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the Orlando Weekly Press Club. On a sunny afternoon in the summer ofNatalie Dong stood outside the glass headquarters of the popular online dating platform Tinder, in downtown Los Angeles, with a poster board draped from her neck.
More than a year earlier, Dong, then a year-old engineering student, said she had been raped in her home by a man she had met on a different dating website, Coffee Meets Bagel. He told Dong he was on other dating platforms, including Tinder. She reported the events to the police, which didn't lead to criminal charges. Dong worried for the female users of these apps. She contacted each of them to report what happened. Bumble responded to Dong's complaint in 20 minutes. Hinge got back to her after three days. Coffee Meets Bagel took 11 days to respond.
All three platforms apologized and informed her they had banned the accused user. But when Dong contacted Tinder, the process dragged on for weeks. After several exchanges with no visible outcome, she sought an update on the company's response. The multibillion-dollar online dating industry has no meaningful standards for responding to reports of offline harm and removing those responsible from its platforms, Columbia Journalism Investigations and ProPublica found.
Despite pledges to shield users from sexual predators, the companies have done little to abide by them. Most companies have loosely defined procedures that force employees to rely on their own judgment.
Dating app users who report an attack, like Dong, often have to badger companies to take action. The responsibility of responding to reports of assaults falls to the workers, known as "moderators" in industry parlance, who handle customer complaints. They field questions about everything from billing disputes to issues and scammer alerts. Some dating websites have specialized moderation teams addressing sensitive claims of fraud and abuse. But no site has a team exclusively dedicated to addressing a risk inherent in an industry built on intimacy: sexual assault.
Experts say online dating companies routinely fail to anticipate abuse and implement safeguards to prevent it. Interviews with more than 50 former and current employees — from moderators at PlentyofFish to engineers and managers at OkCupid and eHarmony — reveal a patchwork of company systems in which executives tout customer safety while pushing policies deed for issuing refunds rather than vetting the intricacies of sexual violence.
Most employees feared speaking publicly about their experiences, some because they had ed nondisclosure agreements. They describe small moderation teams juggling hundreds of complaints a day. Some employees earn just a few dollars more than the minimum wage in their states.
They receive little training on how to handle factually complex and possibly criminal complaints involving rape. Still others contend with customer service quotas that make it difficult to answer routine inquiries. At Hinge, for instance, moderators who scour user profiles flagged by the company's software as problematic can process up to 60 complaints per hour, according to two employees and a screenshot of the company policy.
That gives these employees an average of one minute to review, say, the use of racist and sexual terms or to assess the details of sexual assault claims and forward them up the moderation chain. In this time, they also must decide whether to block the tagged user and to comb through that user's messages to pull relevant information. At OkCupid, according to two employees and a screenshot of moderation benchmarks, there's a complaint-per-hour quota for those who handle sexual assault claims and other more complex claims.
That means these moderators have four minutes on average to scrutinize user profiles and messages of both the complainant and accused, and respond to the person who filed the complaint. For dating app moderators, many customer complaints take just seconds to address. But complicated cases, like those involving sexual assault, can put moderators behind their hourly quotas for the rest of the workday, according to multiple current and former employees at these and other dating platforms.
Such systems frequently fail victims. CJI and ProPublica heard from dating app users through a questionnaire that sought input from people who had been "affected by sexual violence" after using a dating app. Of those, said they had experienced assault or harassment after using a dating app or had been matched with a sex offender or inappropriate person; 71 said they had reported a sexual assault to a platform, most of them in the past three years.
Of those users, 34 said they never heard back. CJI was able to interview 33 of the who said they experienced some form of assault or harassment and obtained police reports or documentary confirmation in 11 of those instances.
From company silence after multiple allegations were filed, to the surprise Banned from the internet dating site that banned perpetrators have resurfaced on the apps, ramshackle systems have left victims of violence, the vast majority of them women, feeling traumatized a second time. CJI shared these findings Banned from the internet dating site every platform mentioned in the crowdsourced responses and asked about their moderation and safety processes. A CJI reporter contacted each dating site named in this story about specific employee claims and individual user cases.
Five platforms declined to answer questions and instead provided a general statement. Each said the safety of users is a top priority and defended the companies' efforts to protect them. Three provided partial answers, and one didn't respond. You can read full statements here. Only Bumble agreed to make an executive available for an interview.
Miles Norris, product chief at Bumble, has overseen that company's moderation teams for nearly seven years. He said Bumble, the country's second-most popular dating platform, is already investing in new measures to protect its 42 million users from sexual assault, including a computer algorithm to detect red flags in user behaviors and a software program to verify the authenticity of user photographs. Still, Norris recognizes the need to improve industry standards. A Match Group spokesperson told CJI in an earlier investigation in that the company lacked uniform procedures for responding to customers' sexual assault complaints across its brands.
In Decemberthe company stated that "in recent years, we have been working toward uniform policies across all of our companies. Match Group executives have said customer safety is "paramount to us. In December, Match announced it is partnering with a victims' advocacy group to audit its sexual violence policies. An obtained by CJI suggests that review is complete. In its statement for this article, the company said it is "outraged that singles may experience fear, discomfort or worse when looking to meet someone special, and will always work to improve our systems to make sure everyone on our apps feels respected and safe.
For people like Dong, who wanted the man she accused expelled from dating apps, those systems put the onus on the user to get a consequential response. Not long after Dong had reported her rape to Tinder, in Mayshe sent the company details about the man, including a user name, age and phone. Days passed without a reply. On the 12th day, she sent a follow-up seeking an update and shared how the other dating apps had replied.
Within 24 hours, a Tinder employee informed her that the company couldn't provide additional information. Frustrated with what she calls a "runaround," Dong decided to take more drastic action. And so around 3 p. Hera black poster board with white letters scrawled across it, caught the eye of the few pedestrians who passed by. One snapped a picture of Dong, she said. Eventually, an employee came out to offer her water, and another approached her to collect the same information she had already provided.
Only after that did she receive an from Tinder letting her know it had banned the accused user. Dong's annoyance over the ordeal remains palpable. In their infancy, dating platforms are typically focused on one goal: growth. At that stage, executives "aren't really thinking about all of the terrible things that can go wrong," said Adelin Cai, a Twitter and Pinterest veteran who, infounded the Trust and Safety Professional Association, which is aimed at improving online moderation.
The startups treat moderation as an afterthought, Cai said, letting a crisis arise before setting a policy. She noted that internet companies can fail to set two fundamental moderation standards: first, for monitoring user behavior through a complaint process; and second, for removing subjects who are found to have violated rules.
Employees at multiple dating apps describe a haphazard approach to content monitoring and customer service that left them ill-equipped when a user reported a sexual assault, especially during an app's early days. At OkCupid, for example, moderators had no corporate guidance from its launch in untilinterviews and records show. Today, they have at least two weeks of general training that cover billing, fraud and other sensitive issues. Industrywide, much of the training of moderators has focused on nuts and bolts — how to access a queue or classify reports — according to insiders at these and other apps.
Only a fraction of it touches on online dating sexual assault.
One Match Group platform has a manual of about 50 s detailing top priority cases and recommended responses for fraud and abuse claims such as romance scams and online harassment. Its section on sexual assault is two s. That passage outlines what employees should do to reply to rape reports "answer quickly, respond empathetically, give resources for help" and what they shouldn't do "don't send victims to police, no assumptions, choose language carefully".
Internal company records suggest these guidelines grew out of an impromptu handbook that past employees had created on their own.Banned from the internet dating site
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Online dating sites are scams and should be banned