With Tinder boasting an estimated 50 million users, and Bumble close behind on 40 million, it's safe to say that dating apps are one of the most popular ways to find love (or a lover) in 2018.
As we swipe, swipe, swipe our lonely nights away, it’s easy to forget that there is a real person behind that panoramic shot of Machu Picchu. It’s this impersonal gamification of dating that brings out the worst in hopeful romantics, and someone has to keep the creeps at bay.
Dating app moderators typically work on a freelance basis from the comfort of their home. From dick pics and nip slips through to totally unsexy sexting, there’s always a chance that there is a third person in your chat, responding to any reported messages or banned keywords.
We asked one woman what it’s like to peek into strangers’ mating and dating rituals over her morning coffee. Here's what she said...
How long have you been working as a dating app moderator?
About a month and a half, so I’m still pretty new at it.
How did you get into this work?
Through a friend of mine. He’s a PhD student and needed flexible work and he found this. He asked if I was looking for something and he told me it was easy, and it’s kind of fun, so that was it.
How much time do you spend on it?
It’s usually one or two hours a day, and I have to commit to five days a week. I just stick to what I have to do because it gets a bit tedious and then you start making more mistakes as well, either being more lenient or actually being too harsh.
What are the best parts of your job?
It’s quite easy. And then because it doesn’t take a lot of your day, it doesn’t really get to you. It’s kind of easy money in a way. It’s cool because you can do it from home, you can do it any time, you can do it while you’re waiting for your friend at the coffee shop. It is quite entertaining.
What company do you work for?
I work for one of the biggest dating networks. There are about 30 of us [moderators] looking after the French market and in France (where I'm based now) this app is quite famous for being a hook-up app, a bit like Tinder. It started off as a friendship thing and it evolved into a relationship app and now a lot of people use it to hook up. Many men go on it just to get easy one-night stands, which is fine, but a lot of women feel that they’re there to get relationships, so there’s a big disparity of expectations and I think that is why we have a lot of complaints.
What do you look at as a moderator?
We don’t go and look at all of the conversations, we just look at what is being reported and also if there is a stock word that triggers our system to report it. For example you have to be over 18 to be on it, so if a message says 'I’m 17' or 'I’m 16' that will trigger the system so one of us will look at it to see the context, because maybe what was said was, 'I’ve been a chef since I was 17' and that triggers it, but it’s actually fine.
What are some of the most common things that are reported?
Mainly a man will be sending a rude picture to a woman and they just haven’t consented to it. So we’re basically there to teach consent in that case. Some people don’t mind, but if it’s been reported, that’s when we see if people said they wanted to see that, and usually if they’ve reported it, of course they’re not cool with it. Which I understand. It tends to be men against women, generally. But I don’t have any statistics on that!
Has anything surprised you in the way people communicate with each other?
It’s what I see online with YouTube comments or Facebook comments. As soon as someone is behind a computer, it’s very easy to be the worst version of themselves. I am very surprised by the number of guys who think, 'If I don’t get a response to 'Hey beautiful', then sending a dick pic is definitely going to make her want to talk to me'. Because telling her 'mine is 25cm' will definitely make her go, 'Oh, that’s exactly what I was looking for!'
But I guess it is about expectations. At first I was like, why are people doing this? But now I am used to it. I try not to be too judgmental in my daily life anyway. I just try and see this as a fun thing, but we do stop some really weird behaviour.
What kind of weird behaviour?
People bragging about raping people and stuff like that, where it’s like, if this is a joke, why do you think it is funny to joke about this? And if this is real… Obviously as moderators, we don’t deal with this, we escalate it to our managers, because you have to get the police involved, but it’s a weird world we live in. It’s not very pretty.
I had one instance that I had to flag to my manager because a user was sort of into zoophilia
Have you ever had to get the police involved?
I had one instance that I had to flag to my manager because a user was sort of into zoophilia. So when you see that, straightaway escalate it and then [the managers] deal with it, we never know what they do with it. But at our training we have to touch upon stuff like this – what you have to do if someone says they have raped or sexually assaulted someone. The answer is just to escalate it to your manager.
How has working as a dating app moderator changed or influenced your thoughts on romance and dating in 2018?
I only see the worst conversations that happen on this app because obviously if things are going great you’re not going to report it. So I try to take it with a pinch of salt. There are a lot of conversations happening. We see serial reporters as well, who just report people for absolutely no reason. Maybe because they don’t understand what reporting is, maybe they just think it’s for them, like, 'I don’t like this person so I am reporting it'. Some people report people just because they ask if they should meet and the person says 'No I don’t want to' and they feel offended by that.
What is your dating and love life like?
I’ve been single for almost two years now. I have never been on a dating app, but I have a lot of friends who met their long-term partners on the apps, so I have a lot of success stories around me. I haven’t joined a dating app because I can’t really be bothered and I’m not really looking for a relationship. I think it should happen a bit more organically and all my previous boyfriends I’ve met at parties or through friends. I met a guy at a party the week before I started the job. We met and we spoke for an hour and then he had to leave because he had to wake up for work really early the next day and we have been texting nonstop ever since, but haven't seen each other again.
It’s weird, I was thinking, 'I'm delaying meeting up with him again'. I don’t know if it’s because through this app all I’m seeing is instant gratification, where within 10 conversations it’s 'send me a picture of your boobs' and the whole magic of it goes away. So I don’t know if I’m delaying it for a reason… and he’s super busy anyway. I am not really pushing it and I’m not sure if it’s because I would rather live in my bubble because I’ve built up this idea of him and I’ll probably be disappointed when I meet up with him – that’s what usually happens, right?
I know what you mean. Do you encounter any catfishing on the app?
We have this verification system where you can upload a profile and get your profile verified, which is basically the app asks you to take a picture right there and then, imitating a gesture like touching the top of your head. With scammers of course they upload pictures of usually very pretty girls, or pretty guys, and then when you have to verify 'Stacey, 22, from Ealing', the verification picture you have will be of this guy, plainly not her. And people have been chatting to this girl for like two weeks… but really they’re talking to someone who is in a different country pretending to be someone, so they can either get them on a different platform or get them to click on something.
What kind of stock words might trigger the reporting system that it’s a scammer?
Usually 'give me something' – pounds, dollars, euros. 'I need money', which again you have to check the context, because it could just be 'I work in a coffee shop because I need the money'. But it could be very innocent. A lot of the [moderating] guidelines are there not because people behind the app are judging people for what they do. We are there for people to meet other people. We are not there for people to advertise their services, so we have to make sure this is not on the website. 'I’m a minor', 'I’m not legal', stuff like that. During the training we also touch on paedophilia, which you don’t want to come across.
I probably see at least 20 dick pics per day
How many dick pics do you see?
A lot. It’s kind of funny on our screen, any picture I see it’s a little thumbnail that is about 2x2cm. So you know what you’re seeing, but they kind of look like candles. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s also pretty intrusive to look at people’s private conversations and there’s nothing less sexy than to see what people are saying to each other. You’re having your coffee. It’s usually in the morning, right on 9am and you’re looking at things that happened at 2am, 3am. It’s just like, why did you send this? My objective per day is to monitor 300 complaints and I probably see at least 20 in a day. At least.
Have you noticed many differences in the way people of different genders and sexualities use the app?
There are a lot of transgender people with us. They get reported a lot though, because straight men just feel it is fine to report them. If you are a straight man looking for a woman, of course if you are a trans woman looking for men then you will come up. Most [trans] people will say who they are in their bios but then a lot of straight men will report them for 'misleading' them, but you’re like, 'no!' I have also noticed a lot that those men will go on the profile and verbally abuse the person and also report them. In that case we send a warning. Usually it does fall under hate speech. But what I have noticed and what is sad is that usually the people who are getting abused will not even report it, because I guess maybe they’re used to it? I’ve never really thought about it, but it is so sad. Also men have to pay to send messages, so they’re using some of their credit to go and be abusive. I’m not going to share some of the comments that I have seen because it’s really violent and you’re just like, wow.
Does it ever get draining having to see so many abusive messages?
It’s funny though, we see really bad parts, but in some [complaints] nothing really happens. There was one woman I had three complaints from almost in a row, she kept reporting people for grammatical mistakes or syntax errors, which I thought was hilarious. That’s not why you report people. She also told them: 'Come back to me when you know how to spell!' Sometimes you’re glad that people report people for no reason because you’re like, I needed that!