The recent case of Lauren Smith-Fields has highlighted one of the issues surrounding the widespread use of dating apps: Their role in criminal acts against victims who met their attackers on these platforms.
According to the New York Times, Smith-Fields was found dead in her apartment after inviting over an older man she had met on Bumble. The family and their legal counsel “‘thought from the beginning that there was foul play here.’”
The case gained national attention through the advocacy of Smith-Fields’ family and community and the spread of information over social media.
The case highlights a number of societal issues, but one that hasn’t been discussed much is whether or not the dating platform which was used in the events leading up to Smith-Fields’ death has responsibility for what happened to her. On one hand, apps can be seen merely as tools that are sometimes used to commit malicious acts. On the other, the way that the apps run sometimes allows even those with histories of dating violence to continue to use the platforms.
Yes, apps have responsibility
By Kat Elgersma
It’s been a few years since dating apps have cemented themselves as a permanent fixture in the social sphere of dating. And I can acknowledge that there are great relationships that have started on the apps. However, alongside the rise in popularity of such dating apps has risen a more malicious use of them.
The structure of these apps allows people to hide aspects of themselves that they may not be able to in person, or even to pretend they are someone entirely different as is the case in the widely-discussed phenomenon of “catfishing.” Even more serious is when the apps are used to scope out targets for crimes such as theft, sexual assault and even murder.
It’s not hard to find articles from recent years detailing cases where dating apps were used for criminal purposes. For example, one case published in the Washington Times in February 2020 in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained that “armed masked men” were using dating apps to pose as women to lure their victims to a designated location where they would rob them.
More recently, the case of Lauren Smith-Fields, which reached national prominence mostly through the work of her family and internet outrage, highlights several aspects of this issue. There are certainly racial factors at play in this case, seeing as the victim was Black and her date was white, and many have pointed out that the police’s dismissal of him as a suspect is a bit suspicious.
Another factor, however, is the involvement of Bumble, a dating app which markets itself by claiming to protect women. Bumble released a statement claiming to “empathize with Lauren’s family, friends and beloved community,” going on to mention that Smith-Fields’ family deserves justice. The platform made no reference to its role in what happened.
It would be wrong to blame the platform entirely for the tragedy because it removes personal responsibility of those involved in the matter.
However, there are people who use the trust provided by a company that claims to be built on protecting women from dating violence as a way to get women into vulnerable positions. The thing is, if the Smith-Fields case was a unique incident, it wouldn’t be fair to put the blame on them. However this is not the first time that Bumble has been implicated in violent crimes.
According to ProPublica, in 2018, a woman was sexually assaulted by a man she met on Bumble. She reported the incident to the dating platform, but never got a response, and she later found him on Tinder and then Hinge, and reported him on each platform as well. She only got a response from Hinge that they were looking into the incident, but when she inquired two months later, she just got the same message.
That was four years ago, and some protections for users on the apps have improved. But in practice, many of these protections haven’t proven effective.
It’s possible that in the case of Smith-Fields, there was nothing that Bumble could have done to keep her safe, but the incident highlights the moral responsibility that dating apps have when it comes to the criminal activity that occurs through use of these platforms. That responsibility starts by taking the reports of users seriously, and responding quickly and meaningfully.
The reality is that when these platforms don’t take reports seriously, offenders are allowed to continue to use the apps for criminal purposes. In the end, it leads to crimes that could have been prevented if action had only been taken sooner.
No, the app can’t control that
By Ari Forcelle
People have been using dating sites since the first one, kiss.com, which was launched in 1994, later followed by match.com in 1995. Today, dating apps are a common way individuals can swipe through candidates to find their ideal match in a significant other(s).
There are many dating apps that are popular today such as, Bumble, Tinder, OkCupid and Hinge. Along with these popular dating apps comes a lot of trust, vulnerability and risk.
Dating apps can help to suggest behavior that shouldn’t be posted online. However, they cannot monitor what each individual selectively chooses to post. In the same breath, they also cannot control and or monitor whether individuals plan to meet in person and decide to go on a date.
To preface, in no way should victims be blamed for the unfortunate crimes that have occurred as a result of meeting someone from a dating app. However, the apps themselves should not be to blame.
The Communications and Decency Act (CDA), implemented in 1996, ensures that dating apps are not held responsible for what the users of these accounts both say and do online.
Today, as social media is in almost every corner of our lives, one needs to monitor and be wary of what they are sharing online.
The problem today is that dating apps make it too easy to disclose private information. This information can be something that seems minor such as your surname, place of employment, your hometown or current place of residence.
Nonetheless, “it always bears repeating – abuse is always the fault of the abuser,” wrote freelance journalist Nell Frizzell. Likewise, “rape is always the fault of the rapist.”
It is important to notice that romantic connections are not only found and formed on dating apps. Other social media platforms also pose as places for these same connections to occur.
According to Frizzell, a freedom of information request from 2016 revealed that crime accusations, specifically surrounding Facebook and Twitter, saw a variation between 19%-21% increase over two years.
Self-monitoring of personal information that is shared on social media is something everyone needs to do before they share, post or edit their accounts.
Along with self-monitoring, individuals need to be vigilant when communicating on all social media platforms with anyone. Although it may seem as though this person knows a lot, at the end of the day, they only know the information they found online. This person is a stranger and that should be something that stays prevalent in everyone’s mind.
Think of it this way — imagine being out in public at a grocery store. While choosing which milk to get, an individual approaches and starts talking. Amidst conversation, they start to ask personal questions, such as if someone else is accompanying today’s errands.
At this moment, one would probably run through a mental list of red flags and come to the conclusion that it is never safe to admit one is alone. If at any moment there is a feeling of discomfort, whether in person or online, one should immediately evaluate the situation.
“Always trust your instincts,” said UCF Police Department Detective Agustin Gonzalez. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
At the end of the day, people are the ones who both commit and are responsible for criminal activities, not dating apps or other social media. The criminals remain the ones to blame.
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