Why do dating apps dehumanize us?

Why do dating apps dehumanize us?

Today, despite a still sulphurous reputation, applications are a credible way of meeting partners for many French people.

For example, almost a quarter of French people who have found a partner since the end of the first confinement have met them on a dating application.

However, this type of platforms still arouses mistrust for non-users, but also for users. The latter sometimes experience these applications as spaces of frustration and sometimes of suffering. Beyond the commonplace of the “supermarket of love”, we propose to examine the reasons why dating applications can alienate or objectify their users.

An application design exploiting love desire

Whatever their concept (with the exception of slow dating applications deliberately offering few profiles in a qualitative logic) and their specificities, dating applications aim to facilitate and accelerate meetings. Like social networks, their fundamental economic stake is the acquisition, retention and monetization of their users. And as with social networks, the business approach underlying these platforms has serious consequences.

Read more: What happens in the brain when you fall in love?

Thus, upon registration, the applications simplify access to their pool of singles: often all you need is a Facebook account or a telephone number, and an image to exist on the platform. Since users are poorly guided and advised, the quality of the profiles suffers.

According to the study that we carried out as part of our book “Applications de Rencontre. Deciphering neo-consumerism in love”, only 59% of male profiles offer a description and a third of them offer a description or biography of more than one sentence. The poor content of many profiles (or their very artificial appearance) implies that we pay less attention to them, that we do not take them seriously. As a result, the human being behind the profile turns out to be much less visible. It should be noted that this phenomenon is less significant on traditional dating sites (where registration fees require greater profile development) and on certain applications encouraging users to answer a large number of questions to feed their profile.

Secret Algorithms

This first problem, however, has only a relative influence on the desire of users, promised to meet an abundance of singles. One or two photos can be enough to arouse the desire to meet. Here, the necessity of applications to retain their subscribers can prove harmful. No one knows how the different profile suggestion algorithms are designed, only, if we rely on the user experience as it is told, we realize that the applications distill the relevant profiles drop by drop. and that a weariness tends to set in. This feeling leads to less involvement in the process of datingless interest in each profile offered, and, consequently, the multiplication of unconstructive, even antisocial behaviors.

Finally, the need to monetize promising profiles also contributes to making dating apps frustration-creating machines. It is for these platforms to reduce the natural performance of these users to encourage them to opt for paid options (to highlight their profile, to be able to like an unlimited number of profiles or to send an unsolicited message, etc. .). This system allows dating applications to be among the most profitable in the world.

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The average user, attracted by applications for their apparent freeness, therefore finds himself unknowingly in a sort of purgatory where his experience would be made deliberately frustrating, at the antipodes of the initial promise of the platforms, plagued by problems of self-esteem that one can imagine. We thus observe a number of users clinging desperately to the slightest contact and some others developing aggressiveness.

A Fertile System of Antisocial Behaviors

The design of dating apps, as well as the very nature of cyberspace, fosters antisocial behavior and therefore tends to dehumanize online dating. We discuss here some telling examples that were related to us in the context of our study.

First of all, among the criteria for adopting dating applications, two aspects are regularly mentioned: engaging in a logic of homophilia or opening up to new horizons. If that seems contradictory, our research shows that these two approaches result in a similar search behavior: hypercriterization.

According to our study, 73.8% of respondents consider themselves more selective in terms of criteria on applications than in offline life. This hypercriterization corresponds to a very pronounced tendency to focus one’s attention on criteria designed as personal preferences but often stemming from the system of applications such as age, height, skin color, hair, job, level of studies, religion, quality of spelling, etc.

This hypercriterization often goes hand in hand with hyperselectivity. A user may therefore consider that the slightest element of a profile is off-putting and thus disqualify each non-compliant profile, at any time. This phenomenon, if it may seem benign or legitimate, tends to empty the meeting process of its meaning, to make it much more artificial and to establish the famous atmosphere of “ready-to-throw” so decried on the applications. Paradoxically, hypercriterization and hyperselectivity are the flip side of the coin of too many profiles.

Violence of ghosting

Consequently, the ghosting has established itself as an act of violence normalized and internalized by users. This term comes from the English “ghost” (ghost) designates the fact of not giving news to someone suddenly and definitively, for no apparent reason. According to our study, 53% of men and 80% of women admit to having already done so during their dating. It is interesting to note that the ghosting is also practiced after a “real” meeting following exchanges on dating applications. So it’s not just an application design issue; the abundance system they have established also alters human interactions outside the virtual world. Several elements favor this practice on the applications: the cyclical consumption of the platforms (users subscribe and unsubscribe according to their romantic situation), the incentive to flirt with several people at the same time, the decontextualization of meetings (that is to say that no social context consolidates the link established between two people), the bad perception – paradoxical – that we have of other users on these platforms (this is the case of 54 % of respondents in our study), the fact of being regularly the victim of ghosting and of wanting to “return the favor”.

The issue of hypercriterization also presents more extreme cases, for example fetishization, especially of minorities. Many testimonials as well as the work of the French researcher Marc Jahjah highlight this phenomenon on applications. In this case, fetishization consists of no longer considering your interlocutor as an individual in their own right, but assimilating them to a category, a stereotype, based on visible criteria such as skin color, height, part of their body (breasts, hands, feet, hair, sex, etc.). Here, the human is therefore reduced to one of their attributes: it is therefore a form of objectification that contributes to fueling the feeling of dehumanization and commodification on dating platforms.

Leaving apps to re-humanize online dating?

Lassitude (“dating fatigue”) is undoubtedly the greatest evil that plagues the world of applications today. If these platforms seem to satisfy their users at the beginning of their activity, this feeling seems to decrease over time, which logically leads users to leave these platforms. 88% of our respondents say they have already uninstalled all their dating apps. However, among them, only 31% did so because they had met a suitable person. The remaining 69% left the applications out of weariness, for their time-consuming nature or following a bad experience. These numbers come as no surprise, given that frustration over dating apps is an integral part of their “freemium” business model.

As an alternative, ex-users, especially young people, are increasingly turning to social networks like Instagram to meet people. On these platforms, exchanges are perceived as more authentic, and therefore, more human.

We therefore highlight the essential role that users have to play in helping to rehumanize online dating, but above all underline the responsibility of applications, which must offer an ethical design of the user experience if they wish to be sustainable. A movement is already taking place among the platforms to integrate security devices and to fight against anti-social practices, but their business model still seems to limit their options.

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