Online Dating

From SI410
Jump to: navigation, search
Example interface of Tinder view on mobile.
Online dating is the "use of websites that provide a database of potential partners-typically in close geographical proximity-that one can browse and contact, generally for a fee[1]." Popular online dating websites include, eHarmony,,, and Popular dating applications include Tinder, Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel. Online dating websites allow individuals, couples, and groups to communicate over the Internet to find specific types of relationships. The objective of these sites are to create personal, romantic, or sexual relationships. Online dating websites and applications also allow users to filter their potential match pool to only show singles in their specified filter. These filters can include age, geographical region and interests. This matchmaking is based on personal information, such as age, gender, location, interests and hobbies. Some sites allow picture posting and offer message boards, video messaging and chat rooms.

History and Use

Online dating is almost as old as the Internet itself. The first service of singles searching for mates was documented in the 1700s, in service ads in the modern newspaper. This spark from the print media quickly spread to more digital types of media like the telephone and VHS, when people started to use more virtual means of communication, making the Internet the obvious next way for people to meet. The first instances of online websites that hosted dating services were,, and, taking advantage of the speed of the Internet and the visual aid of pictures to attract a stable market of singles. [2] Not only was it natural for dating to eventually spread to the Internet, early Internet providers also encouraged these communities by directly targeting digital ads and messages towards single men and women to use the Internet for early "chat" and "forum" features. Along with messages in pop-culture about the advancement of communication with technology and the growth of social media sites like MySpace and Facebook, online dating has turned into a much more accepted alternative to meet people. [3]

The online dating industry is currently experiencing strong growth, making it one of the most profitable Internet businesses.[4] Online dating sites are characterized by detailed user profiles and recommender systems.

Despite the economic recession, online dating websites have reported increased traffic to their sites that may be due to the unemployed having more time on their hands. Likewise, online dating is an inexpensive alternative to meeting people for relationships, contributing to its popularity. It has been found that one in five relationships now originate online and three in five gay couples met online[5]. Data shows the revenue of the the industry accounted for $1,307 million in 2017 and is forcasted to rise to $1,610 in 2022, as of 2018.[6]

Relationships formed through online dating sites do not always constitute a romantic one, and if so, do not always progress solely through virtual processes. It is found that many users choose to arrange a physical encounter rather quickly instead of taking the time to get to know their "partner" exclusively online. Most users meet physically in order to get to know each other better, thus altering the web service as only a tool for facilitating the initial meeting.[7]

The stigma of utilizing online dating services has greatly diminished as a result of the ubiquity of social networking sites and the commonality of sharing information and interacting with others online. Furthermore, many users of online dating sites now have prior experience with social networking sites.

Even popular social networking sites such as Facebook have gained much activity from online dating. Mainly, people meet others through a variety of apps, some of which are oriented specifically for dating, while others are games or other media apps with a social element to them. [8] As more and more interactions are taking place online, the shift towards online dating becomes ever more prevalent due to the general increase of activity on various social networking sites.


Online dating has shifted the cultural norms of meeting potential spouses in everyday life to researching and ensuring that they possess qualities or at least list qualities that they desire. Actor and stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari talks about how some his friends have become so used to the selectivity of traits through online dating that they now turn down beautiful women on dating sites simply because of one undesirable quality, such as liking the wrong sports team. In another case, Ansari discusses a friend who found his significant other by typing "Jewish" and his zip code into an online dating site to narrow down his options. In Modern Romance: An Investigation, which was co-authored by NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari writes about the shift away from meeting organically and how online dating has perpetuated the notion of choice. People become more and more reluctant to choose because online dating increases the number of options, thereby making it more difficult for some to choose a mate.

Niche Sites

Niche online dating sites have become popular, some focusing on specific demographics such as race, religion, sexual orientation, and age. For example:

People are able to search for people with similar interests and traits. Prior to online dating, singles were forced to seek out others in places they frequent, such as churches, bars, or nightclubs. However, the invention of these websites have allowed people an easier, more convenient way others with similar interests. People have begun to eliminate people from the dating pool because they do not subscribe to these niche websites. Baby boomers have increasingly turned to online dating with people fifty-five and older visiting American dating sites more than other age groups.

Virtual Dating

With the increasing popularity of avatars and the virtual world, the popularity of dating in the virtual world has also increased. Users create avatars to resemble themselves, or alter egos, to interact with other avatars and form relationships. These avatars function in the virtual world and have relationships with other avatars controlled by users.

People may resort to this for many reasons. Some find it hard to connect with others face to face, and are more comfortable connecting through a keyboard and computer screen. Others lack the confidence to put themselves out there so a virtual relationship is real enough to feel involved and intimate with another, but far away enough from reality to not have to deal with any "real" emotions. Online daters are able to portray themselves in a way that they feel comfortable and confident - allowing much room for misleading information and misrepresentation[9].


Some online "dating" platforms exist (or at least function independently of intent) solely to facilitate sexual encounters. Examples include the "Casual Encounters" section of CraigsList, Adam4Adam, or AdultMatchDoctor. This purely physical platform has even been extended for use with SmartPhones apps like Grindr and Blendr. The profileration of websites like these are an indicator of the increase of "hookup culture," a prominent part of modern society as explored through shows like College Hookup Culture and The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down.

On college campuses, "hookup culture" has become the norm on dating sites such as Tinder. As of March 2017, less than 5% of college Tinder users were looking for a serious relationship. 22% of college users used it to hook up.


Sample Dating Profile on

Users interact with each other through the use of profiles. Users tend to make their profiles more favorable to others, the most common exaggerations being in appearance, marital status, and career. In certain cases, users even tailor their profile information to target specific users. The process of creating a profile is a continuous one.

Users of online dating sites tend to be more discriminatory toward other users, emphasizing attractiveness in profile pictures more often online than in offline environments. This competition amongst users leads to exaggeration of physical appearance as many believe that other users are more likely to be directed toward attractive profiles.

Despite the fact that users admit that their profiles contain deceptive information, users were more critical of misleading profiles.

Recommender Systems

Many online dating sites offer a recommender system which pairs couples based on their profile information. The recommender system matches individuals with several shared interests based on the assumption that shared interests lead to a successful relationship. While these types of recommendations are prevalent in many websites, not only online dating sites, some tend to be more accurate than others.

Ethical Implications

There are various ethical implications that arise with online dating websites, including sexual predators, the possibility of infidelity, discrimination, exploitation and questionable dating sites. Even with the protections that companies use to ensure that their users are creating profiles with their true identities, there are ways to game the system in order to create a dishonest persona that can be used to exploit or fool other users.

Various critics, including modern Luddites, have focused on online dating sites as evidence of the deteriorating morals of human relationships caused by technology. Some arguments include that online dating sites seek to commodify human intimacy, and reduce the sanctity of love to something that can be advertised, bought, and found through a search engine[1].

The anonymity of the Internet makes dating sites easy places for con artists to find victims, especially with so many people willing to share personal information with strangers. Scammers are able to set up fake profiles with online dating services. As the relationship progresses, usually for a few months, communication tend to leave the online dating site, and continue through email. Victims receive pictures, and are led to believe that the picture are in fact of their new "lover". The scammers usually tell embellished, believable stories of their lives, in which most often none are true.

Authenticity of Profiles

One's online identity can be quite different from how they look or act in person. Profiles are made entirely by the user and there is no fact-checking system that will validate the truthfulness of the information put about oneself. The "true" characteristics of one person may be withheld purposefully, rendering the user inauthentic. There are many ideological debates over what an authentic, true identity is and whether or not it even exists [10] Authenticity can be performative and socially constructed rather than inherent. Information can be subject to false interpretation about the user who posted this information themselves, but it depends on the degree to how accurate it really is.

The interactions within an online dating site are highly reflexive processes in which users must engage themselves with a perpetual cycle of self-disclosure opportunities, such as revealing personal data and feelings [11]

It is possible that there exists a natural social hesitance when users consider the veracity of their profiles given the relative anonymity provided by the Internet. This can create a cycle of self-disclosure to reduce skepticism in potential partners found online.The building of trust through the process of sharing information mimics the progression of trust in relationships formed offline.


Online dating sites are notoriously a place where individuals present only the best and most appealing information about themselves. Information transparency is an ethical issue that exists in online dating that is irrelevant in an offline environment. In a physical setting and the online space, people want to present the best version of themselves. However, while offline, things like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language my break someones self presentation and highlight undesirable traits like anger, jealousy, or insensitivity.[12] In the online space, there are no breaches in self presentation, and individuals have a seamless opportunity to socially groom themselves on online dating sites. With a need for truthful information on potential suitors, people will search for snippets of information garnered from the online dating sites, on other online platforms like Google or Facebook. Untruthfulness and the masking of flaws has become such a problem on these sites, that it prompted the emergence of dating platforms that encouraged its users to display their bad qualities and imperfections. Settle For Love (SFL) is an a-typical dating site the prompts users to post attractive as well as unattractive photos, and list positive and negative qualities about oneself. The sites creator, David Wheeler, claimed that normal dating sites were about individuals trying to "sell themselves" and were prone to individuals "lying and being fake." The goal of this website was to make users feel comfortable and promote transparency and truthfulness. This has led to longer lasting relationships and an established sense of trust on the site. [13]


Catfishing involves individuals constructing false personas online in order to deceive the people with whom they interact, often while engaging in romantic relationships. "Catfishing” was termed upon the release of the 2010 documentary “Catfish” that detailed a man’s experience engaging in a long term relationship with a woman who said she was young and single, when in fact she was in her 40s and married. The woman’s husband, Vince Pierce, was the first to associate this type of online deception with catfish in a story he told at the end of the film. While shipping cod from Alaska to China, they would include catfish in the vats with the cod in order to keep the cod agile and prevent the meat from becoming tasteless. Pierce likened catfish to people in that they keep you guessing, thinking, and fresh.”[14] Following the documentary, and MTV reality series was released with the same name.

The most publicized case of catfishing involved Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o’s fraudulent girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had pretended to suffer from cancer, and fabricated her death in September 2012 just six hours after Te’o learned his grandmother had also passed away. However, after pictures of Kekua were shown on the news, a woman called in, reporting that the pictures being broadcast were pictures of her, not Kekua, and that she had never met Te’o. Upon further investigation, there was no record that a “Lennay Kekua” had died nor was there any trace of her at Stanford where she had reportedly been enrolled. The woman who called in about the pictures helped to locate “Lennay Kekua” who was actually a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. He had asked the woman to take a picture of herself holding up a sign with Lennay Kekua’s username written on it in order to make the fake accounts he had created more believable. Pictures have been found of Te’o and Tuiasosopo together. There are unproven speculations that they devised the hoax collaboratively for publicity, but Te’o has made statements expressing his embarrassment and grief concerning the experience. [15]


In 2010, Carole Markin sued, an online dating site, for failing to perform background checks on its users. On a date arranged through the site, she was sexually assaulted by a registered sex offender, Alan Paul Wurtzel[16]. The court case brought up issues of relationships facilitated through online interactions, specifically about the anonymity and deceitful techniques of users. Recently, sex-traffickers have entered the online dating world, sending handsome "baiters" to lure women on dates, abducting them into the sex-traffic ring. This is especially common on less reputable, usually free sites that attract young, lower-class women and teenage girls[17].

The free dating sites set up the possibility for pedophile breeding grounds, where anyone can sign up for free (although there are age requirements, only a fake year of birth needs to be submitted for access). Some users have taken it upon themselves to set up fake children's accounts and "troll the pedos," as YouTube user BlueGenitalWarts did. He would pose as an underage girl and set up times to meet men from and confront these men dressed as Batman (often accompanied by Flash) and a video camera. His films have since been removed from YouTube.


Other ethical implications include cheating and infidelity through online dating sites. The ease of which users can engage in adulterous behavior online has made online dating a common avenue for infidelity. Many married men and women, or men and women in committed relationships, find sexual thrills in meeting people online, looking to fill their needs that aren't being met in their current relationships. The anonymous nature of online dating coupled with the barrier separating the physical and virtual worlds can create an environment more conducive for infidelity to take place.

One such site,, is an online dating site that is targeted to people who are already in a relationship. Ashley Madison is said to have over 10 million members, with roughly 700,000 visitors per month[18]. It has attempted to purchase large advertisements during the Super Bowl and popular public transportation vehicles, but has been denied every time. The founder Noel Biderman claims that the site's backbone is based off of couples who are in a tough financial position and cannot afford to get a divorce[18]. He also suggested that because many members are in sexless marriages but don't actually want to leave their spouses, the company "preserves more marriages than break [them][18]." The ethical issues behind this dating site are centered around promoting infidelity, despite potentially justifiable reasons for it. Site owners have not disclosed how many couples have divorced or suffered negative consequences from this dating site.

In virtual environments not dedicated to dating, users may still cheat on their physical partners through their avatars. In one case, infidelity transcended the virtual world to the physical. Through the avatar-based game played with other users on an online network, World of Warcraft. This case escalated and the husband left his wife to fly to Sweden and meet the woman he had been cheating with through the online role-playing game. [19]

LGBTQ Discrimination

Industry leader eHarmony has been at the center of an extended legal battle over inclusion of non-heterosexuals in their online dating website. Initially, they responded to the legal mandate to stop discriminating against the LGBTQ community by creating a separate website for their use called CompatibleParners[18]. However, they were further ordered to merge the two websites in early 2010[20]. eHarmony has complied with these orders, although they have formally admitted to no wrongdoing[20]. These exclusionary practices bring about a debate about the ethicality of corporations and technologies. By creating a product to facilitate relationships, heteronormative values became embedded in the technology. These values lead to discrimination because the company failed to address the values.

Sugar Daddy Websites

There has a been a deviation in the standard online dating phenomenon with the creation of such websites as Seeking Arrangements which connect older men (called Sugar Daddies) with younger women (called Sugar Babies). The goal of such website is to facilitate relationships among individuals that result in a trade of sexual favors for a large sum of money, typically used to pay off college debt[21]. This type of "online dating" website is ethically problematic due to the fact that these kinds of sites exploit young women and men who have fallen on hard times, a common occurrence given the economic recession that began in 2008 in the United States. It is also synonymous to prostitution, which is illegal in the United States.

Jessica Sporty speaking about her experiences on "Good Morning America"

Instances of Exploitation and Abuse

As the dating system becomes a bigger industry, flaws and exploitation begin to reveal. On, a woman named Jessica Sporty signed up for dates with the sole intention of eating free food. By going on these dates, Sporty could have the best of both worlds: maintaining her extravagant lifestyle while saving an extra penny. After investigating further into her ways, she had earned up to $1,200 in meals alone. In the end, she stopped going on dates[8]. Online dating websites allow predatory people to search for prey, whether it be in terms of money, sexual favors, etc., in a safe, comfortable environment by clicking through other users' profiles. However, in the case of Sporty, her actions were definitely unethical because it straightforwardly abused the purposes of the website.

An Ashley Madison advertisement supporting adulterous behavior.

See Also

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sautter, Jessica. "The Social Demography of Internet Dating in the United States." 1 June 2010. Retrieved on 16 April 2012.
  2. Litherland, Neal. "How Did Online Dating Begin?" Retrieved on 16 April 2012.
  3. [1] 2010. Retrieved on 16 April 2012.
  4. Harwell, Drew. "Online dating's age wars: Inside Tinder and eHarmony's fight for our love lives." 6 April 2015. Retrieved on 16 April 2016.
  5. Qualman, Erik. "Real Estate Social Media Infographic." 21 January 2011. Retrieved on 16 April 2016.
  7. Finkel, Eli. "Online Dating: A Critical Analysis from the Perspective of Psychological Science." 2012. Retrieved on 16 April 2016.
  8. Humphrey, Stephanie. "Dating Sites: Not the Only Game in Town." 16 October 2012. Retrieved on 16 April 2016.
  9. Rosenbloom, Stephanie. "Love, Lies and What They Learned." 12 November 2011. Retrieved on 15 April 2016.
  10. Haimson, Oliver [Constructing and Enforcing "authentic" online identity: Facebook, real names, and non-normative identities] Received 26 May 2016.
  11. Gibbs, Jennifer [First Comes Love, Then Comes Google: An Investigation of Uncertainty Reduction Strategies and Self-Disclosure in Online Dating] 14 December 2010
  12. Cocking, Dean. "Plural Selves and Relational Identity: Intimacy and Privacy Online," 2008. Retrieved on 4 April 2018.
  13. Amanda, Lauren. "Settle For Love: Why Honesty And "Embracing Imperfection" Just Won't Work In Online Dating" 26 January 2015. Retrieved on 4 April 2018.
  14. Harris, Aisha. "Who Coined the Term 'Catfish?'" Slate [2]
  15. Burke, Timothy & Dickey, Jack. "Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax" Deadspin [3]
  16. Dorning, Anne-Marie. " agrees to screen for sex offenders to settle lawsuit." 24 August 2011. Retrieved on 15 April 2016.
  17. Kloer. "From Online Romance to Real Life Slavery." 2010. Retrieved on 15 April 2016.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Colker, David. "EHarmony launches gay matchmaking service." 31 March 2009. Retrieved on 16 April 2016.
  19. Frnacis, Jenny. "My Husband Cheated on Me with a Girl he met on World of Warcraft." 4 August 2012. Retrieved on 15 April 2016.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Huffington Post. "EHarmony Forced to Merge." 28 January 2010. Retrieved on 16 April 2016.
  21. Fairbanks, Amanda. "Seeking Arrangement: College Students Using 'Sugar Daddies' to Pay Off Loan Debt." 31 July 2011. Retrieved on 16 April 2016.

(Back to index)