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Lawsuit filed against dating apps claims they are ‘fuelling addiction’

Since the emergence of online dating apps almost a decade ago, they’ve become one of the most common ways new couples meet. However, some users are claiming that their addictive nature is causing harm to our relationships and mental health.

On Valentine’s Day, six dating app users filed a proposed class-action lawsuit accusing Tinder, Hinge, and other dating apps of using addictive, game-like features to encourage ‘compulsive use.’

Filed in the Northern District of California, the lawsuit claims that developers have knowingly incorporated ‘dopamine-manipulating product features’ into dating apps, similar to those used in gambling. The goal is to keep us coming back for more.

It states that users are locked into a perpetual hunt for ‘psychological rewards’ once they become active on these platforms, allowing dating apps to generate immense profit and market success via expensive subscription packages which promise an increased likelihood of finding a match.

The global dating app business has continued to grow since 2015 and was valued at around £6.3 billion in 2022. No doubt, its value will continue to increase in the coming years, with a recent survey showing that Millennials spend 10 hours a week on dating apps.

Tinder was the first to introduce the ‘swipe left, swipe right’ interface, though many have implemented this format since.

The platform’s ‘deck of cards’ style was designed by Jonathan Badeen, Tinder’s co-founder, who admitted to drawing inspiration from scientific experiments on animal conditioning.

The experiment of note was famously conducted by BF Skinner, who conditioned hungry pigeons to believe that food delivered into a tray at random intervals had been prompted by their continuous pecking.

Translate this into the use of dating apps and we are the pigeons, swiping right and left and waiting for that ‘It’s a match!’ notification. What may feel like an instant reward is in reality totally unpredictable.

The unpredictability of this reward keeps us in a constant state of searching, believing that our perfect match could be just a swipe away. The lawsuit hopes to argue that this is not only addictive, but is damaging to people’s mental health.

It is possible to find a partner on dating apps. But many studies have reached negative conclusions about their effects on users’ self-esteem and society as a whole.

They are often painted as ‘destroying our view on love, relationships, and sex,’ where behaviours such as ghosting, breadcrumbing, and the dreaded ‘situationship’ have become normalised.

Still, experts aren’t convinced that judges will find dating app corporations as needing to be held accountable. They may be found guilty of using clever methods to keep users coming back for more, however, this technique is not unique to dating apps.

Just because people feel cheated by the fact that love-based apps are working for profit and not for, well, the purpose of finding us all love, doesn’t make them wrong.

Whether or not compulsory changes to dating platforms are enforced as a result of the case, it will nonetheless be interesting to see how it pans out.