Smriti (not her real name) admits dating apps can be daunting. “It is a great avenue to meet different kinds of people, especially if you move to a new city. But, you are not always safe on these apps, it is especially worse for a woman. It takes a lot for a girl to meet (in person) a strange man you have met on the Internet,” she reveals.
Though you may take a lot of precautions — talking to them for a long time, trying to find a mutual connection, checking their social media accounts and so on — at the end of the day, there is no real security, says Smriti flatly.
Shraddha Walkar murder angle
The Shraddha Walkar murder has added a new dimension of fear to dating apps in India. Shraddha, a call centre employee, was allegedly killed by her live-in boyfriend Aftab Poonawalla, whom she had met on the Bumble app. This has left young women like Smriti “rethinking” online dating.
Yet, as Smriti reasons out, a boy you meet offline can also turn out to be not-so-nice.
Presha Malhotra, a 20-year-old student from New Delhi who has always had misgivings about meeting someone ‘dangerous’ on dating apps, is worried about the growing instances of crimes linked to dating apps. Luckily, Presha, who uses Happn and Tinder, has not had any bad experiences so far.
She, however, is still not ready to meet in person anyone through dating apps since she may end up trusting someone like an Aftab. But, the eternal romantic continues to use it to chat with different boys in the hope of meeting her ‘Right Guy’ one day.
‘Love’ landscape changed
In India, dating apps have picked up momentum and completely altered the landscape of romantic love and dating. There are scores of apps out there, with the most common being Hinge, Tinder, Bumble and Happn. Statisa.com figures reveal that around 31 million Indians use dating apps, and 67 per cent of these are men.
While online dating “widens the horizons” to meet an interesting variety of people, the path is strewn with thorns. Firstly, a significant number of people out there on dating apps are into ‘catfishing’ (the process of luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona). Dating apps are teeming with fake profiles.
Legalserviceindia.com pegs the fake online dating profiles at about 10 per cent, while a good 57 per cent online daters lie about their demographic details.
Not everyone on the Internet is looking for love, it seems. Some are looking for just a fling, casual sex, or the person may turn out to be a pervert. So, a girl hoping to meet Prince Charming, her soul-mate may be in for a nasty surprise. Of course, there are exceptions as many matches have been made on these apps, and some have even culminated in marriages.
When roses give way to thorns
A lot boils down to luck. When it does get ugly, it’s the woman who ends up facing harassment and sexual abuse. There are reported cases of men being victims, too, but harassment and abuse are more often targeted towards women, suggests a BBC report titled, ‘The darkest side of online dating’.
Globally, 55 per cent of women online daters aged 18 to 34 said they had received sexually explicit messages or images they had not asked for, reveals the BBC report.
“There is an element of risk involved,” admits Tarun K (24), a copywriter in an advertising agency. “You only have a photograph and some stray bits of information the person is willing to share to go by at first.”
But, Tarun believes the Shraddha-Aftab case, which put dating apps under the spotlight, is an “extreme” one. Dating apps cannot be blamed for this, he says, pointing out that there are avenues to complain and report a person harassing a woman at the helpdesks on apps.
Hinge is the most streamlined when it comes to quality profiles, says Tarun. There are also “prompts” on dating apps, where you pose a question, for example on F1 or on football, and learn more about the person when they reply. “These are ways to pick up clues on if the person is genuine,” he adds. Some apps also provide a ‘photo-match’ facility that helps to find out if the person they are talking to is for real.
Pros, cons, and the balance
Online dating has its pros and cons for Shristi Sharma, a 22-year-old student from Mumbai. The cons, however, far outweigh the pros, she stresses.
“Most people who use online dating apps are there only for hook-ups. Some even openly admit this in their bios. Many, however, hide the fact they do not want a serious relationship. Later, you will find they were dating two-three people at the same time,” she says.
For Shristi, most people who date online adopt a casual attitude. The male gender tends to approach dating apps with a casual, wink-wink attitude. She has had a spate of bad good experiences, she says. “When I started using Tinder, most people asked me to meet them. They said cheap things and asked me to send my pictures,” she recounts bitterly.
“They had a casual attitude, thought I did too, but I was looking for something serious. I talked to three-four guys, understood their intention and I stopped talking to them,” she adds. But, in the end, it worked for her when she came across a guy who also wanted something serious.
“We met on Tinder, but started talking on WhatsApp. He is different from the others that I have come across so far. It has now been 1.5 years since we have been together,” gushes Shristi.
Where Bumble scores
Bumble is a good alternative because it is the woman who initiates the conversation, says Shristi, adding that her friend Shivi uses Bumble as well. The dating app does not allow men to make the first move.
However, she believes one should be extra cautious while using dating apps. “You cannot know the true nature of someone you meet online as there are no common friends involved. You have no idea of the person’s background. You will only know what they tell you,” says Shristi. But there’s a good side to dating apps, too, she concedes. “Dating apps may help someone who is lonely, an introvert, who wants to connect with others.”
Nishit Arora, 22, has never used a dating app. He believes most people on dating apps are not serious and they are only looking for something casual. “I am not into casual relationships,” he says firmly. Nishit’s best friend met many girls through Tinder but the girls were not serious. “His attitude changed after that and he too started getting into casual, open relationships,” recalls Nishit.
A serious identity problem
The big problem with dating apps is impersonation or catfishing. You talk to someone online, get to know and form a bond with them only to learn in the end they are not who they claim to be.
Sahil Mehta, 23, a resident of Delhi, has been using Tinder for three years now. He has come across people building up entirely different personas on the app.
“I cannot understand why people do this. The truth will eventually come out, no matter how hard you try to conceal it,” he says. “Often, girls take pictures from the Instagram, Facebook accounts of people they find desirable/good-looking and use them as their own profile pictures. This comes as a huge shock when you actually meet the person and realise you were talking to someone else the whole time,” adds Sahil.
The Netflix show Tinder Swindler, a true-crime documentary about Israeli conman Simon Leviev who used Tinder to scam women, extracting millions of dollars from them, is a typical example of how far this impersonation game can go.
Simon Leviev (real name Simon Hayut) made women believe that he is the son of diamond mogul Lev Leviev. He dated many women at a time, only to leave them bankrupt and in love.
Why get on dating apps?
So, why do people gravitate towards dating apps? According to a report on surveymonkey.com, globally, more than half of the young adults aged 18-24 use dating apps for casual hookups. Older adults, however, see dating apps as a means to develop short and long-term relationships.
Some want something fun and interesting to do and others join out of curiosity to check it out for the experience. Interestingly, according to statista.com, to find a dating partner for one’s friend or to boost one’s own self-esteem turn out to be the least popular reasons for getting on a dating app.
How to stay safe
Counselling psychologist Priya Aggarwal tells The Federal that young people need to take precautions while handling dating apps because “one wrong encounter can cause trauma for a lifetime.”
She suggests doing a vigorous background check. “Do a thorough Google search, check photos and employment details to verify their identity. You may stumble across any crime records against the individual,” she says.
Also, Priya advises using a reverse Google image search to ensure the person you are talking to is who they claim to be. “Do not open any links that a stranger may send you as they can redirect you to porn sites, webcams or a malware installer; do not transfer money to anyone and avoid using webcam chat,” she adds.
Further, Priya advises users not to link their Instagram or other social media accounts to their account on a dating app. They should also not share their phone numbers until they can trust the person they are chatting with. Avoid sharing personal pictures that can be used against you, she adds.
“I am not against online dating. I believe it is a personal choice. One just needs to be cautious when they meet someone online,” says Priya.
When to swipe left
On staying safe on dating apps, Smriti says: “I have not experienced catfishing but some of the red flags one should watch out for are overly filtered images, poor quality photographs, and if the person is being cagey about sharing any kind of details. I will swipe left right away.”
At the end of day, dating apps are a lifestyle choice out there. Young people just need to use them with a little bit of care. After all, it may be good to remember that not everyone on these apps is looking for romantic love.
Know the safety features on apps
- Dating apps have installed a few features to ensure the safety of their users.
- Tinder has an UnMatch and Report Anytime feature, which allows users to unmatch, report a person anytime and for any reason. Once unmatched, the person will no longer appear on their list of messages.
- Tinder’s AI also sends a user a “Does this bother you?” message anytime it detects some inappropriate or abusive message from some other user. If yes, one can report the user immediately.
- Members can also use Tinder’s photo verification feature to ensure they are the person they show in their profile picture. This is done by taking various in-app photos.
- Bumble launched a safety feature in 2019 called a private detector, which responds to cyber flashing — sending unsolicited lewd photos online. The AI-powered feature automatically detects and blurs inappropriate, lewd images. It also warns users about the photo before they open it.
- Bumble too has a photo verification, an Unmatch and Block and Report feature to help protect its users.