Photo-Illustration: The Cut/Getty Images
When you imagine the type of person who gets officially “banned” from Tinder, you might imagine a troll. Someone who sends explicit, abusive, or hateful messages. Or someone like the guy I reported because he sexually assaulted a friend of mine. And definitely whoever is behind some dumb celebrity-catfishing account (okay, but what if it really was Zac Efron?).
What you probably don’t picture is Juliette. The law student from Connecticut who used Tinder for dates and just general confidence boosting. Two months ago, Juliette logged onto Hinge, another dating app, to discover that she had been banned without any sort of warning or notice. So she reached out to Hinge’s customer service and was told to check with the other apps owned by Hinge’s parent company — you guessed it — Match Group. It was likely, the rep told her, that she was initially banned on one of those. This is how Juliette learned that she was banned on Tinder, ultimately taking her out of Hinge’s dating pool too.
Tinder was not as responsive, Juliette says. Her pleas for help were instead met with an automated email response and little insight into what went wrong. “Tinder was very cold and dry, and used boilerplate language, only saying, ‘You’ve been permanently banned for violating the terms of service.’ They didn’t give specifics at all,” she tells me.
Juliette is unsure why she was taken off the app, but she has a hunch. “It’s either because they think I’m a robot because I sent ‘Hey’ to five different people because I’m really unoriginal,” she says, “or because I was reported by my ex-boyfriend.” It was suspicious timing, Juliette explains, because something had happened with her ex the day before.
After looking into potential workarounds online, Juliette made a few more attempts to get back on the dating-app scene. “I tried using a Google Voice phone number. I tried using a different email. I think I tried a VPN. None of it worked,” she says. “I was really annoyed. I had put so much time into my profile, and the fact that it’s a permanent ban is really frustrating because this is how people meet people these days.”
Like Juliette, Katia has no idea why she got banned last February. “I was so shocked,” she says. “I was mainly upset because I wanted to know if I did something wrong or if I made someone feel upset, so I would not do that again.” Katia submitted a help request online and also received an automated response.
“I’ve thought about it quite a bit,” Katia, a New York City–based college student, says. “Maybe it’s because I’ll match with a lot of guys and then realize that I’d rather be talking to girls,” so she ends up switching back and forth between preferences in her settings and unmatching or ghosting a lot of the guys. “Or maybe it’s because, especially when I was younger, I swept right on a lot of people because of self-esteem issues, hoping I’d get a couple of matches.” A lot of theories from the people I talked to and who post about their experiences online are along these lines: People wonder if they swiped too much or too little, too fast or too slow. Every interaction on the app is called into question, but the hypotheses are never confirmed. Reddit threads speculating on what went wrong ensue.
Katia found a solution to her Tinder ban in an old phone she still had lying around. The separate phone provided Katia with an unrecognizable IP address so she wasn’t immediately locked out of making a new account. She was careful not to link her Spotify, Facebook, or Instagram and to use none of the same photos as her previous profile. For a few days, this worked, and Katia, who uses the app to overcome her shyness, even got a few matches. Then, the morning after we talked, she sent me a screenshot of an alert that her new burner account was banned too. “Rip new account,” her message read.
But while there are official black-and-white reasons someone gets banned from Tinder, there’s speculation (mostly by users who have been banned, but still) that there may be too much gray area. For example, if your account seems too much like a robot to Tinder — i.e., you use the same generic starter message or swipe right too quickly — some believe this will result in a ban. Additionally, while Tinder hasn’t appeared to clarify this policy anywhere, people I spoke with, and people online, say that if you are reported by three people on the app, this also can result in a ban.
Emma is one of the people who subscribes to these explanations. The first time Emma got banned from Tinder was in 2019. Her theory as to why is that she either swiped on more people than is usual or that she got reported by at least three people who were frustrated that she wasn’t a very responsive user. She was able to get back on the app using a friend’s phone number but was banned after a few days because she put her Venmo in her bio as a joke (but also to see if anyone would actually send her some money) — a violation of Tinder’s community guidelines.
After her first ban, “the first thing I thought was, This is the most poorly designed app if there’s no way to go through an appeals process or see why they banned you,” Emma says. “I thought it was bizarre because I hadn’t done anything. And now they’re gonna lose somebody.” (For what it’s worth, “if anyone believes their account was wrongly removed,” Tinder’s statement to the Cut reads, “they can reach out to our Customer Care team directly via this form.”)
Now on her third account, Emma, who works in consulting, has resorted to using her work phone. “It was more of a pride thing, than anything,” she says. “I just wanted to be able to have a Tinder account if I so chose.”
While the reasons that these users were kicked off the app are mysterious and confusing, for some, Tinder bans feel outright discriminatory. In subreddits like r/trans, r/asktransgender, and r/MtF, transgender Tinder users are wondering if they’ve been banned as a result of transphobia.
This is how I found Emily, who was banned in January. She, along with other transgender people she’s met on the internet, believes she was banned because of transphobic people reporting her profile, and she posted about it online. “I found that it’s almost a right of passage to get banned on Tinder when you’re transgender,” she tells me.
Amy, who is also transgender, has been banned five times. Amy made her way back onto the app using new log-in methods (like new phone numbers and a different Facebook account) and by emailing Tinder to explain that she believed she was banned as a result of transphobic reporting — something that did result in an overturn from Tinder. “I did a lot of research on Tinder forums and things like that and found that a lot of times transgender people will just get reported by other users that aren’t comfortable with transgender people,” she says. “The Tinder reporting function is just an AI bot that if you have enough reports, they just ban you.”
In response to a request for comment, Tinder maintains that it “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. If we determine discrimination or violations of our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service have taken place or a report with ill intent has been made, we will take the appropriate actions on those accounts.”
“Vulnerable communities face outside bias, prejudice and stigma in society, and Tinder recognizes the role it has to help support the safety of all members on or platform,” the company’s statement continues. “We have been collaborating with leading organizations in this space, including HRC, RAINN and GLAAD, on our ongoing efforts to help create an equitable and respectful platform that makes dating safe for everyone.”
Still, for some users, it feels like a lot of talk and not enough actual change. “Although Tinder claims to be inclusive of trans identities,” Emily says, “that doesn’t mean much, as any transphobic user can just report an account as fake.”
Amy, who lives in Delaware, is currently back on Tinder, but she prefers OkCupid, which she describes as more user-friendly for LGBTQ+ people. “Tinder has a lot of users, so I don’t blame them for their automated AI tool. I just wish there was an easier method for challenging bans,” she says.
Like Emily, the ten banned Tinder users I spoke with for this story have since adjusted to life without the app. There is FOMO here and there, but ultimately, they tell me, being off Tinder means one less social-media app to procrastinate with. “I don’t really have any hope for Tinder, and I don’t think I want to be back on it,” Juliette says.
She has given up for now on getting back on the app, but, like the others, she’s still hopeful about finding love, even if she can’t necessarily do it on her phone. “Once I got banned from Tinder, I was just like, maybe this wasn’t meant to be,” Katia says, “and I’m gonna meet my soul mate or my person in real life.