Despite the reprehensible acts of those who abuse Tinder and its users, the platform is very slowly implementing new safety features.
CW: The following piece discusses rape and suicide.
Assaults during meetups arranged via Tinder have been alarmingly regular in recent years. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Police charged a man in Brisbane with ten offences including rape, sexual assault, stupefying in order to commit an indictable offence, unlawful stalking, observations or recordings in breach of privacy and drug charges.
The investigation led to the man’s arrest after a complaint from a woman who believed her drink might have been spiked after a meeting at the man’s apartment. The pair had met on Tinder. Video footage from the man’s phone suggests that there could be other victims.
Tinder has been one of the fastest-growing dating apps, changing the way people meet. It’s also one of the highest-earning, raking in nearly $2 billion a year.
And, amid the loneliness and isolation of COVID-19 lockdowns, it has become more popular than ever before, with subscriptions climbing almost 20% in the year to June.
A recent survey conducted by Triple Js Hack programme had 400 responses — the majority of which said they had experienced sexual assault or harassment on a dating app.
231 of them had used Tinder, and of the 48 people who complained to Tinder about sexual offences, only 11 received a response.
Victoria’s Glen Hartland, who was dubbed the ‘Tinder Rapist’ continued to use the app even after he was charged by police (14 years in jail for raping three women and indecently assaulting another), he continued to set up fake profiles.
As the Four Corners investigation noted, “Paula was one of those women. She met Hartland on Tinder in 2014 and after dating him for three months, she broke it off. It was then he came to her apartment and raped her. Three months before his sentencing, Paula took her own life.”
“Her parents, Simon and Barbara, have spoken publicly for the first time to a joint investigation by triple j Hack and Four Corners, revealing how shattered their daughter was by the ordeal. ‘The effect of the betrayal and sexual assault by someone who turned out to be a predator damaged her psychologically and emotionally and her mental health deteriorated as a result,’ Simon said.
“‘We don’t think she was ever the same after what happened to her…she had mental health issues that led from that and we could see the changes,'” her parents said.
“The joint investigation has found Tinder is enabling serial sexual predators to thrive on its platform and has built a business model that exposes its users to assault.
“Paula’s father Simon said the app should take more responsibility to stop serial offenders.
“‘They have safety warnings. But it’s obvious with these sites, you can use a false name, you can have a false profile,’ he said.”
“‘But they have the problem of identifying predators and verifying people’s identities,’ he said.
“‘They’ve got to have people on their sites raking in millions of dollars and anything they do to make it more difficult for people is, obviously, not in their financial interest.'”
Along with the company’s failure to act on complaints, there is also a very concerning feature on the app, the ‘unmatch’ function, which actually enables offenders to block their victims, deleting any trace of their communication. Essentially, if someone is assaulted after meeting on the app, then the perpetrator can effectively cover their own tracks.
Tinder has long been criticised for its passive approach, it is gaining a negative reputation for being unsafe, and for not doing enough to protect users. To that end, Tinder has announced some new safety features over the past several months, although it is unclear exactly how effective they’ll be.
New safety features
One is a photo verification feature that will allow users to verify images they upload to their profiles, in an effort to prevent catfishing.
“Does This Bother You?” is another new feature, which automatically detects offensive language in the app’s instant messaging service, and asks the user whether they’d like to report it. Tinder has also introduced a Safety Centre which provides resources and tools that users can implement to keep themselves safe on the app.
Being safe while using the app is one thing…and while these new measures are a step in the right direction towards acknowledging the potentially dangerous side of online dating, and perhaps even preventing harassment, can it stop the assaults?
The US version has added a panic button which alerts law enforcement to provide emergency assistance, but this is only available in the US and so far the company has not announced plans to introduce it worldwide despite the app operating in almost 200 countries.
Keeping yourself safe while online dating
Access to social media and messaging can give us a false idea of how much we know about other people before we actually meet them.
The other issue, of course, is that people can present a carefully cultivated image on social media, so experts advise doing a little prior extra research on your date beyond what’s available on their Facebook or Instagram profile, perhaps by checking the validity of their workplace, or aiming to find any contacts you might have in common.
Experts also suggest setting up a few video chats before meeting face-to-face, and to always meet for the first time in a public place. Other warnings include being careful not to give out too much personal information until you know each other better, make sure a friend or family member knows the details of your date, be aware of drink and food spiking.