Facebook Is Building a Dating App — but in Many Ways, It Already Is One

Mark Zuckerberg wants to find you a soul mate.

«There are 200 million people on Facebook who list themselves as single, so clearly there’s something to do here,» the Facebook chief executive noted in his F8 keynote Tuesday. The crowd laughed. But once Zuckerberg explained more about Facebook’s plan to launch a dating app, those laughs blended into cheers.

«This is going to be for building real, long-term relationships — not just hookups,» he added, which sounded like a dig at Tinder, Facebook’s big competition in this area.

Getting into the online dating game isn’t much of a leap for Facebook. The company is making explicit something that’s already happening implicitly. As Zuckerberg noted in introducing the new feature, couples already meet through Facebook — and go on to marry and have children. Sometimes these happy couples, he said, will point to their kids and say, «Thank you.»

Couples also frequently meet through Instagram, which Facebook owns. «It’s basically a portfolio for your dating life,» Halen Yau, a public relationships manager from Toronto, told the New York Times when discussing Instagram’s role as an accidental matchmaker.

Another way Facebook is already in the online-dating game: Many existing dating apps — such as Tinder, Hinge and Bumble — require users to link their dating profiles to their Facebook profiles. So when a user is browsing profiles on a dating app, they can see whether a prospective date is friends with any of their Facebook friends. It’s a function that makes meeting a stranger online feel less scary and more like meeting a friend’s friend at a party. If you can say: «Hey, how do you know Billy? We went to college together,» it’s almost as if you’re meeting through friends rather than through a context-less dating app.

All dating apps are essentially social networking apps. For years now, they’ve been entering the business of fostering friendships — much like Facebook. So it was only a matter of time before the behemoth social network tried its hand at matchmaking. After Zuckerberg’s announcement, the share price of Match Group, which owns properties such as Tinder, OkCupid and Match.com, fell 22 percent.

Some people listening to the announcement worried that dating via Facebook would require revealing too much personal information too soon.

We haven’t seen a prototype for the dating app yet, but Zuckerberg explained that a Facebook dating profile would be separate from a user’s main profile. The feature would be optional — you’ll have to opt in. And don’t worry — your friends won’t see your profile. «You’re only going to be suggested people who are not your friends, who have opted into dating, who fit your preferences,» he added. But unless you have your privacy settings set real tight, we imagine that branching into dating will make Facebook-stalking a prospective date that much easier.

Which brings up a big concern: Facebook users already deal with bullying and harassment on the platform, as do dating app users. Explicitly introducing dating into the social network could encourage more harassment for the platform to police. For instance, will users’ Facebook Messenger apps suddenly get clogged full with unsolicited nude photos? If someone rejects a prospective date, will they have to deal with additional pestering via their regular Facebook account?

There are lots of questions about how a Facebook dating app will work — and how it will respond to privacy and safety issues. Hopefully, Zuckerberg is up for the challenge.

© The Washington Post 2018

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