Steps To Protect Yourself From Online Creeps and Stalkers

Diane’s date story starts off like any other: a cute boy, numbers exchanged, and a dinner reservation.

Then it started to go downhill.

“I was talking to this guy on Tinder,” she says. “He seemed really normal at first, you know?”

With a demanding internship, Diane, 20, uses dating apps because it’s easier to swipe through strangers in an app than interact with them in person in her limited free time.

But when she gave the guy her number, things started to go downhill. His previously pleasant demeanor evaporated.

“He would say overtly sexual things, like ‘can’t wait to rip your clothes off when I see you,’ or, since he was a TA, he asked ‘ever fantasize about your teachers? I hope I can fulfill those fantasies.’”

“I started feeling uncomfortable,” she continues. “Just because I am willing to go on a date doesn’t make him entitled to think that I’ll just have sex with him. I ended up telling him that I wasn’t interested in meeting up with him anymore and he flipped out.”

In a somewhat unorthodox response to the rejection, the man told Diane, a George Washington sophomore, that he had reported her as “an infected sex worker who is actively soliciting,” and reportedly posted her photo and cell phone number on several escort websites in the area.

The incident has not had any long-term consequences for Diane, but online harassment is experienced by 40 percent of women using dating apps. Potential partners can use the information shared in dating apps to stalk and harass.

This behavior is in part due to the fact that, on dating apps, people are reduced to pictures on a screen. The relative anonymity of these apps enables abusive behavior with few repercussions.

Helen Nissenbaum, an NYU media professor who specializes in online privacy, warns that dating apps may pose more risks than using traditional social networks such as Facebook.

“They are potentially more revealing because, in the natural course of getting to know people, one shares more personal and intimate information,” she said.

Dating apps often require users to link dating profiles to a Facebook account. Even though dating apps like Hinge, Tinder, and OkCupid don’t directly link back to a user’s Facebook, a stalker can take a user’s pictures and do a reverse image search. The process requires little technical know-how and takes less than two minutes.

These apps have always been privy to more private information than most others, with little regulation on how those details are collected or used. The examples in this article are on the extreme end of what can happen when women are stalked online, but they’re far from impossible, and they do happen time and again.

Despite the dangers, Diane was quick to point out that online dating can be useful. “I think dating online has a lot of benefits, especially in today’s culture where everyone is constantly on their phones,” she said.

However, she warns against moving too quickly.

“Don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger, and never ever feel pressured to do something that you are uncomfortable with, even a kiss.”

If Diane’s story hasn’t scared you off from maintaining a profile on a dating app, here are some steps to make the experience as safe as possible:

  1. Buy a webcam cover to prevent peeping-tom snooping software. It’s removable, so you can still use the camera when you want it.
  2. Lock down your Facebook profile. The site’s privacy policy is infamously hard to navigate, but given how easy it is to find someone on the world’s largest social network, this step is crucial. (Here’s how.)
  3. Use Google’s free voice service to get a second phone number and use it exclusively on dating apps until you trust your date. Not only does the new number redirect to your existing cellphone, but also Google allows you to delete your number and create a new one if something bad happens.
  4. Use different profile pictures on Facebook to ones you put on dating apps to stop creeps finding out your last name and location. To do this, put your dating app snaps in a Facebook album visible only to you. (Don’t know how? Click here.)
  5. Consider creating a second Facebook account that doesn’t include your last name and location, which you only use with dating apps. (It’s a one-time set up, so you won’t have to juggle multiple accounts.)
  6. Download Circle of 6, an app that alerts your friends when you feel unsafe and aims to prevent violence before it happens.

Diane’s name changed to protect anonymity.