The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Given my scholarship on lies on online dating apps and sexual fraud, I took notice when Tinder announced on March 29 that it was introducing a height verification tool so that individuals could no longer fudge their height. I was not the only one to pay attention: millions of people watched the associated video, and multiple news outlets reported on this development.
The introductory video began with the message "Let's bring honesty back to dating". There is also a lengthy associated Tinder blog entry making statements about its new "Height Verification Badge" such as:
Oh, and by the way? Only 14.5% of the U.S. male population is actually 6′ and beyond. So, we're expecting to see a huge decline in the 80% of males on Tinder who are claiming that they are well over 6 feet. That's fine by us — as long as we're all living our truths.
Tinder's HVB is coming soon to a phone near you.
It now turns out to have been an April Fools' joke on the part of the company, one made only more believable by its release multiple days before April 1 and preceding tweet that they had a "Big announcement dropping". In short (pardon the pun), the company did a lot to push this story as real.
While I consider humor to be an important part of life, there are several reasons that this particular stunt is not funny to me and in fact earns my condemnation. The first is that we live in an era in which the spread of dangerous fake news is no joke, as could be seen recently in its effects on the latest Brazilian presidential election, and actions like Tinder's trivialize that fact. Note that Microsoft–much unlike Tinder–reacted to problems with other companies' April Fools' debacles this year by banning public-facing pranks.
The second reason that the Tinder joke is deeply problematic is that it makes light of people lying on online dating apps and what might be the effects and victims of that. Sure, lies about height are far from topping the list of significant problems in that context. But what about people lying about marital status and having sex with individuals who would have never consented had they known the truth? And even if we stick with smaller lies such as those related to height, why is it ethically acceptable intentionally to mislead others to obtain what one's heart desires (such as a first date with a specific person)?
The company knows or should know that lies on its platform are a serious issue, so choosing that topic as the subject matter of an April Fools' hoax is beyond questionable. In a sense, the company itself has now lied to the public about a plan to work on this problem.
Its statement now, during the reveal, that "what's not funny is lying about who you are on Tinder" is too little, too late—the frequent lies on the app are exactly the topic the company exploited to get millions of views (read: tons of free advertising). Additionally, only a small percentage of the people who viewed the original video will see that statement at all. Even though I have at times defended app makers due to the technical difficulties in implementing solutions that better protect users at the platform level, this year's hoax makes me question the good faith of the Tinder team members that launched the joke.