When we think of dating apps like Tinder or platforms like eHarmony, we think about romantic experiences or funny dating disaster stories our friends have shared. What we don’t normally associate with dating platforms are children and young people.
Dating apps are designed for adults but online dating culture has steadily become normalised as the socially acceptable way to connect with and meet others. When young people use these platforms, this will cause concern for parents and safeguarding professionals.
These apps aren’t designed for children and young people, so there are limited safeguards in place to protect them. Children and young people frequenting these platforms may be exposed to age-inappropriate interactions and potential harm.
By understanding the functions of such apps and the attitudes, behaviours and culture that exist on some these platforms, you’ll be better able to support and protect those in your care.
Age Verification and Dating Apps
Common Functions of Dating Apps
Risks and Areas of Concern
- Most dating apps let you connect with users ‘nearby’, which increases the likelihood of meeting and communicating with strangers.
- GPS provides a relatively accurate indication of a user’s likely location which can be misused.
- Users can also reveal more information than they had initially intended via the photos that they have uploaded. This may be due to data contained within the photo or clues from the photo background, for example, recognising a photo has been taken in a particular place or with a familiar item of clothing such as a uniform.
- There have been cases of violent crimes against young people where the perpetrator used location-based dating apps to target victims.
- It is common for users to share their other social media accounts (Instagram and Snapchat are two popular examples of this) in conversations or via information in bios or profiles.
- This also means that predators involved in grooming and exploitation can harvest additional information from a range of sites, and indeed encourage victims to move from dating platforms to environments that provide the predator with even greater levels of protection (i.e. disappearing messaging or encryption).
- There is a risk of exposure to adult conversations about alcohol and drugs and harmful content including sexual imagery.
- Young people who feel isolated or lonely might be drawn toward dating apps. It’s important to note that any form of support in a sexualised digital environment is likely to be age-inappropriate and unhealthy. Young people might hide their use of dating apps from the adults in their lives (especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, as they may not be ‘out’ yet) and may be less likely to seek support if things go wrong.
- Catfishing is a common phenomenon on dating apps. This relates to the use of a false identity to trick another person into revealing information or images of themselves.
- Intimate images can be used for blackmail and extortion purposes. This is sometimes known as sextortion. Some predators who trick children into sharing images will often use the threat of sharing those images to coerce the child into sending more or to meet in person.
- Young people may also use catfishing to cyberbully another (e.g. where they capture an image and share it to humiliate the victim).