Why are dating apps dehumanizing 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 the French who have found a partner since the end of the first incarceration met them on a dating application.

However, this type of platform still arouses distrust among non-users, but also among users. The latter sometimes experience these uses as spaces for frustration and sometimes for 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 that exploits the desire for love

Regardless of their concept (with the exception of slow dating applications that deliberately offer few profiles in a qualitative logic) and their specificities, dating applications aim to facilitate and speed up meetings. Like social networks, their basic economic effort 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 phone number and a photo to exist on the platform. As users are poorly guided and advised, the quality of the profiles suffers.

According to the study 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) means that we pay less attention to them, that we do not take them seriously. As a result, the human 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 that encourage users to answer a large number of questions to feed their profile.

Secret algorithms

However, this first problem has only a relative impact on the desire of users, promised to meet an abundance of singles. One or two pictures can be enough to arouse the desire to meet. Here, the necessity of applications to keep their subscribers can prove to be harmful. No one knows how the various profile suggestion algorithms are designed, only if we trust the user experience as it is told, we realize that the applications distill the relevant profiles drop by drop and a fatigue 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 behavior.

Finally, the need to monetize promising profiles also contributes to making dating apps frustrating machines. It is up to these platforms to reduce the natural performance of these users to encourage them to choose payment options (to highlight their profile, to like an unlimited number of profiles or send an unsolicited message, etc. .). This system enables dating applications to be among the most profitable in the world.

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The average user, attracted to applications because of their apparent freedom, therefore unconsciously finds himself in a kind of purgatory where his experience would be made deliberately frustrating, on the antipodes of the first promise of the platforms, plagued by problems of self-esteem, as one can imagine. We thus observe a number of users who desperately cling to the slightest contact, and some others develop aggressiveness.

A fruitful system of antisocial behavior

The design of dating apps, as well as the nature of cyberspace itself, promotes antisocial behavior and therefore tends to dehumanize online dating. We discuss here some telling examples that were related to us in connection with our investigation.

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

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

This hypercriterization often goes hand in hand with hyperselectivity. A user may therefore find the smallest element of a profile 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” that has been condemned on the applications. Paradoxically, hypercriterization and hyperselectivity are the flip side of the coin of too many profiles.

Violence of ghost

Consequently is ghost has established itself as an act of violence normalized and internalized by the users. This term comes from the English “ghost” (ghost) denotes the fact that one does not give news to someone in a sudden and final way, for no apparent reason. According to our survey, 53% of men and 80% of women admit that they have already done so during their dating. It is interesting to note that ghost also practiced after a “real” meeting after exchanges about dating applications. So it’s not just a matter of application design; the abundance system they have established is also changing human interactions outside the virtual world. Several elements favor this practice on the applications: the cyclical consumption of the platforms (users join and unsubscribe according to their romantic situation), the incentive to flirt with several people at the same time, decontextualization of meetings (that is, no social context consolidates the connection between two people), the bad perception – paradoxically – that we have of other users on these platforms (this is the case for 54% of the respondents in our survey), the fact that we regularly fall victim to ghosts and of wanting to ” give back”.

The issue of hypercriterization also presents more extreme cases, for example fetishization, especially of minorities. Many statements as well as the work of the French researcher Marc Jahjah highlight this phenomenon on applications. In this case, fetishization consists in no longer considering your interlocutor as an individual in their own right, but assimilating them into 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 being is therefore reduced to one of their characteristics: it is therefore a form of objectification that helps fuel the feeling of dehumanization and branding on dating platforms.

Abandoning apps to re-humanize online dating?

Lassitude (“dating fatigue”) is arguably the greatest evil plaguing 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. Among them, however, only 31% did so because they had met a suitable person. The remaining 69% abandoned the applications due to fatigue, due to their time-consuming nature or after a bad experience. These numbers come as no surprise, as frustration with dating apps is an integral part of their “freemium” business model.

As an alternative, former 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 emphasize the essential role that users must play in helping to rehumanize online dating, but emphasize above all the responsibility of applications that must offer an ethical design of the user experience if they want to be sustainable. A movement is already taking place among platforms to integrate security devices and to combat anti-social practices, but their business model still seems to limit their options.

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