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Man Poses as Woman on Online Dating Site; Barely Lasts Two Hours (jezebel.com)
65 points by rodrigocoelho 1286 days ago | hide | past | web | 83 comments | favorite

I was part of the team that rewrote Finland's most popular dating site about two years ago and this was one of the problems we tried to fix.

We got pretty good results by letting users block messages from users who do not meet certain criteria. We gave users three different filters: 1. Allow messages from users who live in those areas where you are looking company 2. The same as 1., but also age and gender must match your "dream partner" settings 3. And finally allow messages from users who meet X percent of your dream partner settings

And of course you could block users after they have messaged you, but that is already too late if you get 100 harassment messages per day.

Though if we're talking about Suomi24, the site is so buggy in general it's almost abandoned now. For example it loses your login status all the time.

I don't know about the current situation, but at least first 6 months after the update the site did grow faster than it used to. But yes, we did have quite many problems after the rewrote.

why not block a user from sending messages to anyone after, say, 3 complaints? yes, maybe it's a little harsh and not democratic, but it will make men much more considerate

Such a system was built for images; if user images got too many complaints, then those images were hidden and sent to moderation queue where moderators could decide wheter those complaints were valid or not.

It would have been fairly simple to do same for messages, but problem is that Finnish law does not permit moderators to read private messages. So it would have been unfair for some users.

Systems like this are too easy to abuse.

Easy abuse. Abuse, fake accounts, vindictive behaviour is already standard on these sites.

> but it will make men much more considerate

Yey, the sexism here.

The very first thing I did as a teen when I tried the internet in '95 or '96 was to pretend to be a woman in a chatroom (I realise how weird that must sound). That brief experience was a valuable lesson and taught me how not to talk to women.

Still, I'm very much a typical horny male – it often takes no more than about 2 seconds to go from noticing a woman anywhere to mental procreative scenery. For all the feminist talk about the female libido, I doubt women generally experience as strong (or perhaps "swift" is a better word here) urges as many men seem to do. This discongruence is perhaps one of nature's cruelest jokes... The question is how to avoid demonising (all) men without victimising women.

However, before this whole discussion turns into another bitter (anti-)feminist warzone, this particular case has probably at least as much to do with the medium as it has with issues between men and women. As it stands, the (unwalled) internet is generally somewhat of a lost cause since the distance, anonimity and lack of social consequences make it very hard to compel people to do the right thing – at least according to current societal norms.

If you prefer the wild west over the walled gardens of strictly regulated sites (block, ban, ignore, real ID), I'm afraid you better bring a gun to handle the coyotes... Not many seem to be in favour of policies such as Real Name or let alone forms of official identification.

There's a subset of men who enjoy sending sexually explicit messages to strangers. This is not surprising. Depressing, but not surprising.

What is slightly surprising is that online dating websites, for all their sophisticated matching algorithms, haven't bothered applying some of the most basic anti-spam heuristics to the problem. The first dating site that does it, you'd imagine, would get a very good reputation very quickly.

Dating websites actually want people to stay single and remain on the site paying their subscription or viewing adverts, but an add-on that filters out the awful rubbish is surely something women would pay for.

The problem is making a filter than works for everyone. A 50 something conservative christian woman probably has different ideas about what constitutes as acceptable message to a 20 something liberal woman looking for a more casual fling.

Well, there's always filter settings.. let everyone rate a few messages into acceptable or not and go from there. (Maybe go from real inbox messages in case one wants to minimize additional exposure.)

You need a pretty large corpus to train a filter effectively, so probably not practical to train on a per-user basis.

The filter doesn't need to be accurate right away to be effective. Also, you could design a training set that gives more information than something made up of random messages.

Anyway, if the filter weeds out most spam without getting too much false positives, that's a win. Then, as you mark more messages as "inappropriate", you get less and less such messages.

As anybody who's ever tried to train an email spam filter from scratch can tell you , the number of messages you need to classify in order to be useful is huge.

With email spam, everyone can more or less agree on what it looks like so you can reuse other people's training data but by deciding on what is a "bad" online dating message is much more complicated.


Ah, that's what I meant.. you don't use those user-classified mails only for training, but you use them to gauge the level they want their filter set to. Then you set the preexisting filter to that, which you have designed using a bigger training set.

Yeah, the latest (undergrad) stats book I read used a simple spam filter as an application example. The downside to this is that the site will give off the impression of 'snooping' and adult/private conversations. A thrid-party app would make this service more arms-lenghth. But I don't know technically if the dating sites would allow you to build a filter/screen app on top of their system?

Agreed. Wouldn't be hard, not least because (unlike email) the site has a god's-eye view of every message a user is sending, so can see if a person is just sending the same spammy message to everyone and penalise them accordingly.

That, and minimum message lengths.

I would rather find out someone is obtuse sooner than later. Preferably before I've met them for a date. If such a filter you described was in place many would keep things clean to get through the filter only to behave poorly in person. No thanks.

> There's a subset of men who enjoy sending sexually explicit messages to strangers.

IMHO the majority of men.

> but an add-on that filters out the awful rubbish is surely something women would pay for

Most dating sites are free for women.

In my experience, the most effective dating sites are social networks that are about anything but dating. Where you can meet somebody with whom you share a hobby or something like that. I met my girlfriend on a foreign language learning website and we are still together after 4 years. I guess it's more complicated to meet girls on a Java forum...but the fact that one engages a discussion without sex or relationship in mind can make a future relationship more genuine.

EDITED! since I just found out this subject is a very "sensitive" one for some here. But i still stand by my point.

>I would say 95% of men on dating sites...

Citation please or be responsible and remove this baseless claim.

Anecdote is not data, but see comments in the 2x thread which seem to indicate that 95% (of active male users) is — if anything — an understatement. E.g.

> Out of over 300 messages, less than 10% were actual introductions rather than a plain 'hi' or some rude sexual commentary. I responded to every single one of them. 90% of those [nb: the initially actual non-sexual introductions] turned into something sexual in less than 8 back/forth exchanges. In the end out of somewhere around 340 first contact msgs received, only one guy actually carried on a normal, reasonable conversation longer than a few paragraphs, and even he made one or two not entirely subtle hints in the process.

Even if that were generally true, you can't just jump metrics from messages to men like that.

People using the site respectfully could be the vast majority, but still be drowned out by a small subset of users who copy and paste the same messages to as many profiles as they can find.

If I applied your same logic to my inbox, I'd conclude that 95% of online businesses are dubious Canadian pharmacies selling Viagra without a prescription.

"I'm a man. I haven't had sex in two days. It hurts. I need some. Badly. Where do I find women looking for a man? Wait... Of course... Dating sites. Surely if I message 100 women, at least one must want to have sex, just like me?"

Statistics don't proof anything. A few rotten apples can cause most of the spam.

Besides, I doubt there are many men who don't put at least some sexual innuendos into a conversation with a potential mate, even if they are really desperately looking for a serious long-term relationship. A relationship consists of 2 parties, both with equal rights to have desires and requirements, hopes and dreams. We're not getting anywhere by implying one side is all bad and wrong and disgusting.

Your quote sounds more like a witchhunt on men than a (undoubtedly deserved) complaint about some of the more abusive "empty the uzi and see what got hit" Don Juans.

How is a "hi" not an introduction? That means everything I've ever sent on online dating would come under their "crap" filter :/ I always start with a plain "hi".

Anecdote is not data. Period.


Your comment seems hypocritical to me. Ofc, you're bashing guys by stating that 95% of men on dating sites send creepy messages. And ofc, you're comparing those creepy guys to ethical self and stating emphatically: "I am NOT like them, I met my SO at a non-dating site". So yeah, you are here to bash guys.

Concerning your "its just an opinion" defense, I'd like to share a quote by Harlan Ellison — 'You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.'

EDIT Took a look at your HN profile statement, now its clear that you have an agenda.

> EDIT Took a look at your HN profile statement, now its clear that you have an agenda.

Give me a break. You are paranoid.

I'll give you another quote: Joseph Heller — 'Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you' ;)

> I'm not here to bash guys , I am one.

We've got to get rid of this misconception that if you're a certain gender, you can't possibly be generally hostile towards that same gender.

Just a side-note about this in general.

Someone should try a similar experiment: "Unemployed Homebuilder poses as Software Engineer on Jobs Site, OMFG too many recruiters".

Or "Poor Indian wears Fair&Handsome and poses as Rich Western Tourist, barely lasts two hours before getting annoyed by beggars".

Related thoughts from the often interesting Scott Alexander: http://squid314.livejournal.com/327849.html http://squid314.livejournal.com/327957.html

(Yes, I'm one of those big jerks who has as much sympathy for the sexually deprived as the monetarily deprived, which is not a huge amount. Feel free to make status-lowering comments in response.)

I don't get it. Let's take your software engineer example. Software engineers often do complain about spam from recruiters, in cases where the recruiters:

a) Plainly have not taken your skills or location or pay grade into consideration

b) Refuse to take "no" for an answer

c) Turn hostile or somehow imply that you owe them your time or should be grateful for their attention

And we generally assume that the engineers are correct in their complaints. I can't say I've ever seen recruiters being abusive, but I have heard voicemail messages that start with "I know you said not to call you again, but...", and there's really no question about who is in the wrong there.

Whether it's actually important is a different question. I get a fair few pointless enquiries via LinkedIn, and I ignore them. I can't say that it troubles me much. But if the people sending those messages were insulting me, making sexually explicit statements or generally being persistent beyond all efforts to make them stop, I would probably feel much more strongly about it.

What puzzles me is that the behaviour of the recruiters does make at least some sense in a way that the dating site behaviour doesn't. Sure, getting a job spec for a senior Java developer and then mailing everyone with "senior [something] developer" in their past job titles on LinkedIn is going to fail quite often, as you'll hit Senior Python Developers and Senior C++ Developers and so on, but sooner or later the recruiter has to get lucky. But who the hell responds positively to the kinds of comments that the OP received? Are the people sending the messages doing so because they believe that sooner or later it's going to work? Even worse, does it actually work sometimes? I can't easily believe that it does, but it's hard to understand the behaviour otherwise.

I complain about recruiters. I also complain about fat girls/gays (note: not comparing gays to fatties) hitting on me, touching me in ways I dislike, not taking no for an answer and cockblocking me when I talk to people I find more attractive.

But I don't adopt the same victimhood that the Jezabel blog post is trying to imply, i.e. I won't favorably quote people making statements like this: "I came away thinking that software engineers have it so much harder than buggy-whip makers do when it comes to that kind of stuff..."

Fair enough, in principle. However, I think the OP is saying that there is a difference in the nature and the quantity of the comments such that it crosses the line from mild annoyance to something worse; it's so off-putting that it prevents the women in question from participating in online dating sites. And, since the women are an important component of dating sites, it's probably important to take that into consideration when designing such sites.

If you're happy being a bit more stoical about the problems you've encountered, that's fine. Perhaps some of the women receiving unwanted messages on dating sites could be a bit more stoical too. But it does seem to me that they're being given a bit more to be stoical about, and this is unfair, to some extent (it is perhaps hardly the greatest injustice in the world, but it does seem genuinely unfair).

This post manages to both miss the point spectacularly, and make you sound like a thoroughly unpleasant person.

I doubt you get hit on by "fatties" or "gays" every day and in unsuitable situations.

I think there is a fundamental difference you're missing between the experiences you're describing and that of online dating: it's not so much about the amount of noise and more about the signal-to-noise ratio, as well as the overwhelmingsness of the situation that the author argues makes dating websites (not life in general!) a difficult experience.

On a dating website, messages are the only signal available to the receiver. This means the person had to go through a lot of noise (or as the article says, "wade through a mountain of shit") to find out if anyone interesting to them messaged them. If on top of that these messages are as numerous and off-putting as the person in the article says, then it's easy to see the online dating experience can become rapidly unpleasant. Furthermore, this is a problem because finding matches is the only function of a dating website!

Now, back to your example. The thing is that not only do you hopefully get utility from socializing at a bar beyond being able to find sexual partners and you're presumably not constantly in such a situation (which already makes your analogy miss the point), but you have many other signals at your disposal: you can simply visually identify those who are more attractive to you in the room and physically make your way through them, and even though, as you said, you can get cockblocked at times, this is still an option that's not available to people on dating websites.

I don’t know - you come across as fairly victimized in this post.

I somehow doubt your failures with more attractive girls are down to “being cockblocked by gays and fatties” - my initial feeling is that it may have something to do with your stellar perception of other people.

Seriously, “I complain about fat girls hitting on me.” “I complain about gays hitting on me.”

My wife has a friend who is forty and has never had "luck with men" for long term relationships. I can easily see why now. My wife and her worked together and made a thoughtful post on Craigslist for an invitation to a thanksgiving dinner date, with a picture and lots of personality description. It actually worked - we got 40 applicants and half were decent guys, and 10 were attractive to her in looks and had thoughtful messages. She ended up only contacting one back who aaid, "Hey baby you hot whats up?" or something like that. I've seen this many times now and have no sympathy anymore when they turn out to be assholes.

This is kinda my experience too, but it makes me very uncomfortable. It's as if some people have no asshole radar, and consistently end up being hurt because of it, but you can't simply tell them this (and worse, since they have no asshole radar then they have no reason to think that you aren't the asshole). However, this is a pretty self-serving thing for me to believe - I'm a decent person, other people are assholes, yet other people can't tell that the assholes are assholes and this is why my decent nature is insufficiently appreciated. But it does happen to be a fairly straightforward answer to the question of how sending spammy and borderline creepy messages to women on dating sites could be a viable strategy and I am struggling to think of a better one.

This doesn't amount to "Women! It's actually all your fault for encouraging these guys!", although it could easily be taken that way. I presume it's more complicated than that, though I am not a sociologist or psychologist and can't really take the analysis much further.

No need to comment if we simply disagree. That's what downvoting was made for!

No it wasn't. Downvotes are for comments that are below HN standards. Comments are for disagreeing.

No, timje1 had it right. PG has repeatedly stated that downvotes are ok for disagreeing. Comments are for when you have something substantive to say.

many hacker news members are unable to downvote. There is some kind of threshold limit based on account age.

My account was created about 1000 days ago, and my karma is 182. I am unable to downvote at this time, because I lurked for long part of that 1000 days.

Last time I checked it was karma-based [1] and you needed 1,000 internet points before you could downvote.

[1] http://ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

Yeah that FAQ doesn't quite answer that, but the unofficial one does:


Edits: Yes, that doesn't have anything about some kind of ratio though... just that there is a threshold. Thank you :)

Call me jaded but I suspect OKCThrowaway22221 was in fact a woman, posing as a man, posing as a woman.

If you wanted to be more or less confident of this, you could try running some of what (s)he wrote through that application that guesses your gender from how you write stuff.

EDIT: I put the paragraphs quoted into http://www.hackerfactor.com/GenderGuesser.php#Analyze

    Genre: Informal
      Female = 1683
      Male   = 1466
      Difference = -217; 46.55%
      Verdict: Weak FEMALE
    Weak emphasis could indicate European.
Site carries this disclaimer: The system generates a simple estimate (profiling). While Gender Guesser may be 60% - 70% accurate, it is not 100% accurate. This is better than random guessing (50%), but should not be interpreted as "fact".

The prose sounds like a schoolgirl wrote it: "At first I thought it was fun, I thought it was weird but maybe I would mess with them or something and freak them out and tell them I was a guy or something..."

(Without wishing to offend females of school-attending age)

Wow. I'm stunned by how well that works. I've copy pasted 5 male and 5 female paragraphs, and it got every single one correct.

The last time I used it in earnest I did not have anywhere near the results you are describing. So my own personal perception of it is that it's probably as accurate as they say it is. More than 50% but less than 60-70%.

Are you American? They say that their training set has an American bias (reason for the "may indicate European ..." disclaimer).

This was my immediate thought.

It doesn't read like the (somewhat stereotypical) male character they're describing. It's portrayed as some cocky male who frequents 4chan having a deep and heartfelt revelation about the plight of women.

But I wouldn't expect anything on that site to not be biased.

It's Jezebel. That really would not surprise me. They really don't help the whole gender equality thing, they actively hinder it.

Jezebel is like a typical Gawker property: perpetually Internet-mad about something of little substance for the express purpose of generating more clicks.

That kind of thing does happen...


I agree, the whole thing sounds a little overcooked.

I don't understand why he would make a throwaway for this purpose? This isn't some deep dark secret or confession. Afraid of being labelled as 'pandering to women'? I mean, it's a fairly tame social experiment, not controversial or anything.

Have a look at some of the relevant subreddits.

TwoX is bafflingly aggressive to just about everyone. There are MRAs there from their sub reddits.

I was part of developing a Swedish dating app, and during this time I discussed online dating with many friends of both genders. While many women would find the attention a bit tiring, and sometimes had to report someone for the tone in their messages, no one ever told me anything like this. I would guess that it heavily depends on which kind of dating site you use. So to counter this story, I share that I've heard 10-15 stories that was much more positive.

How did Jezebel get unbanned?

Aren't they part of the Gawker/Valleywag hive of scum and villainy?

I don't know but I can tell you I stopped reading at "teh poor menz." Do people still do that "teh" thing?

☑ Don't show commonly blocked users and prevent them from contacting you.

^ This would be an attractive feature.

Even better , ghost them and make them pay for each message they send... (kidding,as it would be fraudulent).

I love the topic, bur god, Jezebel's writing is painfully atrocious.

Unbelievable isn't it? It used to be a good source of interesting articles about gender/sexual politics but at some point they must have worked out that the excessively conversational "new york" style articles get more traffic, and now you can almost hear the exposed brickwork in every sentence.

I have some friends who got married via an online dating site, but it was a paid one. I get that this problem plagues free sites like OKC or POF - is it also a problem on paid sites?

> I have some friends who got married via an online dating site, but it was a paid one.

Note that it's not a post against online dating sites, commenters on both 2x and jezebel note that they've met significant others on dating sites.

> I get that this problem plagues free sites like OKC or POF - is it also a problem on paid sites?

Creepy messagers have as much money to spend as others (if not more) I'd guess, unless the site finds out they make people leave (and stop paying) I'd expect little difference. But you'd have to ask women using or staff of these sites to know/get a comparison really.

I met my husband on OKCupid. It took two weeks for us to meet and about 2-3 months for us to get married. That said, I did get a good amount of creepy emails/messages. My two sisters have both met their husband/fiance on OKCupid. I didn't hear horror stories from them, but I assume they got the usual internet treatment. I would usually just block them, occasionally respond 'not cool.'

My wife and I met on an online dating site. Mainly because we were chatting on the open forum about how weird everyone was, and how fed up with it we were.

Matching couples looks like an easy problem to solve, here, you have my little algo to find the optimum match for n couples: https://github.com/kfk/scripts/blob/master/match-date.py

Ok, joking a bit, but there is a point to this. If you have a finite set of people (and I bet in a short time frame you can make that assumption), then in the WORST case you have to do n*(n+1)/2 matches. Let's say it takes 1 hr to run a date, then we can match 10 people in 55 hrs in the worst case.

Now, try matching 10 people using these websites. Enter the texting game and no proper filtering (by looks, age, location, etc.). It will take X time my worst case scenario to maybe match half of the population.

Point is: somebody should make a system that clusters people and randomly assigns them to dates. Without any prior texting that is. Which, by the way, would simulate the way people met until 20 years ago more or less.

Reading this is interesting both from the content it describes (a guy passing for a girl on a dating site and being horrified by the messages he gets) and from the tone, that all this is self-evident and why don't guys just know this? Well, they don't. But when they learn it, they are as horrified as it deserves.

sounds like a good opportunity for dating sites to do pre-moderation of inbound messages. I am sure some of it can be caught with a relatively simple classifier (machine learning) and the rest can be handled with mechanical turk.

Another approach would be to have a karma system that over time will filter out the bad actors.

You want to send private messages to mechanical turk?

Not a good idea. Karma would work (but could be abused).

yea, good point about Mechanical turk. Moderators would get expensive quite quickly but if it is such a royal pain I suppose it can be a paid-for feature which is sustainable.

Well I don't know about you guys but that isn't surprising to me at all.

It's amazing how big the mountain of stupid is out there and it's not easy when their all trying to talk to you.

That's why us guys have it hard in general. When she has to sift through so many emails to find just a half decent guy.

Lesson 1: You need to stand out if your just like the other 20 guys she's talked to these past hours you're doomed to fail. Be yourself but be your best self and don't be afraid to be unique or weird as long as its not in a creepy way.

Lesson 2: Don't be a wuss or needy let her reply in her own damn time and if you're writing a follow up be funny and bust her balls a bit for not replying in a timely manner. If she still doesn't reply ...oh well there's plenty of other fish in the sea.

I'm impressed by your skills at completely missing the point, victimisation reversal and turning a discovery/report of many women's day-to-day creepy and harassy experiences (on dating websites specifically, but the 2X comments make it clear this extends to online and off-) into "yeah mates it's hard for a guy to get noticed, here's one weird trick to be picked"

If you discovered a cure for guys being horny and stupid go ahead I'm listening.

This is not something new women have been dealing with this since the birth of the internet and there's nothing you can do about that.

All you can change is yourself and learn from other guys stupidity.

In online dating, and human interaction in general, you need 2 basic things.

#1: People to talk to.

#2: The person need to a person you want to talk to, ie not a "predator", scam artist, bot, creepy, and so on.

The question the person had was if women had a easier time on dating services than men. By experiment, he concluded that the mass of men wanting to talk to a female profile and the over predatory attitude quickly overwhelmed the person who made the fake profile. By this, he concluded that women has a worse time than men.

Just me who do not think he actually answered his question?

Why not limit the amount of messages people can send per day? 3 for instance? Wouldn't that make you think before sending a message? Maybe users could choose to only receive messages from people who send less than N messages per day.

It would be funny if messages from users who are reported as annoying get redirected to a horny bot which keeps them "entertained" :)

Why didn't he just click "block" and wait for normal people to contact him? There are probably some idiots who jump onto every new profile that pops up. Once blocked, it will become much easier.

Do you remember when spam filters didn't work?

What about a dating website that allows each guy to send only one message per day?

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