Christophe Dietzel is a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Health and Human Performance at Dalhousie University; David Myles is a postdoctoral researcher in communication at mcgill university; and Stephanie Duguay is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University.
The pandemic has challenged and changed the way most people go out and go online.
“Monogamy is best at this time», Declared Horacio Arruda, national director of public health of Quebec, at the height of the first wave. Government-imposed physical distancing measures, stay-at-home orders and other public health initiatives have led to a move towards online dating.
This change has increased the number of users of the dating app and the amount of time people spend on dating apps. Tinder says its users had 11% more scans and 42% more matches last year, making it 2020 busiest year in the app.
Since dating apps were created to help people connect online and then meet in person, how have app companies responded to the pandemic? And what does their role mean in helping people adapt to this new dating reality?
Three main ways dating apps have responded to the pandemic
From March to May 2020, we looked at 16 dating apps, their social media accounts, and wider media coverage to understand their responses to the pandemic.
We shared our findings in the book The COVID-19 crisis: social perspectives and determine whether app companies, as for-profit businesses, are best positioned to support the health and well-being of people.
We found that dating apps worked to shape the way people date during the pandemic in three main ways:
1. Communicate about health
Appear messages on dating apps encouraged users to stop meeting in person and engaging with each other online. Bumble sent direct messages to users as public service announcements from provincial governments appeared on Tinder’s swipe screen. Grindr told users “Right now” can wait to disrupt the usual emphasis on fast connections.
Dating apps functioned as public health advocates: users were encouraged to stay home, wash their hands, practice physical distancing, and see a doctor if they showed symptoms of COVID.
2. Fight loneliness and isolation
Dating apps have also tried to help build community and combat feelings of isolation or fear. Apps like Grindr, Lex, Bumble, HER, and Coffee Meets Bagel have hosted online events like concerts, speed dating and encounter advice sessions.
On social media, dating app companies have promoted self-help. Plenty of Fish posted an Instagram post stating: “It’s important to isolate yourself without feeling isolated… and we’re here to help you get through that!“Bumble said that”If you’re just ok, that’s okay.Coffee Meets Bagel told users in an Instagram story, “It’s ok to do less when you face more. “
These posts reflected messages of support that circulated widely on social media from businesses and individuals in the early months of the pandemic.
3. Make virtual meetings the new normal
Multiple applications established Where unblocked features to facilitate virtual meetings. More than just dating via apps, virtual dating took the form of multiple online activities and exchanges in which people could participate while physically distancing themselves.
Free Match, Bumble, Hinge, Jack’d and Plenty of Fish free video services. Other apps like HER, Coffee Meets Bagel, and OkCupid have recommended their users to log in through Zoom or other videoconferencing software, text messages and even old-fashioned phone calls. Tinder made its free passport function, which allowed users to geotag anywhere in the world, encouraging them to connect with people around the world, while staying at home.
Corporate blogs and social media accounts provided ideas for virtual dating. From virtual museum tours to order UberEats for each other and share a meal on FaceTime. They also offered advice ranging from what to wear to how to set the lighting for a video appointment.
Dating app companies have focused their efforts on convincing people that virtual dating has its benefits. Depending on the app, keeping things online was seen as socially responsible, romantic, or even sexy.
Should Dating Apps Take Care of Us?
Our results raise questions about the roles that dating app companies should play in the health, well-being and dating behaviors of their users.
Dating apps can be important tools for building relationships in times of crisis. While new features and supportive messages can help people feel more connected, app companies will benefit from the pandemic. For example, businesses benefit from more paid subscriptions and greater amounts of user data when keeping people on their apps.
As for-profit businesses, should dating apps take care of us? Should they act as health authorities? If so, can their individual pairing characteristics really create spaces for community building? And do these companies have the will and the resources to support communities over time?
These are important questions to consider, especially because provincial and federal health messages often have left people confused as to how to stay safe.
The scholars have pointed out that marginalized communities did not feel supported by health and government institutions during the pandemic, prompting them to seek information elsewhere. Nonprofits have rushed to help while mutual aid initiatives are emerging across the world, leading to a redistribution of care from national and international groups to local communities and even individual people.
The future of dating
Dating app companies are reporting success in adopting virtual dating. OkCupid found that 31 percent of users liked participating in virtual activities, 25 percent preferred video chat to in-person meetings, and 15 percent wanted to watch a movie or TV together online.
While this is great news for dating apps, these companies are also keen to get their users to meet in person again. Tinder recently offered hundreds of free COVID test kits in the mail. Each kit included a pair of tests: one for the individual and one for their Tinder match.
As we move into the next steps in COVID crisis management, those looking to date will be wondering what to do. If governments, health experts, and community leaders don’t step in with clear advice, the most important advice daters receive may come from dating app companies.
And while dating app companies are certainly better off responding to the COVID crisis than doing nothing, their efforts should not replace public and community initiatives that provide people with free and reliable support to do so. in the face of risk, security and loneliness in these difficult times.