Modern dating is a tangle of psychiatric language, buzzwords and zeitgeisty slang, but everyone knows the meaning of a red flag – even if, in today’s world, anyone can be a walking red flag if they do something you’re not on board with.
But in private Facebook groups, of which millions of women are members, red flags are taken very seriously. Are We Dating the Same Guy was initially founded in New York in 2022, but has since ballooned to 120 groups covering multiple cities, including London, LA and Brisbane. The London group alone has over 8,000 members.
Are We Dating the Same Guy works like this: A person will post a screenshot of a man’s dating profile from an app and ask, “any tea?” Members will respond with what they know about the guy: first-hand accounts, stories of friends matching, screenshots of chats and so on. In some cases, a post is a warning to all members. These usually carry a trigger warning and are more frequently anonymous. They are difficult to read, detailing instances of coercion, assault, racism, extortion and abuse.
By collating these walking red flags, women get to – in theory – crowdsource their own safety. And in a world where almost two million people are on Tinder in the UK alone, a community that has your back can make all the difference. “It feels amazing to be helping protect so many women,” an anonymous moderator of the London group tells VICE.
But in the world of dating discourse, definitions of a red flag can differ dramatically. So, too, can your read on how a date went. Andre – whose name, like all the daters in this piece, has been changed to protect his privacy – is a 27-year-old from London who uses Tinder and Bumble. He was alerted to a post about him in the city’s group by three different friends. His date said that he was too pushy; he claims that she came back to his place, “acted weird and then left”.
“I knew I was in that group because I heard it from multiple sources,” he tells VICE, “and obviously her side doesn’t match my side. We had a miscommunication and then I’m hearing from girls I grew up with that I’m a creep or that I did something. I don’t think these groups are helpful to anyone.”
Bambi, a member of the London group and one of its counterparts in Italy, counters that the group helps women to vet potential partners. “Sometimes men will bank on women not being open with each other and will continue to do the same thing to multiple girls without being held accountable,” she explains.
The London mod acknowledges the complexity that goes into running the group, where posts can include everything from “is my boyfriend cheating on me?” to more serious allegations of financial fraud, sexual assault and stalking.
“I've been working on creating training materials so we can educate more women on how to do everything we do to protect the groups, but some of it is incredibly nuanced,” she says. “There are legal concerns, ethical concerns and safety concerns. Posting a guy’s personal information drastically increases the chance that the post will get back to him.”
Social media can act as an arena for public persecution as much as it can act as a vehicle for change. By the very nature of the Are We Dating The Same Guy groups, nobody can defend themselves if someone posts about them. At the same time, there’s no way for a woman to corroborate her story unless other members back her up.
Not everyone is willing to believe everything they read online and some members openly question the motives of those who post their traumatic experiences. Jessie, 32, was sceptical when she saw a post about a “super charismatic” guy she’d been on a date with in one US-based group.
“I felt like he had a good head on his shoulders,” she tells me. “The next day I was scrolling Facebook and saw his picture. Someone had posted calling him a cheater and an abuser, accusing him of blackmail and violence. I was so shocked – it was kind of scary because I did not pick up on any of this on my date. I initially felt that I had to take that post with a grain of salt.”
Jessie wasn’t sure if she should stop seeing the guy – at least, not until someone spotted her comment underneath the original message and sent her a direct message with more information.
“[This person] told me she is online specifically to warn women about this guy... I feel lucky that I didn’t fall victim, because I easily could have. It used to be that we dated people with mutual friends so someone could vouch. Now we’re meeting complete strangers on the internet, we need to look out for each other.”
Not everyone is part of the group to share information about men. Some, like Manchester-based Kay, are there because they enjoy lurking. “I’m there for the gossip, really,” she tells VICE. “I know that’s a bit sick, but I like reading all the posts.”
This can, however, have unforeseen consequences when you stumble upon something nasty about a friend, as Kay did about a mate she used to work with. “I read that he had been very sexually forward with a girl and after that I didn’t want to hear from him,” she says. “I didn’t want to mention it for the girl’s sake, so I just stopped replying [to his texts] and told my boyfriend to stop speaking to him too.”
After Lola, a London-based group member, posted about a bad experience, the man in question doxxed her and threatened her. “I’ve found the group useful but I was shocked by what happened to me,” she says. “I was saying to a friend that the group has become so dark recently. And now I’ve exposed myself because I was just trying to help other women.” Another woman who posted about her negative experience tells VICE that she had to delete her socials after being threatened by both men and women, whom she assumes were her date’s friends.
Facebook groups don’t present us with a perfect way to pass judgement. Being able to share your experiences makes it much easier for women like Jessie to stay safe while dating, and for others, like Kay, to filter out a friend. But social media doesn’t tend to work in women’s favour and, in many ways, neither does online dating. We take greater risks matching with strangers outside our own communities and, in doing so, have few guarantees of safety. The resulting uncertainty is why groups like Are We Dating The Same Guy pop up in the first place.
“By using these groups you could discover crucial information that could protect you,” says Mairead Molloy, a relationship psychologist and global director of matchmaking service Berkeley International. “Some men might be panicking because they will no longer be able to get away with certain problematic behaviours – but remember the internet can wreak havoc when used incorrectly.”
There are plenty of harmless posts in these groups that simply serve to vet a potential match, but these are in a stark contrast to the posts about violence and harassment. Kieran, 33, found out about his post through friends. “My friends told me about it,” he says. “Basically, my friend’s girlfriend’s friend – I sort of know her – saw me in a post. I certainly have an opinion on it all, but I haven’t got any reasons to worry.”
Kieran didn’t seem bothered by his friends seeing the post – why should he? The comments about him were resoundingly positive. Perhaps if you’re confident that your behaviour is unproblematic and you’re at best, a beige flag, there’s no reason for anxiety. But many men do worry and see the groups as an invasion of privacy – an opportunity for women to potentially sabotage men who might simply be having a bad day in the conversation or bedroom department.
Whether or not posting on an online forum is the best way of keeping women safe is still up for debate, but with communities comprising millions of women, all telling similar stories, it’s fair to assume this is a necessary – if flawed – tool.
Jessie sees her experience as a blessing. “I think social media should be used to warn women about men who are a threat and who are dangerous to us,” she tells me. “I think that [Facebook] groups can help with that. Once a man gets posted, their reputation is maybe ruined and that sucks – but I guess that’s where we are in society right now. It is what it is.”