Dangerous and Democracy Threatening Truths About Online Dating

By Alicia Dawn Peterpaul

With the rise of new and digital media, there is without a doubt that many things have changed. In this essay I will be examining the extent of which some of these drastic changes have affected the way that we date in this new age, and particular I will be discussing online dating. I will argue that online dating is much more dangerous than traditional dating for numerous reasons. I will argue that even with its negative effects on democracy and all of the risks that come along with it that it had most certainly become a social norm. I will also look at some positive features of online dating. However, I will ultimately argue that this new form of dating that is sweeping over nations around the world is not only hazardous and dangerous but also negative for society.
Online dating is growing rapidly and increasingly becoming more popular, one could even go as far as to argue it has become a new norm in western society. In fact, it had been documented that as of 2005, 42 percent of Americans know someone who has engaged in online dating. As this rapid change takes its form along with the rise of new digital media, I’ve set out to discover just what it means, how safe it is, and what it means for democracy. (Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts, 2012)
Online dating can be very dangerous for a number of different reasons, anywhere from physical or sexual violence, to sexually transmitted diseases and deceit. The results of these cases can be very unfortunate, so I set out to find just how often cases such as mentioned actually occur with online dating. Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts conducted research on the topic and interviewed a total of 29 participants. Three of the 29 participants experienced sexual assault through partners they had met through online dating. (Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts, 2012) The statistics behind the risks of sexual assault associated with online dating are frighteningly high. If the amount of sexual encounters that occurred within the authors’ study of the 29 participants was not frightening enough there are also unfortunately, a large amount of lies and also deceit that occur with online dating. Participants of the study demonstrated numerous different types of lies and deceit anywhere from people with photos that did not look like them in person, to individuals claiming to be single, when factually were married. One participant of Coach, Liamputtong and Pitts’ study actually admitted to having two completely different profiles, with two completely contrary descriptions of who he was, in hopes to appeal to the greatest amount of women possible. This particular participant wish to both attain a girlfriend around his age from this tactic, but to also have casual sexual intercourse with women from an older age. (Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts, 2012) Other members of the study feared having strong feelings for someone through the internet but would not have the same feelings in person. This means that members were aware of the fact that they were susceptible to an emotional let-down. Another worry that members of the study had was the risk of sexually transmitted infections through online dating. One member of the study confessed that he would only take necessary precautions during sexual intercourse if his partner looked risky. Another participant presumed that he could tell if a person had a sexually transmitted disease or not based off of their appearance (Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts, 2012) One man noted” that some women are manipulative in the sense that they would like to conceive a child without the man’s compliance, however, a woman stated that that may be her tactic to ensure men practice safe sex. The authors found that online dating users also tended to have a certain level of acceptance for the risky factors that come along with the process. As if all of the risks and deceit was not enough to make the public weary enough to
Disengage from online dating, there are a few other factors that the authors of this journal entry stated. The authors mention the risk of fake profiles pretending to be women in need but are factually scam artists. Who essentially, try to obtain money from someone they have never met by pretending to be someone that they are not. Some final remarks about the type of participants of the study regarding the types of individuals one could encounter online, I refuse to paraphrase: “psychopath, sociopath, cyberpath, loonies, weirdo, crazy, psycho, nutcases, psychotic, obsessive/compulsive, nutty and wacky.” (Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts, 2012)
According to a study conducted by Vandeweerd and co-authors online dating can increase the number of potential partners you interact with and can help eliminate any anxieties an individual may have towards traditional dating. However, the ultimate goal is to meet someone, so one does still have to view them face-to-face, so although it can initially be helpful with anxieties toward dating, one still has to face their fears of actually dating in person. (Vandeweerd et al, 2016) Online dating can give you the opportunity to take your time and read about a person, and it is much easier to turn someone down on the internet than it may be in real life. However, the risks seem to outweigh the positive features of online dating. As we have already discussed violence as being a main concern to many users, there are many other risks involved. Risks include scam artists; these users engage in online dating only to receive gifts or to try to convince others to send them money by pretending to build a romantic online relationship with the person being scammed. (Vandeweerd et al, 2016) Many users also reported in Vanderweerd’s study that online dating was not very useful at all, so if it was not very useful, one could assume it is not worth risking the potential dangers. Other users from the study that Vanderweerd conducted reported being stood up, unwanted sexual messages, threats for stalking, and abuse. At the end of the day the risks that come with online dating just do not seem worth it. (Vandeweerd et al, 2016)
As online dating becomes more of a norm, more studies are able to be conducted surrounding the nature of it. Filtering seems to be a common thread, however, it seems that online dating app users tend to be paying more attention to filtering people out, rather than filtering to individuals that catch their interest. As we have learned in class and as Taras has explained in his book, filtering can be threatening to democracy because there is a lot of two-way traffic, where we only get one side of information. Taras explains that all of the different types of filters on social media can cause you to, for example if you are a liberal, to only see posts about liberals and negative ones about conservatives. This works the same way with people as well, filtering works so that you only interact with people who think the same way that you, for example liberals. Taras goes into much greater detail about this phenomenon in his book, but you can see how filtering can cause you to be very narrow-minded, to the extent that you are not interacting with people with other interests and views about life. Filtering can cause you to be cut off from other types of people, this way you are not open to experiences, it is the public sphere that Taras mentions in action. When there is so many other things going on around us, filtering causes a blinding effect to everything else. (Taras, 2015) Nonetheless, online dating users tend to believe that it is very convenient for individuals who live very fast-paced lives and also the ability to meet various different types of people. (Best and Delmege, 2012) The authors of this particular article explain that some online dating users refer to filtering as a way of ‘shopping’ online for companions; One individual of the study even compared online dating to shopping for a new vehicle. One type of filtering that online dating users used was first, filtering out the types of individuals that they did not wish to engage with. Some online dating users made it mandatory for potential spouses to read their profiles before proceeding to show interest in the individual- it’s clear to see here that the website itself helped with the filtering tactic. (Best and Delmege, 2012) Best and Delmege prove that there are many self-filtering tactics that an individual user can perform themselves. These ranged anywhere from judging a prospects profile photo, or a personal phone call; Some users even judge prospects on their urges of desperation. (Best and Delmege, 2014)
Shepherd conducted an analysis of three different dating websites, I will indulge in her findings for a closer look at just how much filtering accompanies online dating. In today’s society, the first dating website that Shephard investigated was eHarmony. Her findings for filtering on this particular website were astonishing as they filtered seven different categories which included everything from personal characteristics to your relationship orientation and values. (Shephard, 2016) Other things that users of eHarmony were screened for included things they considered as important qualities and to describe their personality. (Shephard, 2016) Users would be matched with people who think the same way as they did, and they are only able to speak with individuals that eHarmony suggests they fit with. The other two dating websites that Shepherd investigated were very similar asking multiple questions in order to filter through people so that two very similar people can interact. Some other things they filter through is the amount of exercise you get to your political views, and the list goes on, but you see the point. (Shepherd, 2016) You can see how this can relate to Taras’ theory about filtering, and how it can cause very like-minded people to stay closed off from other individuals.
In this essay I have argued that even with its negative effects on democracy and all of the risks that come along with it that it had most certainly become a social norm. I have investigated many negative effects that come with online dating and some of the positive ones as well. However, I have ultimately found that online dating is dangerous, both to democracy and the individual who engages in it.
Works Cited:
Couch, Danielle, Pranee Liamputtong, and Marian Pitts. 2012. ”Health, Risk & Society” 14, no. 7/8: 697-714.
Best, Kirsty, and Sharon Delmelge. 2012. “The filterered encounter: online dating and the problem of filtering through excessive information.” Social Semiotics 22, no. 3: 237-258

Dawn Shepherd, 2016, Online Dating and the New Logics of Internet Culture: Building Relationships, Lexington Books.

David Taras, Digital Mosaic: Media, Power, and Identity in Canada, 2015, University of Toronto Press.

Vandeweerd, C., Myers, Coulter, Yalcin, and Corvin. “Positives and Negatives of Online Dating According to Women 50+.” Journal of Women & Aging 28, no. 3 (2016): 259-70.

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