This week, dating app Bumble announced it would ban profile pictures that feature firearms. The moderators — who already scan for nudity, hate speech, and the like — will remove offending content from the swipe-based dating app to make a statement against gun violence in America.
“It’s a tricky battle we’ve chosen to take on, but I’d rather pursue this than just ignore it,” founder Whitney Wolfe Herd told The New York Times.
Bumble will make an exception for members of the military and law enforcement who post pictures of themselves in full uniform featuring firearms, but photos of recreational gun paraphernalia are now banned. They’re also discussing plans to filter out textual mentions of guns.
It should come as no surprise that the women-led app, founded as a swipe-able safe haven from bro-pandering Tinder, is the first to take a stand on the controversial issue. (Bumble also announced it would donate $100,000 to A March for Our Lives.) Herd even threw shade at a couple of the biggest names in digital for not being more vigilant about their content: “Compared to what’s going on with Facebook and Twitter, we take a very proactive approach,” she told the Times. “If I could police every other social platform in the world, I would.”
But who would post pictures of guns on a dating profile anyway? One woman at Galore asked a bunch of arms-holding Tinder users and came to the conclusion: “Dudes with guns in their Tinder pics are just like regular guys on Tinder (only scary), they’ll do and/or say anything” for sex.
The intent may be more literal than you think, said Christopher Clemens, assistant professor of broadcast and electronic communication arts at San Francisco State University and an expert in media and gender studies.
“I think men are posting [these photos] because they know it signifies ‘masculinity’ and they want to portray themselves as ‘someone not to be messed with’ or in some case, ‘protectors,’ ” Clemens said.
“Some men believe that a woman is searching for a stereotypical ‘men are masculine, women are feminine’ relationship,” he continued. “He’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a heteronormative male who fits within the patriarchal culture we live in.’ It’s also a signifier to other men: ‘Hey, I’m tough. Look at this thing in my hand. I hold power.’ Some men still believe that women are attracted to that vision within this country — but that might not be the case anymore.”
Clemens, who coauthored a 2015 study titled “The influence of biological and personality traits on gratifications obtained through online dating websites,” regularly studies perceptions of masculinity. He thinks Bumble’s decision to move forward with the ban is a positive one for the platform.
“It’s an app made to make women feel equal to men,” he said. “They should feel comfortable while using it.”
He notes, however, that there’s potential for a “double-edged sword,” where users with violent tendencies may not immediately be apparent.
But what about women who post images with their guns? Clemens guesses their reasons could be similar to their male counterparts, at least superficially: They support the NRA and gun rights, they have conservative values, they’re hobbyists who just like guns. But, he adds, for women, it’s less of a show.
“Women don’t have the same pressure to prove their masculinity or femininity as men do,” he explained. “Depending on how they are posing, it could be something completely opposite of their feelings, like, ‘Hey, look at this crazy thing I’m doing.’ ”
Blame one of the oldest hot tips of online dating: Share photos that showcase your interests. If you love to bowl, show off your league. If you love your dog, show off your dog. If you love owning enough weaponry to start your own backyard militia — seriously, consider the context and keep that to yourself.
But as a woman, there is something nauseating about seeing a man present his collection of guns, knives, and other armaments with glee. Maybe that’s because female victims of domestic violence are so much more likely to be killed if their partner has a gun.
Or that men are more likely than women to keep a gun “loaded and easily accessible” while at home, according to the Pew Research Center. Or perhaps it’s that every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted — or that 90 percent of adult rape victims are female, according to anti-sexual violence organization RAINN. Just like the Galore reporter said: “scary.”
I recall seeing a man on Tinder who uploaded pictures from his own wedding and that’s still the second worst thing I can imagine someone using to promote themselves.
The argument against gun profile pics is still subjective. There’s a chance that GunGal617 is going to be totally into those photos. And maybe the Bumble ban will lessen the likelihood of two AR-15 aficionados finding each other in an option-laden world. But there are other dating services that target the gun-owning community. Google them.
Ultimately, it’s Bumble’s decision, as a social platform, to choose whether or not to host such photos and language on the app. Which is to say, all social platforms reserve the right to ban the spread of hate speech, mechanisms of violence, and other Internet garbage. They just opt not to do it.
But not everyone is a fan of Bumble’s agenda.
“Sometimes it feels like they’re exploiting the latest headlines and trending topics for their own marketing needs,” Andrea Silenzi, the voice behind “Why Oh Why,” a podcast about modern dating, and current host of “The Longest Shortest Time,” a show about parenting.
“When the alt-right racists marched in Charlottesville and killed Heather Heyer, Bumble blasted out press releases saying their website had been a target of Neo-Nazi attacks, too. When the #metoo movement started, they put billboards up around the country, touting their new business networking tools. ‘Career Advancements without the unwanted advances!’” she continued. “It so blatantly feels like they’re just adding ‘gun control’ to my demo’s lists of interest, alongside Beyoncé, rose, and egg-freezing.”
Following our chat, Silenzi, an active online dater, matched with a 29-year-old lawyer with a rifle slung over his shoulder. She asked what he thought of Bumble’s new rule for the sake of the article.
“He said, ‘I think it’s unconstitutional, quite frankly,’ ” she said. “I reported him.”
Rachel Raczka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.