November 17, 2014

Commentary | March 24, 2014
When Tinder fails to spark
Dating apps, advertising, and unsafe spaces
Written by | Visual by Tamim Sujat | The McGill Daily

The messages appear in a few places around McGill’s campus, peppy but not overstated. Scrawled around the mirrors in bathrooms, in neon pink marker, are hashtags endorsing the popular networking app Tinder, urging the viewer to #takeaselfie. The bottom of each mirror features the ubiquitous tear-drop flame that serves as the company’s logo.

While this is a creative technique for spreading the word about a service pertinent to many members of the student population, the fact remains that the message propagated is one that imposes an inappropriately normative view of sexuality upon the student population.

Scrawled around the mirrors in bathrooms, in neon pink marker, are hashtags endorsing the popular networking app Tinder, urging the viewer to #takeaselfie.

The numbers show that as a service and a company, Tinder must be doing something right. It boasts over one billion matches, mostly among young millennials hoping to ‘swipe right’ on their smartphone screens to find social and romantic connections. In an email to The Daily, Justin Mateen, Tinder’s co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer, enthusiastically claimed, “Our goal is to make the process of meeting people more efficient, whether it be in the context of friendship, dating, or even business.” He followed this with the slightly enigmatic claim that, “As the product evolves it will move in the direction of social discovery in general,” thus expressing his desire for the type of communication Tinder champions – quick, instinctive, and perfunctory – to become normative.

An individual who is a survivor of sexual violence may not want their image implicitly sexualized when they glance into a mirror at school.

The product that Tinder offers is not under fire here. While its modus operandi may be based on a superficial judgment of attraction, its high number of users and ratings show that the company is meeting a demand for such a service. It is their methods of advertising on campuses that are contentious, and they should be reconsidered if they are to appeal to students in a respectful manner.

The most troubling issue with Tinder’s campaign on McGill’s campus is that when a person looks into a mirror that features the campaign, their face is framed by the words endorsing the product, and they become an unwitting mascot for Tinder. Regardless of whether this person uses the app, or even knows what it entails, the image of their face within the frame is unofficially ‘claimed’ by Tinder as a potential user, solely by virtue of looking in the bathroom mirror. In the bathroom, which can be a vulnerable space for many people, a person should be free of the danger of being fetishized as a consumer.

A person who is anxious about their own physical appearance might feel excluded from the superficiality which characterizes the app.

The campaign also lacks respect for those for whom the advertisements might act as a trigger. An individual who is a survivor of sexual violence may not want their image implicitly sexualized when they glance into a mirror at school. Somebody who is avoiding certain expressions of sexuality for religious or other lifestyle reasons may resent being automatically placed in a stereotypical category of “experimental college kids” who are gung-ho about casual dating and sex. A person who is anxious about their own physical appearance might feel excluded from the superficiality which characterizes the app. Nobody should be made to feel that their choices, or their lifestyle, are sidelined, just by entering a school bathroom.

In light of these considerations, the public relations representatives at Tinder who are responsible for these advertisements should receive the following message.

For some people, it is clear that your product enriches lives, however, it does not seem appropriate that individuals on college campuses should be associated with it simply by virtue of looking into a mirror. The social and sexual lives of students do not need your endorsement.

Now stay out of our bathroom.


Lily Chapnik is a U2 student in Jewish Studies and Music. Lily can be reached at lily.chapnik@mail.mcgill.ca.

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