Facebook has just announced that it is rolling its dating feature out across the US, and this will precede a rollout in Europe presumably soon. As Facebook looks for more ways to get people to interact on the platform, dating can be seen as a next logical step. Whereas people simply connected as friends, now Facebook is creating the conditions to connect as something more.
Despite my misgivings about Facebook as a platform and the integrity of its strategy, what I understand about how dating works makes it quite intriguing. You add people that you like to a secret crush list that no one else can see. No one is notified of this unless that person has identified you as one of their crushes too. If both match, both are notified to break the ice.
“Hey you have a secret crush on me? I have a crush on you too!”
By creating a list of people that you have a crush on, you could just sit back and wait until someone matches. If no one matches then no one is the wiser (though you might be the sadder). It’s certainly appealing because of how hands-off it is.
What could possibly go wrong?
There are three areas where this feature could be a disaster for society in general. First, we’re giving even more personal information to Facebook, not exactly the most trustworthy actor out there. Second, the dating feature could just as easily tear people apart as bring them together. And finally it could create the conditions for a large amount of harassment by bringing sex into a platform that has tried to stay as family friendly as possible.
Let’s start with trust. Facebook has repeatedly shown a lack of foresight and even basic protection for user data. Cambridge Analytica, passwords not encrypted, secret algorithms, there are not a lot of examples of Facebook leading in data protection. The first questions about the dating aspect is how secure the information is? If people hack and share other people’s secret crush lists it could be devastating. If Facebook monetizes your dating behavior, how would you feel about that? They haven’t even been able to answer basic questions about the business model of this new feature, so we have to assume that it’s going to be something that they roll out without really explaining and hoping that nothing blows up in their face. People who play along will be providing yet another level of personal information to Facebook for free. Facebook in turn has more targeting information to sell to brands.
We could really go out on a limb here and see Facebook playing a role in human evolution by knowing who the most desirable mates are and aren’t?
*Shivers run down my spine*
OK, OK, a secret crush is not that big of a deal. Single people are on Tinder and Happn and a bunch of other dating apps browsing through an endless stream of potential matches. But there is an effect that happens from having an endless stream of potential matches. Your current match is only the best available match until someone else matches with you. Tinder has made love harder for many people because as soon as a young relationship hits a rough patch, the allure of swiping – and the notion that you could find a better match – becomes very powerful. Many relationships have ended this way as people skip along above the surface of real emotion because “the one” might be just one swipe away.
You know what this behavior resembles? A gambling addiction. Social media is already similar to gambling because of the installation of variable rewards. Imagine checking Facebook to see if your crush has added you back?
Now imagine that you are in a relationship but you have a crush on someone else (or multiple other people that you would be interested in). You add a few to your secret crush list thinking that they will never add you back. You live your life, but one day you get a match back. You look at your current partner and start to think about what your life would be like with your dream crush, and that grass looks so fucking green! You start chatting in a questionable way, you start questioning your life with your current partner, and we all know where that slope slides to…
I strongly believe that the Facebook dating feature has the ability to ruin as many (if not more) relationships than it creates. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and this is true for social media as much as it is for the basic laws of motion.
The last point is that Facebook is not a dating website, it’s about friends. Of course many people have used it for flirting or trying to pick up a mate. But the core tenet of Facebook is sharing your life and following other people. By adding a dating feature, Facebook is pushing into new territory. Imagine people adding their crushes to a list only to not have them be added back.
“But I thought that one time when you smiled at me… I thought I felt something there, no?”
And we all know how isolated, celibate, angry young men can treat women online. Imagine messages of harassment asking friends if they had activated the dating feature. Imagine people adding tons of extra people just to add them to a secret crush list? Facebook already has a spam problem but this could really push it over into a new level.
You could easily point a finger at dating and say that it is hard, that people need help in an easy way to connect. Why not use Facebook for that? And if the dating feature helps certain people find happiness, than it would be worth it. But ignoring the downsides of a seemingly benign additional feature would be to ignore the lessons from the recent past.
It pays to be skeptical with Facebook these days.