In 2019, Texas authorities teamed up with the Austin-based dating app Bumble to crack down on cyberflashing—the act of sending sexually explicit material online without consent. At the time, several researches revealed how women encountered sexual harassment in the cyberspace at much higher rates than men. In order to tackle these shocking statistics, Texas actually passed a law—surprising because the state doesn’t exactly have the best track record—making electronic transmissions of explicit material a Class C misdemeanour, with a fine of up to $500 if it was non-consensual.
Although the law currently applies to text messages, email, dating apps and social media in the state, statistics have shown little to no improvement in the issue worldwide. Now, Bumble wants to change that—starting by criminalising the act in England and Wales with the help of a dedicated campaign dubbed #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing.
According to a new research carried out by the dating app, 48 per cent of women aged 18 to 24—out of the 1,793 respondents based in England or Wales—had received an explicit, non-consensual photo over the last year alone. 59 per cent of them admitted to losing their trust in other internet users afterward, while one in four felt violated in the process. Interviewing nearly 100 women about their experience with cyberflashing, journalist Sophie Gallagher also found that one in four women believe that the number of incidents have increased during the pandemic.
“The evidence clearly shows that such online sexual violence does not sit in a separate arena to its offline equivalents,” she said in an interview with Mashable, adding how the issue exists on a spectrum of harm. The survey by Bumble additionally states that 95 per cent of women under the age of 44 believe more needs to be done in order to tackle the non-consensual proliferation of such material.
In the UK, cyberflashing has been widely reported since 2015, when the British Transport Police opened its first investigation on unsolicited AirDropped images. Since the recipient did not ‘accept’ the photographs, there was no digital evidence to work with and the report was recorded as intelligence. This continues to be the case for many. In fact, cyberflashing is now normalised in the country, with one in three women in the UK stating that it is just “part and parcel” of online behaviours today.
On the other hand, Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble, is surprised we’re still failing to protect women in online spaces in an age synonymous with space-age developments. “Cyberflashing is a relentless, everyday form of harassment that causes victims—predominantly women—to feel distressed, violated and vulnerable on the internet as a whole,” she said in a press release, highlighting the absence of laws needed for accountability. “This issue is bigger than just one company, and we cannot do this alone. We need governments to take action to criminalise cyberflashing and enforce what is already a real-world law in the online world.”
Bumble’s #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing campaign hence calls on the UK government to acknowledge this necessity, thereby bringing England and Wales in line with Scotland—where the act has been criminalised for over a decade. The app also plans to hold cross-party parliamentary consultations alongside UN Women, the United Nations’ gender equality arm, to galvanise support from members of the parliament in the UK.
This is also not the first time Bumble has taken a stand against cyberflashing. In 2019, the app introduced a feature called ‘Private Detector’ that leverages AI to automatically detect and blur unsolicited nude images. It then alerts the recipient—who can either choose to view, delete or report the image. Although victims of cyberflashing are not the subject of the picture or video footage in question, they are the recipient. The explicit material is also not required to be of the sender’s genitals for them to be found guilty of the act.
According to The Week, victims of cyberflashing often do not know the identity of the sender, although the harmful act can sometimes be carried out by people known to them. Such content is additionally sent via peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms like AirDrop rather than by email or the internet—which gives the recipient the two-fold threat of a sender who is not only anonymous but also in close proximity to their area of residence.
“We must understand that cyberflashing is not a small act, it is a form of sexual intimidation that can have devastating impacts on women and young girls,” said Professor Clare McGlynn QC from Durham University. “In essence, cyberflashing is a sexual violation infringing women’s sexual autonomy, privacy, and their right to live life free from harassment.” According to the expert, what’s particularly concerning is the fundamental lack of consent and the intrusive way these images are typically sent. “For some women, cyberflashing is worse than being flashed in the street—with the offender unknown, no one seeing what is happening, and it feeling like an invasion into the very personal space of your phone which is impossible to ignore or forget.”
If flashing wouldn’t fly on the street—or at the office, or in the classroom—it shouldn’t be tolerated in your inbox. With Bumble currently advocating for similar laws in California and New York, you can share your experiences of cyberflashing using the dedicated hashtag #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing. Until then I’m looking at you, creepshots. You’re undoubtedly up next.
So you’ve matched with someone on Tinder, the world’s most popular dating app, and you’ve been chatting for a while—things are looking pretty promising—but the person on the other end sounds almost too good to be true and refuses to come on video calls. As someone whose childhood has been synonymous with MTV’s Catfish and that one emotional episode of Dr. Phil, the gears in your head start churning and you automatically begin losing trust in your match. You then spend countless nights swiping, matching with more shady users and eventually losing interest—all in the hopes of not being reeled in by a catfisher. Enter Tinder’s Identity Document (ID) verification system and the promise of authentic matches.
First rolled out in Japan in 2019, Tinder’s age verification model requires members to be at least 18 years old to sign up. Users based in Japan had to upload a clear picture of either their passport, driver’s licence or health ID, which would then be reviewed and approved for them to start chatting with their matches. In its latest announcement, the dating app seeks to implement ID verifications globally in the coming quarters.
Tinder will take expert recommendations and inputs from its members into consideration and review documents required in each country—along with the laws and regulations—to determine how the feature will roll out. The feature will be introduced as a voluntary option, except where mandated by law. Based on the inputs received, Tinder will then evolve its model to ensure “an equitable, inclusive and privacy-friendly approach to ID verification.”
“ID verification is complex and nuanced, which is why we are taking a test-and-learn approach to the rollout,” said Rory Kozoll, Head of Trust & Safety Product at Tinder, in the press release. “We know one of the most valuable things Tinder can do to make members feel safe is to give them more confidence that their matches are authentic and more control over who they interact with.”
Tinder already has a photo verification feature within the app—where users can verify themselves by taking a selfie. The feature then compares the selfie with other photos that the user has uploaded to add a Twitter-like blue check to their profile. The new ID verification model seeks to be yet another badge of assurance.
With dating apps like Bumble, Zoosk and Wild already embedding ID verifications into their sign up process, such models might just redefine online dating altogether—with verified users having a better chance of landing a date. However, Tinder has no plans of mandating it anytime soon, given the fact that some users actually want to protect their identities online.
“We know that in many parts of the world and within traditionally marginalised communities, people might have compelling reasons that they can’t or don’t want to share their real-world identity with an online platform,” said Tracey Breeden, VP of Safety and Social Advocacy at Match Group, in the press release. “Creating a truly equitable solution for ID Verification is a challenging, but critical safety project and we are looking to our communities as well as experts to help inform our approach.”
Tinder is undoubtedly the leader in safety innovation when it comes to online dating, from the Swipe feature based on mutual consent to photo verification, Noonlight, and face-to-face video chats. This new feature, however, comes with a typical downside: privacy concerns. Will users have to surrender their sensitive information just to date others? How will Tinder use this data and how can it guarantee that it won’t be sold to third parties—or worse—hacked into and stolen?
Although we’re living in the future with groundbreaking advancements in artificial intelligence, certain biases cannot be ignored when it comes to verification models. After all, children as young as 13 were once tricking these systems and setting up accounts on Onlyfans using fake documents of their older relatives. If Tinder manages to pull this off, it can guarantee what most online dating apps merely claim: “who you’ll like is who you’ll meet.”
“We hope all our members worldwide will see the benefits of interacting with people who have gone through our ID verification process,” Kozoll added. “We look forward to a day when as many people as possible are verified on Tinder.”