A young woman has been left devastated by cruel trolling on a dating app. Here, stylist.co.uk’s digital features editor Sarah Biddlecombe asks - when did dating become so brutal?
You don’t have to look far for evidence that modern dating is becoming increasingly brutal. This year alone we’ve heard about the guy who tried to sue his date for being “rude”, encountered a man who attempted to date five women in one night, and been sickened by the sexually threatening actions of this particular dickhead.
And now, a young woman has come forward to reveal the harmful messages sent to her by a Bumble match. Samantha Drain, a dance teacher from Kent, was at a Christmas party when she began receiving messages from Michael Blanchard, a self-described ‘10 out of 10’ who wanted to let her know exactly why she was lagging behind him as a ‘five or six out of 10’.
After sending her a photo of another woman, Blanchard wrote, “that’s what you could look like if you put a tiny bit of effort out in the gym, thank me later… So when you look even the tiniest bit like her I’ll consider meeting up with you but at the moment it’s no way hosay.”
He added: “When you’re looking tip top I’ll let you know, you look like the desperate waiting type so I’ll hold you to that.” [Note: numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes have been edited out.]
Unsurprisingly, Drain said the messages “ruined” her night, writing on social media, “I have only recently become single and I am not the most confident person. It takes a lot for me to get the courage to just say hello to someone… It is just really upsetting for anyone to be spoken to like that.”
She has a fair point – anyone in a similar situation would be likely to feel equally upset. Blanchard has since denied sending the messages, choosing instead to blame the whole encounter on a drunken night out with friends, and his refusal to take accountability for the hurt he has caused will resonate with many people – especially women.
For it is this kind of trolling, and these kinds of comments, that we have been deflecting for centuries, most recently on social media. We are living in an age where female MPs receive death threats on Twitter simply for doing their jobs. There are multiple “safe spaces” set up for women online. When it comes to dating, it speaks volumes that Bumble, a “feminist” dating app which only allows women to initiate conversations with a heterosexual match, even had to be created in the first place.
So it feels inevitable that such trolling has reared its ugly head on dating apps – and many women have found themselves in situations similar to Drain. Esra, 24, recalls matching with a man on Tinder who criticised a mutual friend he had dated because “she didn’t have strong enough opinions for [him]” and he only “likes girls who challenge” him. When she decided not to reply, he sent a “barrage” of abuse to her, before finding her personal Facebook and Twitter accounts where he continued to send her personal insults and call her names.
The name-calling then turned to something altogether more threatening.
“I kept all of the messages as proof because I had begun feeling really threatened by him and I was in fear that he might show up at my workplace, which he had found on my Twitter,” she tells stylist.co.uk. “I had to resort to blocking him on all forms of social media and months later, when I came across him on Bumble, I still felt the same fear. I reported him on the app but never heard back.”
And worryingly this experience isn’t unique, with Felicity* telling stylist.co.uk about the time she received an unsolicited message from a stranger on Twitter. “I didn’t reply for about 15 minutes, so he sent me a message saying he hoped I died in a house fire,” she says.
From compliments to death rates: it seems to be a slippery slope. And worryingly, experts have hinted that the format of dating apps can be a veritable playground for trolls - even those who don’t bother to stay anonymous.
Writing in Psychology Today, psychiatrist Grant Hilary Brenner describes the addictive dating app experience of swiping through thousands of photos of potential matches as a “feeding frenzy” for internet trolls.
As dating apps are still a relatively new concept, there is little scientific data available on the experience of trolling on such apps, although one notable study cited by Brenner did seek to understand why people choose to troll their potential dates. The research, conducted earlier this year, defined trolling as “communication online with intention of being provocative, offensive or menacing, in an attempt to trigger conflict and cause victims distress for the trolls own amusement”.
The study, which included 357 adults aged 18-60, found that personality traits of psychopathy, sadism and dysfunctional impulsivity were all correlated with trolling behaviour, while the men in the sample scored higher than the women on what researchers call the ‘Dark Triad’. This encompasses personality aspects such as narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy, with people in this category agreeing to statements such as “I insist on getting the respect I deserve” and “I like to use clever manipulation to get my way”.
Unsurprisingly, the research paints a heavily disturbing image of a dating app troll.
However, it is important to note one particular finding of the study: that women scored similarly to men on trolling behaviour. Whereas previous research into trolling on social media has found men are more likely to be the perpetrators of such damaging behaviour, the results of this study showed no preference for gender. This, Brenner notes, could be because of the nature of dating apps themselves. “Users may be more prone to express whatever sadistic impulses they have on an app like Tinder, which is more immediate and potentially anonymous,” he writes.
And concluding the study, the researchers added, “The dating app troll, like the online troll, is sadistic, psychopathic, and dysfunctionally impulsive. Interestingly, unlikely the general online troll, the current results show that dating app trolls are equally likely to be male or female.”
Whether a dating app user is being trolled by a man or a woman, the behaviour can have potentially devastating consequences. Victims of online harassment can suffer from increased depression and lower self-esteem and, when the harassment relates so directly to a person’s appearance or personality, it can be even more painful to be on the receiving end of it.
There is a certain level of vulnerability required to upload photos of yourself onto a global app for potentially hundreds of thousands of anonymous strangers to judge you on. In a similar way that countless women feel too self-conscious to go jogging down a busy road or leave the house without wearing any make-up, joining a dating app can feel a bit like throwing a door wide open and mentally preparing yourself for a barrage of potential criticism and unwelcome comments. Yes, you can find fun and love on dating apps, but there’s no denying the negativity that goes hand-in-hand with their format.
Of course, the vulnerability of using an app increases tenfold once a fellow user knows you find them attractive. You can only speak to another user on a dating app once you have both indicated you find each other attractive and formed a “match”, but there are numerous supplementary apps available to get around this – you can automatically “like” hundreds of people at a time, without even having to view their profiles. This means users can collect countless matches who are completely unaware their attraction hasn’t been reciprocated.
Imagine taking the bold step of telling someone you find them attractive and believing they feel the same way, only to suddenly receive a backhanded message from them telling you they’ll only consider fancying you if you lose some weight. To say it would knock your confidence is an understatement.
And with three and a half million millennials opting to join dating apps, perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate exactly how we use them.