The dating app Tinder has faced increasing scrutiny over abusive interactions on the service. In November 2019, an Auckland man was convicted of murdering British woman Grace Millane after they met on Tinder. Incidents such as these have brought attention to the potential for serious violence facilitated by dating apps.
Amid ongoing pressure to better protect its users, Tinder recently unveiled some new safety features.
The US version of the app added a panic button that alerts law enforcement to provide emergency assistance, in partnership with the safety app Noonlight. There is also a photo verification feature that will allow users to verify images they upload to their profiles, in an effort to prevent catfishing.
âDoes This Bother You?â is another new feature, which automatically detects offensive messages in the appâs instant messaging service, and asks the user whether theyâd like to report it. Finally, a Safety Center will give users a more visible space to see resources and tools that can keep them safe on the app.
These features are an improvement, but they wonât end the harassment of women via the platform.
My Ph.D. research investigated experiences that make women feel unsafe on Tinder. It showed the appâs previous attempts to curb harassment have been inadequate.
Read: [Tinder and Bumble under investigation over underage use, sex offenders, and data handling]
In 2017, Tinder launched a feature to allow users to send animated messages, called âReactions,â in reply to unacceptable messages they received. The negative images, which only women could send, included an eye roll and throwing a drink in someoneâs face. Tinder claimed Reactions would give users a fun and easy way to âcall outâ the âdoucheyâ behavior of men.
The main critique of Reactions is that it puts the onus on women, rather than the app itself, to police the abusive behavior of men. The effect was to distance Tinder from its usersâ behavior, rather than engage meaningfully with it.
A swipe in the right direction
Tinderâs latest safety mechanisms are an improvement. The newly released tools suggest Tinder is taking the harassment of women more seriously, and a button that alerts law enforcement might actually protect users from physical abuse.
But the panic button is only available in the United States. Given the service operates in more than 190 countries, Tinder should consider rolling it out worldwide.
The new âDoes This Bother You?â feature could also prove useful in preventing overt harassment. Using machine learning, it will prompt users to report inappropriate messages they receive through the service. Research and a range of social media pages show that harassing and abusive messages are commonly facilitated through the platformâs instant messaging service.
Because a great deal of harassment and abusive behavior is normalized, it is unclear how much Tinderâs new measures will protect women. My research showed that many women using Tinder experienced behavior that made them feel uncomfortable, but they didnât think it met the threshold of abuse.
Sometimes, abusive behaviors can be initially interpreted as romantic or caring. One woman I interviewed reported receiving an overwhelming number of lengthy text messages and phone calls from a Tinder user who was pressuring her into having dinner with him. At first, the woman considered the manâs behaviour âsweet,â viewing it as an indication that he really liked her. But after the number of his messages became torrential, she feared for her safety.
For experiences like this, Tinderâs âDoes This Bother You?â feature would be ineffective since the messages were sent via SMS. The limitations of the in-app messaging feature, such as the inability to send photographs, led many of the women I interviewed to talk to prospective dates through other digital media. But Tinder cannot identify communication on other services. The inability to send photos, however, does prevent users from receiving unsolicited images within the app.
Even if the manâs messages were sent in-app, it is unclear whether the âDoes This Bother Youâ algorithm would prompt users to report messages that are seemingly romantic in content.
Taking users seriously
For the âDoes This Bother You?â feature to be effective, Tinder needs to be better at responding to usersâ reports. Some of the women I interviewed stopped reporting other usersâ bad behavior, because of Tinderâs failure to act.
Tinderâs failure to respond to user reports sends a messages that theyâre not justified, leaving users with the impression that harassment is tolerated. The appâs new safety features will only help users if Tinder does better to address user reports.
While Tinderâs new safety mechanisms are an improvement, the platform will need to do more to address normalized abuse. It can begin to do this by listening to women about what makes them feel uneasy, uncomfortable, and unsafe on the app.
This article is republished from The ConversationÂ byÂ Rosalie Gillett, Research Associate in Digital Platform Regulation, Queensland University of TechnologyÂ under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.