The Pew (Pew! Pew!) Report

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a mouthful. (And I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist a dorky post title!) They recently released a report about online dating and relationships—you can read an overview here, or the full report here. Surveys like this are always interesting, but they’re hardly comprehensive. After all, you can’t get the entire world to participate in telephone-based research, ya know? (The AP calls out that it was conducted among some 2200-ish adults and made an effort to include those who don’t have land lines. Good move, but still a teeny fraction of our nation as a whole.) ERRYBODY is interested in weighing in about the data from this study! Here’s a roundup of some of the most popular headlines:

Slate focused on the fact that 59% of us think “online dating is a good way to meet people,” which is up from prior years. Yet 21% of us believe “people who use online dating sites are desperate.” You just KNOW there’s some overlap, ya know? Those closet daters who haven’t yet realized EVERYONE is online dating, and who trash talk it so they won’t feel weird about secretly dabbling. I can’t believe that only 11% of adults have tried online dating; that simply seems inaccurate in 2013. Amanda Hess also had some great points to make about algorithmic unreliability:

the sites’ matching strategies—which connect users based on questions they’ve answered about themselves—rely on a primitive idea of the interplay between digital technologies and human relationships. They assume that we can just plug our metadata into a computer, run it through an algorithm, scroll through a list of prospects sorted by the mathematical possibility that we’ll get along, and find someone. That’s just not how human relationships work—not on the Internet and not off.

Very true. And despite all the weird algorithm tweaking from different developers with different approaches, the most effective (if not most efficient) method is usually to search more organically. Pick a show or movie you loved. Keyword search based on that. See what happens. Aren’t those results generally cuter and more interesting looking than the folks you were auto-delivered by the suggestion algorithm?

I’m not so sure about Amanda’s conclusion that online dating will die off in favor of social media. We’ve talked about this before; people’s social media behaviors are often different than their online dating behaviors, but that’s not necessarily an indicator of deception or sketchiness. Sometimes it’s an indicator of appropriately reading your audience. I think dating-specific sites are around to stay, though I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more of them prompting for things like your Twitter URL. Social media integration, but not takeover: that’s the Heartographer’s prediction for, let’s say, 2016.

Anyway, back to the datagasm. 🙂

Jezebel notes that 23% of people meet their spouses online. I’m constantly hearing numbers that are double this, which is probably a combo of marketing drivel, fuzzy data, and Pew having too small a sample.

Forbes chose to focus on the fact that we’re all obsessed with Googling our exes. This comes as a surprise to exactly 0% of the population. 😛

And of course, trust Huffington Post to link to the alarmist stat, that 54% of folks have found someone who ‘seriously misrepresented’ themselves. Le sigh. What do we mean by seriously? What do we mean by misrepresented? Do we mean full-on Catfish, where we’re 68-year-old men posing as thirteen-year-old teenagers? Are we talking “he said he was divorced and he was actually only separated?” Are we talking about “she’s ten pounds heavier now and that photo was taken six months ago?” Tell me more, Huffington Post. Oh wait—the entire rest of your article is just stats that everyone else has written about; you don’t actually elaborate on that serious misrepresentation, haha. Well headlined, indeed!

Obviously, I’m biased here, but I just think the liars liars pants on fire are a dwindling element of online dating, and they’re also pretty darn easy to spot. But alas, alarmist headlines make for great clickthrough rates. Pew themselves don’t unpack what the misrepresentation means, and they don’t quantify it, they just base it on user impression. It’s still a frustrating phenomenon, though—it’s a much better strategy to be honest and realistically flattering than it is to fake someone out with images or details that will inevitably be shown false pretty soon after you meet someone. People are silly.

A more important issue that few of these sites focused on is the harassment angle. From Pew themselves (emphasis theirs):

28% of online daters have been contacted by someone through an online dating site or app in a way that made them feel harassed or uncomfortable. Women are much more likely than men to have experienced uncomfortable contact via online dating sites or apps: some 42% of female online daters have experienced this type of contact at one point or another, compared with 17% of men.

This is the crappiest part of my job; helping women develop coping strategies to put up with the inappropriate and sometimes even threatening behavior they encounter, in order to be able to exist on a platform and have a shot at meeting some of the actually decent folks out there. I don’t think it’s possible for a site to exist without harassment, and the problem is, sites that don’t have as much of an unsavory element also often don’t have as much of an engaged user base. Your best strategy to deal with harassment is to block when necessary and develop a thick skin and a support group. Being able to laugh about it with other women who’ve also felt harassed is ENORMOUSLY helpful.

Anyway, that should at least give you a broad sampling of Pew data to poke around with, if you’re into this stuff. And just in case you’re a fan of the awkward tall infographic format, here ya go!



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