From quick swiping with little information beyond a picture on apps like Tinder, to Grindr’s grid of torsos, it’s easy to get dismissed with dating apps.
Can dating apps get any better?
We are love and relationship researchers who have studied online dating, the idea of compatibility, the nature of non-monogamous love and the needs of sexual minority groups.
Our continued exploration of these topics has convinced us that the people who design dating apps could do more to improve the user experience. That’s why, at the Center for Love, Sex and Relationships at the University of Leeds, we’re also launching a new research project into ethical online dating to explore how apps can be a better experience for everyone.
Some apps have already started doing this. Bumble only allows women to make the first move and has added a feature that automatically blurs nude images, giving users a choice whether to see the photo or not. Tinder has added new safety features, such as AI that detects whether a message may contain offensive or sexual language, and encourages users to think twice before sending it.
But they could take it further. Improved safety features could help people report harassment. Applications could do more to notify users when someone is using AI in their interactions, or make it easier to get feedback from friends, family or other users. These improvements may make users less likely to encounter dangerous people.
Dating apps could give users more information about their preferences and behavior. Occasional statistical overviews, or “year-end meetings” a la Spotify, could help users see if they are as open as they want to be, or just selecting people from a similar racial or class background.
Finally, apps can “incentivize” users towards more ethical behavior, encouraging them not to ghost someone, for example, or enforcing a cooling-off period for serial streamers.
Although this may annoy you, remember that dating apps are already doing this – for example, sending notifications that encourage you to check the app regularly.
Be a better dating app user
There are also steps you can take to interact more ethically on dating apps. Being more aware of your own biases is a good start. So trying to be more open to people who don’t conform to what you think you want in a partner (especially when biases and stereotypes may influence these choices).
You can also be more careful about what you say and do on apps. For example, avoiding ghosting others unless it is a response to abusive behavior. In short, remember that online dating is not just a game, even if it feels like one, and that the images on your phone are – usually – of real people.
This article from The Conversation is republished under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The authors do not work for, consult with, or own shares in, or receive funding from, any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.