It should now come as no surprise that social media is playing a crucial and unprecedented role in the war Russia is currently inflicting on Ukraine. Previously described as a “digital war” that spread online with the help of the social media trend called “video warcore,” it should be noted that not all novel war tactics we’ve witnessed have been negative.
While Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram have all been banned in Russia—leaving citizens even more vulnerable to President Putin’s propaganda—the dating app Tinder still operates normally. This is a blind spot the Russian government seems to have missed when shutting down its citizens’ access to the rest of the world.
If you’re a tiny bit familiar with Tinder—don’t lie, I know you are—you’ve probably noticed its ‘Passport’ feature in the past. For £18 a month, you can set your location to anywhere in the world and match with people from wherever you decide to ‘land’. This opportunity has led many tech-savvy people to use the dating app to fight misinformation in Russia, help Ukrainians find refuge outside of the country and even troll Russian soldiers. Makes you want to take back those few times you said you were done with Tinder, right?
As initially reported by the online magazine UnHeard, “a Slovakian media agency has launched an initiative called Special Love Operation, which encourages Tinder users to bombard Russian singles with images from the war in Ukraine to show them what’s really going on.”
Led by creative director Alex Strimbeanu and his colleagues at Slovakia-based marketing agency Jandl, the scheme was launched after it had been reported that some Russian soldiers were contacting local Ukrainian women through dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble back in February 2022.
Strimbeanu took to Tinder to spread this message: “Dear Russians, the West does not hate you. We hate the war. We hate the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army is killing innocent people while Putin is lying and hiding the truth from you. Your brothers and sisters are dying because of the madness and delusion of a dictator. Spread the truth. Make love, not war.”
From the conversations he then had with Russians on the app, “it seems that they understand that the war is not OK,” Strimbeanu told The Drum. From there, the agency started encouraging other users to do the same, advising people to change their profile picture to a selfie with a picture of a war-torn Ukrainian city (it provides 12 images) and change their profile description to a paragraph in Cyrillic, which reads: “Please don’t turn away, don’t turn a blind eye—innocent people like you and me are dying in Ukraine. They too wanted love, [to] live and get acquainted—now they sit in basements … lose their loved ones and relatives, freeze.”
The dating app has also turned into one of the best ways to safely contact Ukrainians stuck on the ground. Many in the West, the UK included, are desperate to help Ukrainian citizens however they can. And for most people, this means offering sponsorship through the government’s refugee scheme—which, let’s be honest, has descended into chaos since its initial announcement.
According to Engadget, since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “more than 2.5 million people have fled the country, making it Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.”
On Tinder, those in the UK keen to sponsor a refugee can easily connect with someone in need of shelter, allowing them to have a “named Ukrainian” to present to the scheme. Once a Visa application has been filled for them, sponsors must offer refugees a minimum of a rent-free six-month stay. In return, they will receive £350 per month.
Reporting on the recent influx of refugees on the dating app, The New York Times recounted the tale of Anastasia Tischchenko. She and her friend Natalia Masechko used Tinder to share their story of when they fled their home of Ivano-Frankivsk.
“I’m thinking there are a lot of honest people in the world, and some of them are on Tinder,” Tischchenko told the publication. After creating her profile, several people swiped right to offer help, including one man who put Tischchenko and Masechko in touch with “a friend of a friend of a friend” who found a monastery the two could sleep in while in Siret, Romania.
“It was very inspiring,” Tischchenko said. After their stay in Siret, she travelled to Poland while her friend Masechko stayed in Romania to help the next wave of refugees.
While some have used the dating app to simply connect with Russians and hear what they think (and know) about the war—UnHeard writer Zoe Strimpel did so and found that opinions on whether what Putin is doing is justified were split—others reportedly levelled Tinder as a means to ‘trick soldiers’.
Early in the invasion, reports from The Sun described a number of experiences where Ukrainian women suddenly had their phones light up with automated Tinder matches from nearby Russian soldiers waiting across the border to invade. The surreal story recounted Ukrainian women dealing with flirty Russian soldiers just miles away.
At the time, video producer Dasha, 33, told The Sun she lived in Kyiv but changed her location settings to Kharkiv after a friend told her there were Russian troops all over Tinder. “And I couldn’t believe my eyes when they popped up trying to look tough and cool,” she said. “One muscular guy posed up trying to look sexy in bed posing with his pistol. Another was in full Russian combat gear and others just showed off in tight stripy vests.”
This modern conflict has highlighted the part that dating apps can play during such events—Tinder went beyond its basic function in a space where other social media were silenced. And as Strimpel wrote, “so long as it’s used carefully, the app could prove to be one of many powerful yet non-violent weapons in this war.”
Doesn’t it feel like ever since Facebook—now known as Meta—unveiled its new name and somewhat terrifying plans for a metaverse, there seems to be a new headline every day about other companies following suit? No? Just me then. Well, guess who’s following Meta into the metaverse now? Enter Tinder’s parent company, Match Group. That’s right singles, we’re talking about a space-age ‘dating metaverse’. If 2021 couldn’t get any weirder, that is.
A report by TechCrunch has unveiled a long list of Tinder’s upcoming plans: among its recently refreshed and successfully launched Explore page and Swipe Night series, the dating app’s parent company also revealed what the future holds for the emblematic dating app. Not only will its already-launched features continue to grow and develop to include more exclusive content such as the formation of a virtual in-app economy (powered by the currency Tinder Coins) but Tinder’s next big hit could involve a dating metaverse.
The implementation of this proposed virtual economy could be the key component in laying the groundwork for a potential metaverse. It was revealed to TechCrunch by Match Group that the rolling out of Tinder Coins would represent the first phase of this oh-so-futuristic plan, with the feature already being trialled in a number of European countries. Global users of the app will be able to access the coins next year in order to use them for in-app purchases such as buying paid features like Super Like and Boost to increase their chances of sparking a match.
But that’s not the end of it—Tinder Coins will also be offered as a way to purchase elements and products exclusive to the app’s subscription account holders in a pay-as-you-go service. The in-app currency will also be used as a tool to incentivise users to take certain actions like verifying their account and profile, perhaps as part of Tinder’s continued bid to tame catfishing.
This new direction taken by Tinder and first reported on by Bloomberg in October 2021 was just the beginning, “[The currency] will play an important role as the Tinder experience evolves and becomes more immersive, because virtual currency is useful in the context of gifting goods,” Tinder CFO Gary Swidler told the publication. And it looks like it might become a reality sooner than expected.
TechCrunch reported that Match Group’s strategic initiative—revealed Wednesday 3 November—would involve developing Tinder’s in-app economy to implement a trading environment that would include the sale of virtual goods. The plan is set to launch in 2022 and continue onwards for the foreseeable future. As part of a call with investors on Wednesday, Match Group’s CEO Shar Dubey declared that Tinder’s 2022 aim would be to design such virtual goods, decide their value and eventually determine the best way to distribute them to users. This would require stringent testing, the CEO added.
But how does this all fit into the metaverse? According to Dubey, along with the company’s drive to build a virtual economy for Tinder, Match Group will also utilise Hyperconnect—the Seoul-based social media app it acquired earlier this year. While Hyperconnect hasn’t been wildly profitable yet—with the deal closed for $1.73 billion—there is still belief in its long-term use. In the interview with TechCrunch, Dubey also highlighted the app’s trial of its own metaverse. This is the kind of interactive usage that Match Group wants to replicate across all its mediums including Tinder. So what did Hyperconnect’s metaverse look like?
Dubey explained that Hyperconnect’s trial of ‘Single Town’, an avatar-based metaverse experience, had its users meet in virtual locations like a restaurant or bar and have actual conversations using real-time audio. Basically, going on a date from the comfort of your own home—a concept widely contrasting to Bumble’s cafe and wine bar launch which seeks to encourage in-person meetups. Users holed up in Single Town also had the option to converse privately, away from the virtual scenarios, as they normally would.
Dubey, speaking on the test, stated, “It is metaverse experiences coming to life in a way that is transformative to how people meet and get to know each other on a dating or social discovery platform, and is much more akin to how people interact in the real world.” Although TechCrunch reported that the group only hinted at the idea of the dating metaverse, Dubey’s enthusiasm for the future is hard to ignore.
“The next phases of dating apps, in particular, is going to be all about richer, more organic, and more akin to real-life ways of discovering, meeting and getting to know people. Technology is finally getting there. And this underlying technology platform Hyperconnect has built, that powers Single Town, has been built in a way that it can be leveraged by other platforms easily,” the CEO continued. Although specific apps weren’t mentioned, the most prolific one that comes to mind is Tinder.
Although the company did not specify if Tinder Coins would later crossover as part of the metaverse, TechCrunch’s report cements its likeliness—given the nature of current social trends. The in-app currency could be potentially used to purchase items for your avatar, a feature already present in many metaverse video games while acting as a prospective element in Facebook’s Meta Quest.
Match CFO Swidler added, “The new metaverse elements and the experience that we’re seeing in that beta test—that is something that potentially we can build into either [a] standalone app and/or potentially leverage that user experience into some of our apps in the portfolio.” So buckle up singles, there are compelling reasons in the works for you to access the metaverse now.