By Lauren Rosewarne
The time is right for Facebook to dive under our covers by entering the love business. (Reuters: Dado Ruvic/illustration)
In response to Facebook-flight fears, the site synonymous with social media has announced it’ll be dipping its toe into the dating game. Cue panic among established matchmakers.
For a tech company that started out ranking women on hotness before pivoting to “connecting people”, it makes sense to fuse the two together with Facebook Dating.
The economic case is simple. While most people didn’t #DeleteFacebook, some did and many considered it; the platform knows it can’t be complacent about its raison d’etre or its suite of offerings.
Tech giants like Facebook and Google aim to create a walled garden: offering enough bells and whistles to keep users from ever leaving their sites.
Facebook’s purchase of Instagram along with this recent dating announcement is reflective of the company’s demographic challenges. Once Mum and Grandpa mastered the site, the attention of the youngns’ waned. Recapturing — and retaining — that elusive youth market is a key concern.
Changing attitudes to internet dating, along with the social reality that we’re less likely to meet our partners in the clubs and churches we used to, mean the time is right for Facebook to enter the love business. Doing so can address flailing site use, keep people in the platform’s orbit a little longer and potentially expand its user base.
From targeted ads to targeted hook-ups?
One of the central reasons #DeleteFacebook had limited success was the site’s irresistible one-stop-shop functionality. We’re already there to like panda videos and share Trump op-eds, so allowing the site a little further into our intimate recesses isn’t too big a leap.
Doing so also offers some unique benefits.
One of the many shortcomings of meeting a partner online is the transactional and often transitory nature of relationships formed. Despite all the psycho-babble bunting offered by sites like eHarmony, all dating sites are reliant on algorithms: a computer spits out a series of people you’re compatible with based on your input such as postcode, smoker status and the degree to which you’ve been saved by Jesus.
As it turns out, on-paper compatibility is not actually a very good determinant of relationship longevity. Many factors dictate why some relationships succeed and others don’t: key are the strength of our ties.
Being matched with someone who lives in Melbourne and who likes Quentin Tarantino films might be a satisfactory basis for a hook-up, but it’s insufficient as the sole basis for a relationship.
Conversely though, sharing a workplace, a school, or mutual friends means your ties are strengthened, your lives are integrated, and your bond is more likely to endure.
Facebook dives under the covers
While excellent opportunities exist for Facebook dating, there are also some perils.
If the Cambridge Analytica scandal taught us anything, it’s that Facebook knows more about us than even Black Mirror could have predicted.
While people’s values around privacy may be changing — lots of us acknowledge that with free use comes a cost to privacy — there are nonetheless some valid apprehensions about inviting Big Data into our bedroom.
Mind you, let’s not forget that Facebook is under the covers already: for most Tinder users, Facebook is the gateway, and for anyone surfing porn without logging out of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of your kinks and perversions.
Farewell dating anonymity
One of the shortcomings of online dating is the market mentality, where we’re either flipping through a catalogue of faces or setting out with a shopping list, in search of a blue-eyed, left-leaning beekeeper. On Facebook, we’re more likely to be matched with someone based on our shared networks than a postcode or headshot. This is great but also potentially terrifying.
Perhaps the biggest cliche about online dating — but also the biggest truth — is that people lie. Small lies, big lies, even hedging their bets across several sites at once, playing up different aspects of their personality on each. This would be far trickier on Facebook: our public histories are there for any potential match to see, so presenting a “new you” — someone who didn’t click “like” on that sexist meme in 2012 — would be difficult.
Dating chameleons lose out, but the winners are every woman who’s wasted a date on a man who wasn’t really the 6ft tall vegan he presented as.
Facebook dating is really no surprise: the site’s business model — and the reason it’s been compiling all this data on us — is about meeting our needs before we’ve even articulated them. And so what if it’s Big Data predicting our human need for love, sex and companionship.
Lauren Rosewarne is a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, co-host of ABC Radio National’s “Stop Everything!” and the author of 9 books including Intimacy on the Internet (Routledge, 2016).