He has consulted Facebook on its dating platform. Stefanie Duguay receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through an Insight Development Grant examining how social media and apps are shaping queer women's social lives. She has participated in consultations with Facebook.
Government-imposed physical distancing measures, stay-at-home orders and other public health initiatives resulted in a shift toward online dating.
This shift has increased the of dating app users and the amount of time people spend on dating apps. Since dating apps were created to help people connect online and then meet in person, how have app companies responded to the pandemic? And what does their role in helping people adjust to this new dating reality mean?
As scholars who study how digital technology is changing dating and relationships, we noticed swift responses from dating app companies when lockdown measures were introduced. From March to Maywe looked at 16 dating apps, their social media s and broader media coverage to understand their pandemic responses.
We found dating apps made efforts to shape how people date during the pandemic in three main ways:. Pop-up messages on dating apps encouraged users to stop meeting in person and engage with each other online. Dating apps operated as public health advocates: users were invited to stay home, wash their hands, practise physical distancing and consult a doctor if they had COVID symptoms.
Dating apps also tried to foster community-building and address feelings of isolation or fear. On social media, dating app companies promoted self-care.
Three main ways dating apps have responded to the pandemic
These posts reflected the messages of support that circulated widely across social media from companies and people during the first few months of the pandemic. Several apps created or unlocked features to facilitate virtual dating. More than simply meeting through apps, virtual dating took the form of multiple online activities and exchanges that people could participate in while physical distancing. Other apps like HER, Coffee Meets Bagel and OkCupid recommended their users connect via Zoom or other videoconferencing softwaretext messages and even old-fashioned telephone calls.
Tinder made its passport feature freewhich allowed users to geolocate themselves anywhere in the world, encouraging them to connect with people globally — all while staying home. Company blogs and social media s provided ideas for virtual dates. From virtual museum tours to ordering UberEats for each other and sharing a meal over FaceTime. They also offered advice ranging from what to wear to how to adjust the lighting for a video date.
Dating app companies focused their efforts to convince people that virtual dating had its benefits. Depending on the app, keeping things online was seen as socially responsible, romantic or even sexy.
Dating apps can be important tools for establishing relationships in times of crisis. Even though new features and supportive messaging may help people feel more connected, app companies stand to profit from the pandemic. For example, the companies benefit from more paid subscriptions and greater amounts of user data when they keep people on their apps. As for-profit corporations, should dating apps be taking care of us?
Should they act as health authorities? If so, can their one-on-one matching features truly establish spaces for community-building? And do these companies possess the will and resources required to sustain communities over time?
These are important questions to consider, especially because provincial and federal health messages have often left people confused as to how to stay safe. Scholars have pointed out that marginalized communities have not felt supported by health and governmental institutions during the pandemic, prompting them to search for information elsewhere.
Non-profit organizations have rushed in to help while mutual aid initiatives pop up across the world, spawning a redistribution of care from national and international groups to local communities and even individual people. Dating app companies are reporting success in the uptake of virtual dating. OkCupid found that 31 per cent of users liked engaging in virtual activities, 25 per cent preferred video chat over meeting in person and 15 per cent wanted to watch a movie or TV together online.
While this is good news for dating apps, these companies are also ready to get their users meeting in person again. Each kit included a pair of tests: one for the individual and one for their Tinder match.
As we move into the next stages of COVID crisis management, people who are looking to date will wonder what to do. If governments, health experts and community leaders do not step in with clear advice, the most prominent guidance daters receive may come from dating app companies. And while it is certainly better for dating app companies to respond to the COVID crisis than do nothing, their efforts should not replace public and community-based initiatives that offer people free and reliable support to address risk, safety and loneliness in these challenging times.
Plymouth Contemporary — Plymouth, Devon. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. The pandemic has challenged and changed how most people date and hookup.