ARE DATING APPS A GATEWAY FOR ABUSE?


ARE DATING APPS A GATEWAY FOR ABUSE?

The not-so hot side of Tinder

 


By El Barnes

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Illustration by Meg Wagler

Dating apps come with countless benefits.

To name but a few: they facilitate interactions that, due to circumstance, may never have happened in real life; they allow us to meet exclusively with people we already know are looking for the same thing(s) as us, and eliminate those who aren’t; they are a vehicle for connections between people who may lack the confidence to make them in person. But underneath this lies a darker truth that women who use dating apps have been exposed to time and time again. Apps like Tinder act as a protective veil from behind which men feel able to project verbal abuse; a veil whose protective powers don’t work both ways, meaning that many women are left feeling fearful and traumatised as a result of comments that may have taken only a few seconds to type.

This verbal abuse comes in two forms: The Immediate and The Reactive.

The Immediate is that early message you get that’s overly explicit without any form of introduction, or that insults you – maybe he doesn’t like your outfit in your first photo, or gives a scathing review of your top Spotify artists, positioning himself as superior from the get-go. The Immediate Abuser is comprised of three subsections: The Harasser, The Sex Pest and The Manipulator.

The Harasser sends hey after hey after hey, persistently, sometimes for years. You imagine him sitting in front of his computer eighty-seven heys after the first hey, fingers crossed with all the delusion of a lottery player imagining what they will do with their guaranteed winnings, convinced that this time really is the time.

The Sex Pest is a bit like a peacock: you can see him coming from a mile off and he’s easily avoidable. He flaunts his superpower (sending unsolicited dick pics at all times of the day or making an innuendo out of absolutely anything, see example: ‘so I noticed you’re a vegan…how’d you like to munch on my carrot? *insert winking emoji*’) shamelessly.

The Manipulator is far more dangerous and more difficult to spot. He knows what he’s doing. He slides in with a ‘fucking hell I didn’t know people still listened to Catfish. I stopped once they dropped The Ride. Too commercial for me’ and suddenly you find yourself wanting to impress him with your seriously less-than-commercial music taste. If you made it to the relationship stage with this guy he’d confiscate your makeup within a month.

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The Reactive Abuser, on the other hand, reveals himself as a response to some perceived rejection which may have been a carefully-constructed message articulating your lack of desire to pursue a romantic connection, but could simply have been an inability to reply within three minutes due to you having, you know, a life. This provokes The Reactive Abuser into a fit of rage.

He can be divided into four subsections: The Whore-Brandisher, The Backtracker, The Hypocrite and The Thomas Edison (so named because no matter how many times you tell him you’re not interested, your insistence falls on deaf ears).

The Whore-Brandisher labels you (and probably your mum, too) a ‘slag’ or a ‘slut’ for not wanting to take things further with him. Archaic, misogynistic language spurts from his fingertips in a putrid fountain and you become convinced that you are about to witness Information Age-spontaneous combustion.

The Backtracker simply retracts every compliment he has ever given you – and believe me, there are lots – making sure you’re aware you’re ‘nothing special’ and he ‘just wanted to give an average girl a chance’ because he ‘thought you might have a decent personality’, because if there’s anything a Backtracker is in possession of it’s without a doubt a stellar personality.

The Hypocrite is that guy who’s convinced you’re desperate because you use a dating app, as though he himself isn’t messaging you through, erm, a dating app.

The Thomas Edison insists that if you were to meet him in person you would really rate him and you must give him a chance because he’s a nice guy and you really should give him a chance like just give a nice guy a chance for once and are you really that shallow and lo and behold he evolves into a Whore-Brandisher before your very eyes.


Making light of this situation and calling these types of men out for what they are is easy enough from an outsider’s perspective but this isn’t always the case for the women who find themselves victims of this type of abuse.

I asked girls on Instagram to send me screenshots of dodgy messages they’d received over Tinder and the like and whilst many were just regurgitations of messages I’ve read a thousand times, some were far more sinister. One friend told me ‘when I said no he said he would make my skin into fine silk’. Another was approached by a man looking for ‘hot interracial sex’ because her being a woman of colour is ‘an extra thing to be kinky about’. A third, upon rejecting a man on Tinder, was told to ‘fuck off n*****’ or he’d ‘put [her] in chains to pick some cotton’. Obviously this kind of language isn’t unheard of in face to face confrontations but it certainly seems that men have an easier time saying it over dating apps where they are protected by a screen.

It feels like an extension of rape culture – if a woman is using a dating app, she’s obviously looking for attention, and is therefore desperate and deserves the abuse she suffers. This surge of abuse hasn’t gone unnoticed: in 2014, Alexandra Tweten created the Instrgram account @byefelipe which has now amassed close to half a million followers and posts examples of men serving up generous helpings of verbal abuse over social media. Highlights include a Harasser being put in his place and this idiot being every inch The Backtracker. Tweten told ABC Australia in 2018 that since starting the page she’s received over 4000 submissions and has created a ‘sense of community and understanding’ between women.

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Dating apps have, of course, taken measures to prevent this abuse and help women feel safer online: there are now easy block/report features and Bumble, for example, only allows the woman to send the first message. It seems doubtful, though, that these preventative measures are enough to put a stop to the storm of verbal abuse that men feel comfortable contributing to when protected by the relative anonymity of social media. The need for these features and pages like Tweten’s raises questions as to whether this topic needs to be introduced in mainstream education – when children are being taught about internet safety, for example – or even legislation. It’s clear that something more needs to be done to teach that typing words rather than speaking them out loud doesn’t reduce their impact, and that everyone always has the right to choose – if this means that particular person doesn't choose you, take it on the chin, pick yourself up, and move along. There are plenty more fish in this technological sea.

Art by

Meg Wagler
Words by
EL Barnes

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