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The dating game has changed. In our fast-paced society, formal courtship has been supplanted by big businesses playing matchmaker. A 2013 study shows that one in ten Americans has used an online dating service or a mobile app equivalent. The stigma associated with online dating has lessened, and social networking has become a more culturally accepted means of finding a romantic partner. However, the increased use of online dating websites has left many to wonder whether the sites bear adequate legal liability with respect to users’s safety.
Over half of online daters report that someone they met online seriously misrepresented themselves in his or her profile. This is further compounded by the 28% of users who report being contacted by a fellow user in a way that made them feel uncomfortable or harassed. While consumers have readily identified the dangers of online dating, internet dating companies have yet to respond in a way that satisfies many users’s desire for increased safety measures.
Examples of concrete harm resulting from online dating includes subscribers falling victim to monetary scams, as well as some who, upon meeting their match, are violently attacked. In 2013, a female Match.com subscriber filed a ten million dollar lawsuit against the online dating juggernaut. The victim was brutally stabbed after meeting and dating a male subscriber with a severely misrepresented profile.
Despite victims’ ability to identify actual injury, social media websites are currently immune from liability for user content under the Communications Decency Act, in addition to other statutory and common law liability shields. The biggest disconnect for users appears to be between reconciling the CDA’s limitations on liability with typical user expectations of online dating sites.
Some states have begun requiring that online dating companies institute mandatory click-through disclaimers for all users. Other states have recognized the problem and proposed legislation protecting users from misrepresented profiles and increasing awareness regarding the online dating service’s liability. Given the recent uptick in online dating and mobile dating app use, perhaps we should seriously reconsider the role and responsibilities of big businesses when they foster potentially dangerous encounters.
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