III: Intimacies, socialities and connections

#DatingWhileDistancing: Dating apps as digital health technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic

David Myles, Stefanie Duguay and Christopher Dietzel

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has required governments and public health agencies to implement unprecedented physical and social distancing measures. By 2 April 2020, it was estimated that close to 4 billion individuals had been confined to their homes worldwide (Fahey, 2020). These measures have placed significant economic pressure on the service industries. This is also true for online dating services, and particularly for dating app companies that consider geographic proximity and mobility as key commodities. Initial contact between dating app users typically occurs online, but the promise of physical contact, whether romantic or sexual, is an important selling point used by these apps to market the services they offer. If dating apps experienced a rise in downloads at the start of the pandemic (Lehmiller et al., 2020; Petrychyn, 2020), physical distancing measures may ultimately decrease the value of digitally mediated dating services by making it more difficult for them to retain users, generate profit and remain culturally relevant. The COVID pandemic has also raised important issues surrounding the social responsibility that dating apps share in mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus and, more generally, in protecting the health of their users.

This chapter examines how international dating app companies responded in the early months of the pandemic. Our preliminary findings suggest that these companies and their products emerged as important social actors who increasingly engaged in digital health using three strategies. First, they communicated health information to their user base and promoted dating habits that are in line with public health guidelines. Second, they play an active role in making physical distancing measures socially meaningful. Third, they enforce strategies to normalise dating practices that take place exclusively online, which can affect sexual and public health by reshaping contemporary dating cultures.

 
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