Exercise caution when using dating apps

A design of the "Tinder" logo with a bomb instead of the normal flame logo.
(JiWon Lee | Daily Trojan)

Hand-select the most flattering pictures of yourself, create a sly but not-so-cheesy pick-up line and hope online banter materializes into romance. This is the constant routine for avid dating app users who hope to score dates with people they meet online. It seems innocuous enough, right? 

In our media-centric environment, it is hard to find a date the “old-fashioned” way; instead, most people resort to these apps. Although dating apps can successfully help people find and maintain a healthy dating roster, they are also laden with problems that call into question their safety for communicating with strangers on online platforms. 

These dating apps’ inherent dangers manifested in real time on Nov. 11 when Department of Public Safety evacuated USC’s Grace Ford Salvatori Hall, Sample Hall and Wallis Annenberg Hall because of a bomb threat. Similar threats — albeit unfounded — targeted other top universities such as Yale, Brown and Columbia. 

A young woman, operating under the pseudonym Jia, alleges that her online stalker, Ryan, is behind the bomb threats. According to Jia’s accounts, Ryan became obsessed with her after the two spoke online and maintains that he will continue making bomb threats until she agrees to date him. The flurry of threatening tweets aimed to implicate Jia by writing messages such as “@Columbia Hello My partner and I [a woman named Jia’s Twitter account] have placed 40 IED explosives on your campus inside of the butler hall, Carman hall, Lerner hall along the bookstore we have also placed motion detected ANFO bomb’s with PVC pipes to kill anyone on the college walk.” This twisted story highlights the potential risks of meeting people online. 

On dating apps, a user has virtually no substantive information about their potential date besides their pictures, pithy bio and perhaps age or educational background. However, users can easily fabricate this rudimentary information. 

Moreover, no vetting process can corroborate their character. Although encounters with people we meet online can physically harm us, we often don’t heed attention to their mental and physiological dangers. 

The ephemeral online interaction between Jia and Ryan dispels this notion that talking in an online setting, seemingly protected behind a screen, can have no harmful ramifications. Even if users never interact in real life, a simple conversation can spiral into an obsession, hence why it’s so important for people to closely guard their personal information so it cannot be weaponized against them. Users must therefore exercise caution throughout the entire dating process, beginning with the talking stage.

Although users could perceive dating apps as a game of trust, they should instead approach each online conversation in a more dubious fashion. If people use dating apps to chat with potential partners, it is critical they protect themselves as much as feasibly possible from any potential physical and mental threats. 

The simplest solution would be for men to stop abusing dating apps as a way to take advantage of young women. However, this is endemic to the DNA of dating apps, so the change may not happen overnight. 

Another easy fix to these problems would be to simply ditch dating apps and instead find other ways to date. However, in our technology-driven society, this solution doesn’t seem probable. Although a resounding rejection of dating apps may not be the answer, users can take preemptive measures to effectively protect themselves on dates. 

For example, a person can meet their date in a public place and text a trusted friend their whereabouts when they are on a date. To assess the mental stability of their potential date, users can also have a few FaceTime dates prior to actually meeting in person. Although none of these measures are foolproof, they can help mitigate potential damage or harm. 

Dating apps becoming the norm does not necessarily render them safe. Users should either rethink their usage of the apps or take safety precautions before meeting suitors in person. Although the bomb threats may seem like an anomaly, similar dangers — perhaps on a smaller scale — are certainly commonplace.