Online Dating and Social Media Safety on Dating Apps

Technology has increased connections for people all around the world, making it easier for people to find communities, to converse with one another around shared interests, and to explore dating. Online dating was popular before the pandemic but, as isolation amongst Americans skyrocketed, online dating and social media usage increased even more.

While there are many pluses to dating online, it’s also important to be cautious when meeting new people and sharing personal information online. Interactions via social platforms and dating apps have increased safety concerns around photo sharing, location sharing, information sharing, and meeting up in-person and virtually. At times, technology can be used to hurt others through various forms of cyberstalking, harassment, scams, and unsolicited or non-consensual interactions online and in-person.

With this in mind, here are some important safety steps and tips to consider when you interact with people virtually.

  • Protect your personal information: Never share your personal information including your home address, your credit card number, your social security number, or details about what you do during the day/daily routine. Also, be cautious when sharing any information about other individuals in your life including your children, parents, and friends. Sharing personally identifying information can increase the chances of being stalked, followed, or harassed.
  • Report suspicious behavior: If there ever comes a time when someone crosses over the line, your boundaries, and the boundaries of the platform, you can report the behavior. Some violations that you can report include:
    • Requesting money
    • Harassment, threats, and/or offensive language and messaging
    • Spam or solicitation
    • Underage users
    • Fraudulent profiles
  • Keep conversations on the platform: It can be a great idea to keep your messages and conversations on the platform that you are using. In some cases, users with bad intentions try to share personal information faster to get off the platform and into texting, email, or other messaging apps.

Laura Gilmore started her online dating experience through the dating platform Tinder. In the very beginning of her online interaction, her match “pushed to meet in-person relatively quickly, citing that it was easier to chat and vibe in person rather than exchanging awkward chit chat through an app,” Laura said. She was also initially suspicious because “his profile pictures were all incredibly attractive but were all variations of the same ‘headshot’ style photo. There were only close-up face photos and nothing below the chest. There were no indications of interests, hobbies, friend hangouts, vacation shots, etc.” on his profile, which could be a conversation starter or reveal some insight into his personality.

Laura decided to move forward with meeting her match. She said, “I made an arbitrary rule for myself that if someone had the courage to ask me out, I would have the courtesy to go on one date and see how it goes to avoid making any snap judgments.”

She was assaulted the first night she met up with her match.

Laura said, “as we left the restaurant, I mentioned that I would walk home since I lived nearby and he insisted on walking me home. I felt uncomfortable but convinced myself he was being gentlemanly. Once outside my apartment building, he insisted he needed to use the restroom before heading home…[and] once I allowed him into my apartment, he became a different person.”

Laura reflected on the experience of dating online and meeting up in person. She said “while there were definite warning signs… What happened was HIS fault because he chose to assault someone he viewed as weaker.”

Warning signs can vary when dating online and in person, and many times, there may not be warning signs. Below are safety tips and things to keep in mind when you are meeting up in-person after dating online.

  • Wait to meet until you feel comfortable: There is no rush to meet up with someone in person. Take the time to get to know the person you are talking to online first. You can talk about hobbies, interests, favorite movies, favorite places to visit, etc. Don’t feel pressured to meet up with someone too fast. Wait until you feel 100% comfortable.
  • Meet in a public place and stay in public: When you are comfortable and ready to meet, pick a place in the area that is local, populated, and public. Don’t meet at your house, your date’s house, or a private location.
  • Let a trusted friend or family member know your location: It can be a great idea to let someone know where the date will be. Sharing this information can be a safety plan in case something happens during the date and you want to get picked up immediately.
  • Be in control of your own transportation: Meet your date in your own choice of transportation. It is important to be in control of the car that you drive or to call a rideshare or a friend when you are ready to be picked up.
  • If you feel uncomfortable at any time, it’s okay to leave: If your date is trying to make you drink alcohol or tries to pressure you into doing something that you are not comfortable with, you can say that you have an emergency to attend to or that you are not comfortable to continue with the date. It’s okay to lie or to not “be polite” when it comes to your safety. If you are at a location with security or staff, many times they can help you exit the situation.
  • If something happens, it is not your fault. While tips can help you feel more safe and have preventative measures in place, the responsibility always lies with the person who has committed harm. You deserve to be treated with respect and to date without fear of harassment or violence.

After the assault, Laura began her healing journey and she shares what the nation can do to address online dating and social media safety moving forward.

“I think continued candid conversations of user experiences and their concerns help spread safety sense and drive companies to invest in PSAs or further safety measures,” she said. “While it seems that the burden is again on the potential victims rather than the perpetrators for protection, I believe that is often the unfortunate reality. One huge benefit to highlighting online dating and social media safety is to destigmatize and celebrate reporting, which further helps to ensure serial predators/harassers are unable to target others.”

The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org) is here to listen and provide resources, and is anonymous, free, and available 24/7.

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