Are screenshots ruining our dating experiences?

screenshots of conversations on a dating app
Are screenshots ruining dating?Florence Ogram

“Oh wow, long day for Tom from Hinge,” I say as my friend holds up her phone. We’re having lunch and she’s showing me a screenshot taken from a chat with a man she met online. We do this all the time. Sharing receipts from conversations we’ve had on dating apps, laughing or cringing at the weird things strangers say to us. And it seems fine, because we’re only showing each other, in person or in our private chats and everybody does it, right? It’s no big deal.

These days, we share everything with our friends, with our social media followers and whether intentionally or not, millions of strangers on the internet without much thought. It’s almost too easy to share a selfie, a screenshot or a meme – all it takes is one tap – and going viral has never been easier. But arguably, making it so easy to post a screenshot removes a big part of the decision-making process for us. We can share it, so we often don’t think about whether we should share it.

In recent years we’ve seen a slew of private conversations go viral on social media, sometimes with hair-raising results – Jonah Hill and his ‘boundaries’, anyone? Millions of people are seeing conversations that were never meant to be seen, and in almost every case, nobody asked for consent before sharing. The internet is heavily divided on the ethics around this. Some people think it’s totally fine to share screenshots of private chats, with or without consent, and others think it’s totally not okay, like, ever.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, one thing's for certain: the culture of sharing screenshots is making many people nervous about dating. The majority of our courtships begin online these days. We meet on apps, we chat on Whatsapp, we exchange flirty memes on Instagram – it’s all an essential part of our romantic experiences. But the thought of someone sharing your aggy messages, your questionable requests or god forbid your awkward sexts with no context? That’s a pretty scary thought.

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When is it okay to share screenshots?

We regularly see screenshots of conversations with men from dating apps with ‘why are men’ or ‘men are trash’ captions. But even though the conversations are usually shockingly bad, sometimes verging on abusive, is it actually okay to share these snippets online without the other person knowing? Do we owe them their privacy, even if they’re being the actual worst?

Relationship therapist Ailey Jolie explains that what is and is not acceptable is often unclear when it comes to online dating. “Our social expectations haven’t developed as quickly as our apps. This is why it is so important for you and the person you are dating to discuss what you feel comfortable with regarding sharing and showing. If you are not dating someone seriously, you need to sit down and have a dialogue with yourself.”

But what about if you’ve only just matched with someone and they say something totally unhinged? Is getting a laugh from your friends, or alerting your followers to a potentially toxic match to avoid acceptable? “I think it’s funny.” says Millie, who is 20. “I always post screenshots of conversations I have on my private Instagram story to laugh at people and what they say to me. My motto is, ‘what they don’t know can’t hurt them’. But I’ll block out someone’s name just to be cautious.”

And in the spirit of fun, a lot of people would agree with Millie. In fact, shitposting accounts on Instagram like @Beam_Me_Up_Softboi and @swipesfordaddy have amassed tens of thousands of followers by posting screenshots from private conversations on dating apps. Names and faces are always hidden, but the content of the conversations can be seen by anyone online. These posts range from ick-inducing openers to frankly shocking displays of thinly veiled misogyny.

natural female with red hair and freckles
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Iona David, who runs the 681K strong @beam_me_up_softboi Instagram account doesn’t do it to bestow some kind of moral judgement. She started posting the terrible things men had said to her and others on dating apps because it was funny and relatable, not as an act of martyrdom. “ Reading through other people’s conversations and being like, “you're morally bad, I’m gonna post you”, is such bullshit,” she says. “It all should be taken very lightly. There’s so much nuance in it as well.”

The softboi account posts fresh content every day so it’s clear that the fear of being posted online hasn’t put people off saying wild things to strangers on dating apps. Sharing screenshots makes people angry, but it doesn’t necessarily prompt them to change their behaviour.

Are we too quick to judge?

However, anxiety around being your authentic self online and being vulnerable with a new match does seem to be growing. Social media can be a frightening place at the best of times and as such, people are deleting their accounts and being more careful about what they send on private messaging apps. Because it’s as easy to judge someone instantly and take the contents of a screenshot out of context. Which makes the whole, “just don’t say it and don’t be a dick to people” argument a little less viable – anyone could accuse you of being a terrible person if they don’t have any context.

Every day we see pile-ons over screenshots that barely contain a few sentences so it’s fair that you might want to watch what you say in case, at best, your words are posted for millions to see and at the worst, you receive a tirade of online abuse and that post follows you around forever. No wonder we’re hesitant to put ourselves out there, finding love carries far more personal risk than it ever has before!

“You need to consider if you would engage in [sharing] if that person were beside you. Because, in some ways, they are.” says Jolie. “A piece of them is alive in their digital communication and online representations. A piece of all of us exists in the digital world.”

The choice to share is up to you but after some thought, I always ask myself: would I be okay with this person doing the same thing to me? Is my intention good? Is it up to me to expose this person? And is social media really the best place to do it? You might think your ex deserves to have his toxic traits aired in public, or that TikTok is the best place to expose a dodgy date’s behaviour – but is this style of trial by social media ultimately making us more anxious, angry and reluctant to open up than ever? Maybe, we should all be taking a beat before hitting “share” and just leaving our cringe dating app matches to it.

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