A note of caution is in order whenever studying a trendy technological innovation: Since this research was conducted, Tinder has changed its interface to allow users to include their education and work information on their profiles. Users can also ‘Super Like’ other profiles, thus bringing their interest and their own profile to the front of another user’s queue. Such changes are a reminder of the importance of maintaining a broader theoretical lens and not focusing solely on technological features.
Beyond theoretical considerations, several issues related to the process of data collection are worth mentioning. Two weeks into my recruitment via the app, of the fourteen email responses I received, only three were from women. The three who eventually responded to my request also requested more information about the project and proof of my personal identity; male respondents did not do so. Such difficulty reminded me that for women on Tinder, I was presenting as a man – without an identifying picture – asking to meet and interview them. This issue highlights the importance of issues such as safety that women particularly face online (Spitzberg Hoobler, 2002 ).
Further, it is important to keep in mind who actually responds to a request for academic research via a dating app. Though diverse in terms of age, my interviewees as a whole were almost all highly educated and white. Their stereotypes – and rejection – of those from other walks of life were in line with the past literature: This tendency has been found to be a common practice on dating sites when seeking potential partners (Fiore Donath, 2005 ). But what about those Tinder users my interviewees rejected? What is their experience of self-presenting and selecting matches on Tinder? Even in past literature these individuals seem underrepresented, with an elite group giving voice to research findings. This is an important factor to remedy in future research.
This research has provided a look at the new phenomenon of mobile matchmaking apps and has helped discover similarities and differences with past research in terms of impression management, particularly in an environment of reduced cues and increased control, local proximity, and a reduced filtering process. It offers insight into user experiences and perceptions within a still under-researched area of inquiry and makes a case to continue researching mixed-mode relationships in the context of dating apps, where users anticipate a move from technologically mediated to face-to-face communication.
Janelle Ward is Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Her research and consultancy expertise is in digital communication. She currently researches how people create and manage impressions on mobile dating apps. Janelle’s past research looked at political contexts and particularly political consumerism: when people purchase products with ethical intentions. Her publications have primarily focused on how organizations use technology to mobilize citizens, particularly youth.
Tinder was launched in and has achieved global popularity. It has more than 50 million global users in 196 countries, with 9 billion matches since its inception. 3 Globally, Tinder users login an average of 11 times a day and spend between 7 and 9 minutes swiping during a single session. Women browse profiles for 8.5 minutes at a time versus 7.2 for men (Bilton, 2014 ). In the Netherlands, there were an estimated 1.5 million users in 2014 (Eigenraam Zandstra, 2014 ). Though the app itself is relatively new, the concept of meeting a romantic partner online is not. According to Statistics Netherlands, between 2008 and 2013, 13% of Dutch people met their partners online, and half of these met on dating sites. 4
Though Tinder mimics dating websites in some ways, it reduces these self-presentation cues further. Users can only provide a limited amount of information to potential partners, namely, a number of photos and a small amount of text (Birnholtz et al., 2014 ; Gudelunas, 2012 ; Handel Shklovski, 2012 ). Tinder users are, therefore, left with a few carefully chosen photos and an option for brief text.
I used it every day. I’d just got dumped. I’d just turned 34, and I was set on not staying alone, just miserable and by myself, I’m going to do something … I downloaded it, it was super easy. I think I was on it multiple times a day. I was lying in bed crying for my ex and then whenever I had a match I was like, ‘Yes! There are still men out there that like me!’
Profiles were constructed with the aim to avoid certain appearances. According to one woman, seeming too sexual was one look to avoid. Christina, 40, claimed: ‘I would never put up sexy pictures, or pics that don’t look like me.’ This also happened for men. Wildon said: ‘I want women to see me as handsome. Serious. And I don’t want to be the guy who is starting with questions about sex.’ Aya referenced her photo choices by describing the kind of person she wanted to avoid looking like: ‘I want guys to know I’m a student … you can see that I’m not wearing that much makeup or excessive jewelry or those brands that different people wear.’
Filtering on Tinder
Photos are selected in an attempt to present an ideal yet authentic self, in line with past research (e.g., Ellison et al., 2006 ). Tinder users often search for potential matches to provide clues as to how to present themselves in order to attract others like them. This project did not examine reaction to particular matches, but rather focused on the general process of using Tinder. It could be that users tweak profiles as a response to particularly attractive others. Future research, perhaps following dating app users over time, could examine these possibilities.
Yet, dating ‘profiles are essential for online daters because they constitute a gateway for future FtF dating’ (Ellison et al., 2012 , p. 2). This paper did not delve into what happens after a Tinder match, but this is an issue of great interest for future research: Face-to-face interaction with matches is an important continuation of impression management. Gershon ( 2010 ) describes this as ‘media switching’ and has explored its constraints on romantic relationships. This process may be complicated further in a relationship that began on a dating app. Hardey ( 2004 ) also argues that authenticity is key for successful communication between strangers attempting to develop a trusting relationship. The concept of authenticity is emerging in recent scholarship on Tinder use (Duguay, 2016 ). Still, ‘ … physically copresent interaction still has to be managed in a manner which consolidates the dyadic encounter … such meetings may still be disappointing when physical copresence fails to match the expectation of one or both individuals’ (Hardey, 2002 , p. 582).