A New App Wants to Weed the Creeps Out of Online Dating. Can It Be Done?

What Women Really Think
June 10 2014 3:22 PM

A New App Wants to Weed the Creeps Out of Online Dating. Can It Be Done?

woman_online_dating
You have no idea what your friends are like on Tinder.

Photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

They said it couldn’t be done. But in the year and a half since its launch, Tinder has successfully established itself as the first hook-up app that women actually want to use. The app’s achievement is due in large part to its opt-in chatting system: Daters can only exchange messages when they’ve mutually pre-approved each others’ profile photos, saving them from reading unsolicited missives from people they want absolutely nothing to do with. But the scheme isn’t foolproof. As soon as a woman swipes right on a guy who looks up her alley, she’s still liable to get slapped with an unwelcome message like “8==D I love anal.” Tinder’s system ostensibly blocks the cavalcade of creeps by submitting them all to a snap judgment before they’re allowed to open their mouths. And yet, they persist.

Enter Wyldfire, a more curated mobile dating experience that positions women as the gatekeepers to sexual innuendo. When Wyldfire launches in the coming months, women will be free to join, but men must secure an invite from a female friend in order to start browsing. (The app is a kind of lovechild between Tinder and man-rating app Lulu.) “Everyone has that one friend who they think is a great-quality guy but they either don’t want to date themselves or want someone else they know to date,” Wyldfire brand manager Jesse Shiffman told Allison P. Davis at the Cut. As Davis notes, that type of eligible bachelor—the single, straight guy you don’t want to date, don’t want to set up with any of your friends, and yet are eager to recommend to all female strangers in your general area—may be even more elusive than the guy who actually sparks your interest.

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But let's say we all have these men in our lives: Identifying a guy as an obvious creep isn’t easy, either. The Wyldfire system operates on the assumption that men who text aggressively crude material to strangers on the internet have no female friends in real life. While it’s tempting to believe that men who type with their penises have simply never had any contact with female human beings, who really knows what lies in the dark recesses of your friend’s Tinder messages? Not you—you just hang out at parties.

Take James Hawver, the man that New York Magazine deemed the most desired straight man with an online dating profile in New York City. Hawver is handsome and polite. “Hey there Miss Allison,” Hawver might text to a match in a typical Tinder exchange. “What sort of trouble are you getting into this week?” But beneath this in-demand veneer, he’s not exactly the perfect gentleman. “You ready for the secret?” Hawver told New York. “Not to blow your mind, but it’s disgusting”: Hawver swipes right on every single woman’s Tinder profile without even looking at it, ensuring that he receives the highest proportion of possible matches. Then, he sends them all the exact same message, whittling them down until he lands as many dates as he can. That’s great for Hawver, but not for apps like Wyldfire, which are hoping to weed guys like him out of the system.

Other guys, who have been dismissed as weirdos IRL, can be perfectly polite online. This online-offline  divide speaks to one of the major complications of the Lulu model: Women who rate their platonic male friends are more likely to focus on their positive qualities, but women who rate their ex-boyfriends are likelier to testify to their awfulness. Often these men are the same people.

One more thing: Women can be creeps on online dating sites, too. (They’re just less creepy on average than men are.) They also have wildly different tastes in who they’re attracted to, and what types of messages they like to see. But because most of these sites and apps suffer from a deficit of female users, they don’t have much incentive to start weeding out women based on subjective markers of “quality”—whether that means the perceived quality of their looks, their messages, or their taste in men. Perhaps what dating sites really need are more robust mechanisms for discouraging rude behavior overall—not arbitrary standards for men, or gatekeepers who are all women. As of now, the objective creep test does not exist. There is no app for it.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

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