Love in the time of coronavirus: Have dating apps been affected by COVID-19 pandemic?

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While social distancing is recommended to be the best way to not contract the novel coronavirus, users of dating apps seem to be taking a different route, with the virus even helping in some cases.

Dating and hook-up apps such as Tinder, OkCupid and Bumble have not reported a rise or fall in user numbers so far because of COVID-19, but users do not seem to be panicking due to the pandemic outbreak, according to people Moneycontrol spoke to.

“Meeting people who you do not know through dating apps always has its fair share of risks. If you hook up with a stranger, there is a chance of contracting all sorts of diseases. We never know what they have, so I don’t think the coronavirus affects usage of these apps at all,” said a 22-year-old Pune-based student of medicine who uses Tinder frequently, requesting anonymity.

“Being from the medical fraternity, I definitely understand the disease is real, but even as a pandemic, it has the lowest mortality rate. SARS, H1N1 all had higher death rates. Coronavirus spreads easily and precautions should be taken for sure, but if I really like someone through a dating app, I would like to take that one odd risk,” he added.

On dating apps where conversations are often artificial and awkward, the virus is also adding a dose of reality and has become a talking point and a way to judge the other person, compared to other metrics such as movies or TV series.

“Coronavirus is giving a chance for real conversations to happen and making flow of chats much easier. Otherwise, it is usually “hey what music do you like” or “check this meme,” said Radhika Subramanian, a frequent user of Bumble – which enables meeting, dating and friendships.

“I just matched with someone who came back on the last flight from the US and have self-quarantined themselves. Our conversation has a spark and now I am waiting to meet him,” she added.

Another woman who uses these apps often also said that even without the virus, she does not trust other people and has to take precautions anyway. “As long as I am taking proper precautions then I am going to be confident about it. And I honestly have zero faith in others, so I would rather be cautious myself. I do not want to miss out on something awesome because of a stupid virus,” the woman, who did not want to be named, added.

The dating apps are also trying to do their bit to educate users about the virus and how to be safe.

Tinder, for instance, has a card on the app where it gives basic tips such as to wash hands often and to avoid touching your face. Beyond the four points it shows, it directs the user to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website to learn more.

When Moneycontrol reached out, a Tinder spokesperson said the company has no comments on app activity and nothing to say beyond the card.

A Bumble spokesperson said, “Bumble does not consider itself the expert in dating by any means but we do know a great deal about creating healthy connections online. That said, we would defer to the medical experts at the CDC and WHO, who have provided detailed guidelines for meeting people in public during this time.”

However, while regular activity on these apps is continuing, the companies had to stop other planned activities. For example, Tinder said on March 13 that it has cancelled the international release of its apocalyptic-themed, in-app video series, “Swipe Night.” The company had planned to release the first season of the show to 10 new markets across Europe and Asia this quarter.

“Swipe Night” was Tinder’s first foray into video, offering a five-minute interactive story where users made choices to progress the narrative, like a choose-your-own-adventure. These choices would then be highlighted on viewers’ profiles and were used to match them with others who also took the same action. In addition, the video series gave users a way to break the ice – they could start by talking about the show, instead of resorting to pick-up lines and other awkward openings, TechCrunch reported.

Moneycontrol has learned that Tinder also had to cancel its Swipe Night Party, a party it had planned for its users to be held in Mumbai on Thursday. Tinder declined to comment.

Bumble – which also positions itself as a safer and friendlier platform than others, also said that the virus gives an opportunity to increase online interactions and avoid loneliness, a key fallout of the social distancing that is recommended.

“We feel Bumble can provide a great outlet for those who may be concerned with meeting people in person. We are already seeing reports in the media that a pandemic could trigger loneliness and isolationism, and Bumble is one way to stay connected to real people without having to meet in the physical world. Currently, we have some features like voice calls and video chat that allow for an even deeper connection without having to meet in public, or share your phone number or email,” the spokesperson said.

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