The viral screenshot of Lauren's Hinge profile. Photo: Steffi Lopez
Lauren was preparing for brain surgery in June of this year. She has epilepsy, and the surgery “essentially puts in a pacemaker for your brain” to help ease symptoms, she tells me. Dating with her condition hasn’t been easy for the 26-year-old New Yorker. “I’ve never known how to approach it,” she says. “Imagine I’m on a date and suddenly say, ‘oh, by the way, I'm getting brain surgery in like a week’? I’ve definitely had a lot of fear that it’s going to make somebody not want to date me.”
Then there were the practical concerns: What if her Hinge matches assumed she was ghosting them during her recovery period? She settled with adding a caveat to her profile: Under the prompt “a random fact I love”, she wrote “I’m getting brain surgery 27 June and 6 July :)”. I first came across Lauren thanks to an especially modern phenomenon: a dating app screenshot. That thoughtful line on her Hinge profile was tweeted as a joke weeks before she went under the knife. A meme account with more than 15,000 followers had shared it with the caption: “Everyone: there’s more fish in the sea” and then “The fish in the sea:”, with a screenshot of her profile.
Lauren found out through a friend, who sent her the post along with possibly the three most feared words to anyone chronically online: “Is this you?” At the time of writing, this tweet has been viewed by nearly two million people. “My first reaction wasn't upset, genuinely,” she says now. “I was just like ‘what the fuck? How did this person even find me?” If you’re on a dating app these days, you have to contend with more than the usual “what if people don’t fancy me” worries. You could find your profile screenshotted and shared online without your knowledge or consent. You could even go viral – all because you decided to do something relatively benign like ask someone about their job or suggest a bar that’s too far away.
Admittedly, this trend isn’t new – Simran, who asked not to share her real name, had a similar experience back in 2014. She was only 19 when a new friend jokingly messaged her with a link to a Reddit post and the line “haha this isn't you by any chance right?". The now 27-year-old realised her entire OKCupid profile had been screenshotted on Imgur and posted on a subreddit “making fun of pretentious people, specifically try-hards signalling more intelligence than they possess”, she explains, all because she had listed out all of her “intellectual interests, curiosities and fields of study” she liked. “It came across to people as just a list of topics lacking substance,” she explains.Her mate had unwittingly broken the news to her halfway through her working day at a Princeton cafe. The Imgur screenshots had already received 17,000 views. There were dozens of Reddit comments, mostly all making fun of her. Trapped in a state of shock and horror, she had to finish her shift. “It was devastating,” she says. While the Redditor blurred her face and omitted any obvious identifying details, anyone who knew her could easily trace the screenshot back to her, Simran says. “I felt awful. I felt like I was going through a crisis or emotional emergency,” Simran remembers. She was already struggling with “feelings of depression, hopelessness, isolation and feeling misunderstood”, and the situation only exacerbated her mental health struggles.
Simran reached out to the poster in the hopes they would realise a real person was affected by the post. “They didn't seem to fully care about me but didn't double down on making fun of me either,” she says. Simran ended up rewriting her profile a few months later.Dating app shaming has found a new home on places like TikTok, where the Hinge profile review trend sees users routinely share screenshots of strangers’ profiles, mocking them for benign reasons like apparently flirting badly, or saying their dream career is archaeology. The hashtag ‘Hinge review’ has 95 million views, and some of the most popular videos get over a million views.Some would argue that this is surveillance capitalism, pure and simple. Commodifying the private human experiences of others for individual gain originally referred to corporations mining personal data, but now seems to extend to everyone, including random TikTok users turning someone else’s bad chat-up line into content. But what are the stakes now for people simply looking for love? “At its core, this kind of behaviour is a breach of trust,” says Dr Julia Chan, Assistant Professor in Critical Media Practice at the University of Calgary, and part of the Surveillance Studies Network. “When we engage on platforms like dating apps, we are putting ourselves in a somewhat vulnerable position where we are sharing personal information about ourselves in the hopes of making a connection with someone else.”
“We are trusting others to be respectful of and thoughtful with that information,” she adds. “When they aren’t, it’s a violation of that trust.”Lauren feels lucky she was in a good place with her condition and able to face the situation head-on. She reshared the tweet with the caption: “y’all this is my profile LMAOOO idk how this got out there but… low key honoured? hot bitches get brain surgery too”. Her response would have been very different three years ago, when she was going through what she describes as “the worst period of her life”. Her seizures had ramped up, and she was forced to deprioritise her career, stop driving and leave her home in Los Angeles, a city she loved. “At times I’ve wanted to end my life because I don’t want to live like this,” Lauren says, adding that she still feels like that one tweet at her expense made a joke of those experiences. Moving forward, she said she’d reconsider being so open with her condition on dating apps. Nine years on, Simran, too, still feels shaken up by what happened.Screenshotting dating app conversations and profiles were supposed to be a means of highlighting abuse and poor behaviour on the platforms, especially for women and marginalised communities, but the reality is that line has been blurred for years. “I would just stop and think for a second, at least, about whether you're shaming someone for being explicit, self-aware and honest about their preferences or are actually calling out or reflecting on neurotic, predatory, cliche, or bad-faith behaviour,” Simran says today.For years, Raya users have been unable to screenshot conversations, and are met with a warning message if they try. But Dr Chan thinks the responsibility ultimately lies with us. “Why do some people feel it’s okay to use information in disrespectful or abusive ways?” she asks. “We need a fundamental reorientation toward mutual respect and care, not only on an individual level but on a societal level as well – but the demands of surveillance capitalism make that very difficult.”Putting yourself on a dating app and showcasing your personality to total strangers is an exercise in vulnerability. It’s also an example of humanity’s everlasting hope of finding love. Screenshotting it – especially when the other person hasn’t done anything wrong – only helps to poison that optimism.