And Why Staying Safe Matters Even More after COVID-19

For many singles, COVID-19 social distancing mandates have limited dating to online only, including dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge as well as social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Online dating isn’t new and young adults have already proven to favor digital methods when it comes to meeting new prospects. In a survey of 800 18- to 29-year-olds, 54% said they “like messaging people on dating apps more than they enjoy actually going on dates.”

Not surprisingly, online dating has spiked significantly since social distancing started taking place across the country in March. By early April, popular dating apps were reporting an increase in both the number of messages and length of conversations among users.

And, whether chatting via Snapchat or Tinder, the good news is that social distancing has forced online daters to take an extended period to get to know each other virtually before they meet in person. According to mental health experts at Talkspace, “The necessity of social distancing can give us an opportunity to go more slowly, look out for potential red flags, and focus on finding partners who align with our deepest values.”

This demand for better virtual dating has also led to new features like in-app video chats, which provide a safer way to connect without having to exchange personal information. This function also allows users to end conversations and block and report anyone who behaves inappropriately.

Despite improved safety features and more familiar dates, online daters still need to take precautions in their digital romancing. It’s not just well-intentioned singles who are online looking to strike a spark with someone.

The Houston Chronicle reported that “online predators are more active than ever right now.” NBC News also featured the increased activity of predators and profiled the parents of young social media influencers who acknowledged the spike in lewd messages and attempts by predators to communicate with their teens. Before COVID-19, young adults were already at risk of online harassment. Thirty-five percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 have received unwanted explicit images, and for members of the LGBTQ community, the risk is even greater with 56% reporting they had received unwanted explicit images.

Digital dating safety reminders

So, online daters must remain vigilant to protect themselves. Here are three tips to keeping your virtual dates safe.

  1. Stay on the platform. If your chatmate tries to convince you to move off-platform, you might want to reconsider continuing a conversation. Tinder acknowledges that “users with bad intentions often try to move the conversation to text, messaging apps, email, or phone right away.” Digital dating expert Julie Spira suggests “keeping things in-app so that the platform can both monitor and be held accountable to taking action against people who violate their terms.”
  2. Do not share personal information. This might go without saying for many digitally savvy daters, but never share financial, location, or other personally identifying information. This includes obvious things like social security number, driver’s license, or home address. It also includes details about your daily routine, such as your gym schedule, favorite grocery store, or even work location.
  3. Block and report inappropriate behavior. If at any point you feel uncomfortable by the actions of a person you’ve met online, stop all communication with that person and report the incident to the platform. This includes harassment, threats, offensive messages, and unwanted sexual images. These are forms of cyberbullying, and by reporting them, you can help the platforms make ongoing changes to keep users safe.

Safely ending the dating quarantine

The U.S. is on the verge of resuming some social practices, and online daters might be looking to meet in person soon. Whether you’re already planning a near-term meetup or are giving your own social distancing an extension, keep safety practices top-of-mind. The more time people spend online, the more likely they are to let their guards down. Sophisticated online predators know this. So even if you’ve spent six quarantine weeks getting to know someone, continue to practice caution as you plan to meet in person.

Tips for keeping yourself safe include meeting your date in a public location—and via your own transportation. Additionally, be sure to tell a friend or family member where, when, and with whom you are meeting. If you decide to move the date to another location, communicate those changes to your friends and family as well.

If at any point you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to end the date early. Follow any instinct you have to jet because your intuition might be sensing danger. Tinder even suggests to, when you are at a public location “if your instincts are telling you something is off or you feel unsafe, ask the bartender or server for help.”

Lastly and most importantly, remember your right to consent. RAINN defines consent as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity” and goes on to explain how consent can be withdrawn at any time. Although consent does not have to be provided verbally, the best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it. Consent does not, however, look like any of the following scenarios:

  • Refusing to acknowledge “no.”
  • Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more.
  • Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state.
  • Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol.
  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation.
  • Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past. (org)

Whether online or in-person, protecting yourself while dating is of the utmost importance. COVID-19 might be changing many things in our lives, including how we date, but nothing will change consent. If you have been assaulted, threatened, or need someone to talk to, the Rape Crisis Center is here to support you. Call our 24/7 hotline at (210) 349-7273 to speak with someone about how we can help.