2024 Leg Session, Featured, Gold Dome, Uncategorized

Weissmann: Dating apps are awful; a Colorado bill will make them worse

On the Hinge dating app, the basic text prompts where users share information about themselves are an unmitigated hellscape.

“All sex is choke sex when you’re being strangled by the invisible hand of capitalism,” read one profile I came across. The app offers a surprisingly large number of men who like to do yoga in the nude. A different man holds up a picture of himself with a “world’s smallest cock” mug and yet didn’t bother to post a picture of the adorable rooster. Things aren’t much better once you open a chat: I recently asked a man in his 40s what he liked about Spain and he replied simply, “Chicas.”

These are relatively tame examples. Unfortunately, some people deal with dangerous and aggressive users on dating apps, and lawmakers are taking note. But however terrible online dating may be, government intervention isn’t the answer: The problem is the users, not the apps.

A bill recently introduced in Colorado aims to make dating apps such as Hinge and Bumble safer for users. The first section of Senate Bill 24-011 would force all dating services with any users in Colorado to submit an annual report to Colorado’s attorney general about misconduct reports from users in the state or about users in the state. If that isn’t available, the app must report all misconduct reports from the entire United States. These reports would all become public.

While the bill leaves some of the details up to the state’s attorney general, this would probably mean that when people file false reports about each other on dating apps, the reports would all become public record. The bill uses the term “information about a member,” suggesting that it would require disclosure about each individual member. Scorned lovers, racists, incels, and others with hostile motives could file false reports and harm people’s job and dating prospects in the future. And a report on a government website looks a lot more legitimate than someone mad on social media. These reports might even lead to law enforcement investigating innocent users.

If you file a report against an ex to get back with them, that would be filed with the attorney general and become public record. And if a racist files a false report against every person of color, that could come up when future employers research those people. I also research dates prior to going out with them less as a matter of safety than the fact that a lot of men who have asked me on a date turned out to be married. But if I was unaware of how the law required disclosure, I might be dissuaded from dating a man if I saw this come up in his search results before even clicking on the link.

Like trying Tinder before using Hinge, the prior version of the bill was somehow even worse. It would have changed Colorado law to allow a dating service user injured by another member to sue the dating service if a report was ever filed with the dating service prior to the incident. It doesn’t matter if the two people didn’t meet on the app, and it doesn’t even matter if the misconduct report is true. The report only has to be filed before the “incident.” That means that even if the user is suspended and had connected with another user before the report was filed, if they harm that user, the app would still have been liable.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said that “the Governor believes in a free and open internet and that decisions about how people interact on social media are up to the individual, not the government.”

At a time when many elected officials are seeking to blame platforms for the behavior of users, Polis offers a different approach. “Whether you meet a potential date at a bar, dance club, coffee shop, or online it is important to take safety seriously,” the spokesman explained. “The Governor appreciates the sponsors’ willingness to make changes to the bill that removed any private right of action and will allow dating sites to continue to be available to Coloradans.” Polis’ office did not comment on any of my abysmal dating stories.

Dating apps are horrible because they have horrible users—like the man who brought me to a cafeteria, drank a beverage that he packed for himself without asking me if I wanted one, grilled me for 15 minutes, and ghosted. (I later learned he was 14 years older than he claimed and Hinge had repeatedly banned him. He’s tried to match with me three times more since that day.)

The Colorado bill would not help keep users safe but harm their future dating and employment prospects, often without reason. This is the wrong approach.

Shoshana Weissmann is the senior manager of digital media and a policy fellow at the R Street Institute in Washington DC.  A version of this article originally appeared in Reason magazine.


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