For some of the 40 million or so Americans who currently use online dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, the findings of the new HBO documentary Swiped might be intuitively obvious.
But for others, there may still be revelations aplenty in the film, which is subtitled Hooking Up in the Digital Age. It's about how these apps may change how we think about relationships — and it doesn't paint a positive picture.
"I think that what the film is trying to do is to get us to look at the technology and what it means and what it's doing to us, how it's changing our culture, how it's changing the way we treat each other, how we interact," says Nancy Jo Sales, the filmmaker behind Swiped. "And I think some of these results and ramifications are pretty bleak. But what I wanted to do and what I tried to do in the film was, No. 1: to get people to think about that and examine that, but also to bring to life and humanize the people in these stacks of pictures."
Sales is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, but Swiped is her first film. She spoke to NPR about her documentary.
On certain African Americans' experiences with online dating
I think that dating apps normalize things that are unacceptable. And one of the things we just talked about, objectification, and another thing ... we heard about racism. Because it's somehow considered, on these apps, OK to choose what you want in a romantic partner. And sometimes that veers toward what some of our African-American characters are experiencing as racism. And that's not OK. Imagine being a woman, age 22, 23, 24, and going on a dating app and ... swiping on people and seeing a profile — which they said they saw pretty regularly — that actually said, and this is a quote, "no blacks."
On interviewing Tinder, Bumble and Hinge executives, and confronting them on the deeper implications of their creations
I would say my favorite part in the film in a way is — and just talking about revelations — is talking to Jonathan Badeen, who is the [chief strategy officer] of Tinder. And he is the person who invented the swipe. Now, the swipe is — the "swipe mechanic," it's called, where you swipe on someone's face or picture, right or left, are you hot or not. But I was so struck by him talking about inventing the swipe, and how he was quite open in discussing how he had based it in part on studies, psychological studies, about controlling behavior and causing people to become addicted to things. ...
I think that some of the things that they say about the apps are ridiculous — not just in this film, but in interviews and elsewhere — and I think that it's marketing. Because I think that what they really are is businesses, and their real goal overall is to make money. But they don't want us to think about that. When I asked Jonathan Badeen — again, the CSO of Tinder — why did you guys make this app? He didn't say: So that people can fall in love and get married. What he said was: Well, we were looking for disruption in the marketplace. They have certainly created disruption in the realm of love, sex and dating.
On other takeaways from the film
I would love for the film to raise a discussion around dating app culture and online dating and sexual violence. I was really not aware of this, I would say, relationship between dating apps and rape culture before I started interviewing young women for the film. There's a real problem with it, you know? And I took it to the heads of these companies in the film, and I did not find their responses satisfying. So I'm hoping that this conversation will begin in a real way. Especially in the #MeToo moment, we have women speaking up about sexual harassment, sexual assault. And yet the place where I would say it's likely that they're experiencing a lot of this the most — in their dating lives, on dating apps — is not being talked about.
Dana Cronin and Natalie Friedman Winston produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.