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Online Dating Magazine > Online Dating Industry > Online Dating Stigma

More Online Dating Stigma
in the Media

by James Houran, Ph.D.

 

The Pendulum May Be Swinging Back to the Negative

Sometimes it feels like the online dating industry is in the Twilight Zone. September 2007 was one of those times. The industry took repeated hits in the media that month. The first punch to mention was from Marketing VOX – an online marketing resource. They reported on the findings from a survey conducted by Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI), based on 2.5 million US adults. Some interesting findings apparently motivated the article to be titled, “US Adults Increasingly Erode Stigma of Seeking Cyber Love.” That was a curious title since it seemed oblivious to the fact that the stigma of online dating had already eroded years ago. This made me a wee bit suspicious about what findings of interest would come from the study itself.

Here are some of those findings:

» Of the 2.5 million adults who reported participating in online dating in the last 30 days, 52% are men and 48% are women.

» Younger people - ages 18-34 - comprise almost half of all online daters, making them 59% more likely than the population as a whole to be in this group.

» Middle-aged people are significantly represented: Nearly one-quarter (24%) of online daters are between the ages of 35-44.

» Americans who have sole responsibility for a child are significantly more likely than average to be an online dater: Though only 16% of the 2.5 million adults who participated in online dating in the last 30 days are sole parents, they are 185% more likely than average to have participated.

» Heavy internet usage appears to be one of the drivers for participation: 53% of all online daters report they looked at or used the internet five or more time daily in the previous 30 days - making heavy internet users 160% more like than the population as a whole to fall into the online dating segment.

The seemingly positive title of the article was undermined by some comments made by representatives of the very organization that conducted the survey. In particular, Anne Marie Kelly, VP of Marketing and Strategic Planning at MRI said some seemingly contradictory things when she commented on the above findings. For example:

"While the increased acceptance of this kind of dating might lead people to assume 'everyone is doing it', in actual fact a very small percentage of adults participate in online dating."

And then she seemed to flip her position with this line…

"What's interesting is that both genders, younger and more mature adults, and most income brackets are represented in a profile of online daters.”

These types of surveys are rarely done well, but assuming the validity of the MRI study, I would’ve come to more firm conclusions. Perhaps the most glaring conclusion would be that “everyone seemingly is doing it” (online dating, that is). In my opinion, this survey just validates what we’ve known for many years now – online dating is a socially acceptable and safe way to meet and begin to know other singles. In a sentence, there is no significant negative stigma that needs eroding.

But, you wouldn’t really know that from some other media reports in September. For instance, we had the Wall Street Journal telling us that online scams are on the rise (September 28th, “You Give Love a Bad Name”) and that one dating site has successfully made a formal complaint to the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus against the “scientific matchmaking” claims of a competing dating site (September 17h, “Regulators Say Love Ain’t ‘Chemistry’ After All”). This latter issue is hardly new, and the very company that made the complaint has extremely questionable matching methods itself!  Besides the public accounts of in fighting among online dating competitors, we also the airing “dirty laundry” in other forms. Specifically, it seems that new “relationship management” sites pop up everyday, which allow so-called scorned lovers to vent their anger and frustration in very public (and perhaps slanderous) ways. Canada.com recently posted a feature story about one of the latest players in this space (September 29, “Online Sites Weed Out Weasels”).

I participate in media interviews constantly and have the chance to educate the public and the media on the pros and cons of online dating. Yes, there are some pitfalls with online dating and those rightfully should be acknowledged. I’m speaking of issues like dishonest profiles, online predators, forming attachments too quickly and acting upon them too blindly. But my sense is that the media sometimes tries very hard to create conflict where there really isn’t conflict, dramatize exceptions to rules to sell stories grounded in fear and to play Devil’s Advocate in unproductive ways. Online dating continues to be an easy target, and I believe there are

» Online dating is no longer novel and happy “success stories” have saturated the press for more than ten years now. They’re boring. Focusing on “unhappy matches” is a change or remedy for the monotony.

» So many new dating sites are popping up all the time (some with wild claims) it can make the industry appear silly, superficial and sometimes ridiculous.

» Marriages from dating sites are entering the dangerous “five to seven year” itch period, so the success of matching methods are now being scrutinized like they were not before (see Ellen Gamerman’s article “Mismatched.com,” Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2006).

I predict negative stories surrounding the online dating industry will continue to rise, because online dating stories interest the public on one hand, but on the other hand the media need new and enticing angles to keep the topic fresh. Unfortunately, angles that focus on the occasional “dark side” of online dating provide reporters and editors that content. I don’t want to trivialize the negative things that can happen with online dating or any online interaction, but I stress to consumers to take what you read with a huge grain of salt. Take time to read the popular online dating industry blogs and the information provided here at Online Dating Magazine. A balanced menu of information will give you the inside scoop and reveal what dangers need your attention and which issues are just “noise” –or media hype – that only distract you from understanding those legitimate and rational concerns.


 


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