Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have reported increased use amid the coronavirus pandemic, while touting virtual dating alternatives for users instead of meeting up in person.
An illustrator on Instagram has been collecting screenshots of these situations, and told Business Insider that users will brand themselves as “badasses,” dispute the effectiveness of isolating, and lash out in anger and hurl abusive language when they’re rejected.
Spokespeople for Grindr, Tinder and Bumble told Business Insider they’ve informed users to adhere to social-distancing guidelines, but did not respond to inquiries about actions they’re taking against users in places where violating lockdown orders can be against the law.
As millions remain confined to their homes to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the desire for human contact and connection has risen dramatically and led some to search for ways to break those social distancing rules.
Popular dating apps — including Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge — have reported significant increases during the outbreak of swiping activity, matches between users, and messages exchanged. It’s also led to the introduction of a breed of users who are interested in shirking lockdown orders, and are encouraging their matches to join them in doing the same.
Dating app users have shared stories across social media, and recently with Mashable, about messages they’ve received from matches who ask them to come over or want to hook up. Artist Samantha Rothenberg, who uses the handle @violetclair on Instagram, has been collecting these screenshots from followers, and told Business Insider she’s received close to a thousand of such stories.
“Because of how common it is, I can honestly say that anyone who is on a dating app right now has dealt with this,” Rothenberg told Business Insider. “People are horny, and a lot of people are putting that ahead of the risk and the danger.”
For dating platforms whose end goal is inherently to bring its millions of users together in real life, the coronavirus outbreak has put them in a curious predicament. Dating apps are forced to balance a desire to keep people on their platform for the sake of business, with a moral responsibility to discourage users to engage in behavior with potential life-or-death implications.
Since the start of the outbreak, apps have rolled out in-app virtual dating options and touted ways users can go on virtual dates. However, the prevalence of users who are trying to meet up in person, as documented by Rothenberg and screenshots across social media, raise questions about whether these dating platforms are doing enough to stymie such behavior in the time of coronavirus.
Rothenberg has long collected screenshots of users’ horror stories from dating app interactions, which she often will depict in illustrations she posts to her Instagram account. But ever since the pandemic led states to instill lockdown orders starting in March, nearly all of the screenshots she’s received have had to do with coronavirus.
These lockdown-violating users fall into a few general categories, according to Rothenberg. There’s the users who try to paint themselves as “badasses” for breaking the rules, though Rothenberg says they’re more like “a–holes.” There are the matches who propose meeting up and, after getting rejected, reverse course to say they’re were joking or “testing” you, she says. You’ll also encounter the anti-quarantine user, whose reasoning is based on claims about herd immunity and the ineffectiveness of social distancing measures.
The last group is made up of users who react to “no” with anger and verbal abuse, Rothenberg told Business Insider. Women told Mashable recently about encounters with men on dating apps who badgered and harassed them after they turned down in-person meetings, going to the point of gaslighting.
These types of users are what led Rothenberg to launch a petition on Change.org to hold dating apps responsible for enforcing social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. She’s also been active about calling out dating apps in her Instagram Stories she posts with screenshots she receives.
“People are angry, they tell me, ‘can you believe this, this is disgusting, this is wrong,'” Rothenberg said. “Because I have this platform, I feel I have a bit of a responsibility to put these [stories] out in the open and share, and bring some light into what’s going on out there to people who may not know.”
In late March, platforms sent out various messages and alerts to their users that Rothenberg documented on Instagram. A message to Bumble users from CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd said: “Please don’t meet your Bumble matches IRL for now.” Hinge users were told to “stay safe and keep connected.”
Tinder, arguably the most well-know dating app, also discouraged users to meet up in a platform-wide message sent March 26.
“We know there’s a lot to stay to each other as we all do our best to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” the message from Tinder said. “We hope to be a place for connecting during this challenging time, but it’s important to stress that now is not the time to meet IRL with your match.”
Dating apps’ responsibilities to pivot from IRL to TXT
As companies across industries adjust business to stay afloat, dating apps have transitioned to emphasize alternatives to in-person meetups. Although online dating success has long been measured by the amount of conversations that turn to real-life connections, platforms are forced to rethink their strategy as users continue turning to them en masse. A poll conducted by Hinge found that 70% of its users said they were open to going on dates on Zoom, FaceTime, and other video platforms.
Some dating brands have introduced new features amid the pandemic. Hinge launched “Date from Home” in April, where users can indicate to a match they’re ready to move their conversation off-app. Plenty of Fish started rolling out a livestreaming feature in March to users in the U.S. to allow matches to go on short virtual dates. Tinder, relatively late to the game, announced this week it was launching a video chat feature by the end of June.
A spokesperson for Match Group — the parent company on Tinder, Hinge, Plenty of Fish, and other dating platforms — told Business Insider that it made updates to its products “to help users better navigate stay-from-home policies and date digitally via phone or video.”
Other apps that already enabled video chat and voice call, like The League and Bumble, are pushing these features to their users more than ever.
But while users on these dating apps are swiping and messaging at new highs, the transition to virtual-only hasn’t been as seamless for those on Grindr, the most popular dating app for gay men. Steve, a 26-year-old living in Washington, D.C., told Business Insider that activity on Grindr is “completely dead.” He said he doesn’t check the app nearly as often any more, but messages he does get on the app are largely from people who say they want to meet up despite the quarantine.
Grindr, like other apps, has attempted to pivot to virtual dating: The platform recently introduced Circles, where groups of up to 20 users can join chats centered around certain topics and interests. However, Steve said he’s seen these groups largely dissolve into “all d–k pics.”
“I dont think Grindr has the ability to rebrand itself honestly at this point for something other than hookups,” Steve said. “They tried to take the opportunity to rebrand itself as something else, and it just right away became sexual.”
A Grindr spokesperson told Business Insider it had sent in-app notifications to all users asking them to “refrain from in-person meetings right now.”Nonetheless, an app-wide message sent to users — and shared by users on Twitter — made no mention of asking users to social distance.
For users across these dating apps who encourage the violating of social distancing guidelines, it’s unclear how much responsibility platforms have to keep their users’ indoors. In some states under lockdown, authorities have doled out fines and even arrested residents found failing to follow at-home guidelines.
Grindr, Bumble and Match Group — the parent company of Tinder, Hinge, Plenty of Fish and others — told Business Insider in statements they have encouraged users to adhere to coronavirus guidelines from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control.
None of the companies responded to Business Insider’s requests for comment about whether asking to violate social-distancing guidelines on the platforms is a breach of policy or would garner any ban or suspension on a user.
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