Since the launch of Tinder in 2012, dating apps have entirely changed the way we pursue love interests and navigate romantic situations. The days of meeting someone at church or going to bars to pick up possible suitors are not completely gone, but they are numbered. Hitting on a stranger in person is, in many places, no longer viewed as socially acceptable. Meanwhile, thanks to diverse users on apps, singles have more direct access to love interests of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, which has caused a spike in interracial dating.
But while dating apps have positively impacted the romance landscape for many of us, social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram might be better for vetting.
From computer screen to phone screen
Long before Tinder, in 1994, there was Kiss.com. Match.com started a year later, making online dating the new strategy for coupling up. The early dating websites, which required users to set up profiles and sometimes answer hundreds of questions about themselves, created a personal and intimate experience between two strangers like never before. The downside: oftentimes the sites required paid memberships, and matches were based on similarities in profiles rather than freedom of choice. Then came personal ads on Craigslist, where anyone could post a listing, free of charge, and publicize themselves as available. The phenomenon was short-lived after the rise of catfishing and the infamous Craigslist Killer scandal, as finding love in an online marketplace didn’t allow much room for proper screening.
Tinder, the first dating app to present the swipe and double opt-in feature, created a new era of dating, solving many of the problems online daters ran into before. Location-based, easy to join, and free of charge, Tinder became the obvious go-to in online pursuits. While it’s still the most downloaded dating app, responsible for nearly 2 billion swipes a day, Tinder isn’t the best app for evaluating a potential partner. Yes, you’re allowed 500 characters to describe yourself in your bio, but the app has adopted a norm, especially for men, of having little to no bio. Other dating apps like Hinge and Bumble have features to help users decide if someone is actually compatible with them. Hinge suggests “most compatible” pairings to users daily, and requires everyone to pick three questions to answer about themselves. Bumble puts the ball in the woman’s court, meaning men can’t get away with cringey bios and scant information if they want to receive a message.
Cognitive swiping and evaluating
Whether you use dating apps, dating websites, matchmakers, or good old-fashioned recommendations from friends, you’re almost always cognitively swiping on people, especially on social media.
Twitter and Instagram were created for social networking, not romance. It isn’t surprising, though, that people are meeting on these platforms, where casual stalking will teach you a lot about someone you don’t know, connecting based on similarities is more common, and flirting can be demonstrated through likes.
You can learn a lot about someone’s interests and political views through the content they share and favorite on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, we mostly find new people to follow when their tweets are retweeted onto our timeline by someone we already follow. It’s safe to say the tweet has a better-than-average chance of resonating with you since it already has been filtered by somebody else in your network.
Instagram is a bit more curated, but still has its usefulness for would-be daters. Users can form a sense of someone’s personality and interests by watching their stories, typically a more lucid statement than a posted image. Tagged photos also reveal moments that don’t always make the grid, giving you a more in-depth look at someone’s personal life.
Facebook, on the other hand, is normally reserved for connecting with people you already know. The more-personal platform is usually private; friend requests typically aren’t made between absolute strangers. But on Twitter and Instagram, a stranger following you doesn’t feel like a breach of privacy because information on those platforms is designed to circulate more freely.
Scrolling through a potential partner’s tweets or Instagram posts is arguably a mild form of stalking. But a public profile is fair game these days. A 2019 study conducted by WhoIsHostingThis.com found that 79% of people looked up their matches on social media before meeting them in person, while 57% friended or followed their matches on social media before meeting in person.
Social media apps allow us to form opinions about our love interests that can’t be determined as easily on dating apps. We may not always be correct in our stance, but it does save us time and potentially creates safer dating scenarios. When someone has a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account, it provides us with a list of mutual friends—another indication that this person is who they claim to be and we could ask someone about them, if we’re bold enough.
A few times, I’ve matched with people on dating apps that I had already been following on Instagram or Twitter—and because they were already within my periphery, I felt both safer and more obligated to set a date with them, versus with a complete stranger who could fabricate their background.
In conclusion, I’ll probably continue to keep my dating apps until I find my soulmate, but I doubt I’ll meet that person there. Auspiciously, I believe they’re already out there, being followed online by a few of my friends already, waiting for me to stumble across their posts.