Filtering out the cyber creeps

If Predator Alert simply encourages people to “look before they leap” when it comes to perusing a potential date’s profile, surely that’s a good thing.

If Predator Alert simply encourages people to “look before they leap” when it comes to perusing a potential date’s profile, surely that’s a good thing. Photo: Getty

If you’ve ever tried your hand at online dating, OkCupid style, you’ll be familiar with the “Match Questions” that help hone the site’s algorithms; your answers, and your fellow users’ answers to the questions feed into your Match, Friend and Enemy scores.

In that case, you’ll also be aware of the questions like "Do you feel there are any circumstances under which a person is obligated to have sex with you?" and the shiver of horror when you see an OkC user answer “yes”.

That’s ordinarily cause to hit the ‘hide’ button, but coder 'maymay' has gone one step further, creating the browser add-on ‘Predator Alert Tool For OkCupid’. The script (which can be installed in Firefox and Chrome) aims to alert those browsing OkC to users whose Match Question answers could be cause for concern.

As he puts it: “A ‘red flag’ is simply a public action taken by the given profile that is concerning, such as answering Match Questions in the same way an undetected rapist is statistically likely to answer them. For instance, given the following question, an answer of "Yes." would be alarming: ‘Have you ever been in a situation where you tried, but for various reasons did not succeed, in having sexual intercourse with an adult by using or threatening to use physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they did not cooperate?’ This is not a hypothetical question, nor is the answer universally obvious. This is, in fact, the exact phrasing of a question used in a study called Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists by David Lisak and Paul M. Miller, published in Violence and Victims, Vol 17, No. 1, 2002 (Lisak and Miller 2002).”

That may seem unduly grim, but given that OkC attracts the sort of user who thinks it’s a good idea to write up a quiz called “The could you survive ANAL RAPE test” (random caps their own), a little added caution while browsing could be a good thing.

Detractors of Predator Alert accused the add-on of invasion of privacy and of falsely accusing OkC users of being rapists, both of which are incorrect; firstly because public Match Question responses are, believe it or not, public, and secondly because the script merely searches Match Question answers for responses that could be considered concerning based on existing research. It certainly doesn’t prevent you from deciding to contact that particular user if you see fit. As the coder’s rundown puts it, “This early warning system can help OkCupid users make better informed choices about what measures they feel they need to take to remain safe while using the service.”

It’s true that in many cases it’s fairly easy to tell straight away if you’re dealing with an OkCreep: in my personal experience, if someone has “SS” in their username and their photo is of them in a Gestapo uniform, standing in a graveyard, it will likely not be a surprise when they send you an expletive-filled rant via private message about how feminism has “withered your internal organs” and “removed all trace of femininity from your face” (uh, thanks for the heads up?).

Where an add-on like Predator Alert becomes useful is for filtering “the best of the rest”, where you don’t have any immediate indicators of naffness: the profiles that don’t feature any photos of disembodied heads or Confederate flags, list exclusively nu metal albums under ‘interests’, have usernames like ‘ButtLover69’ or ‘KillAllLefties666’, or whatever you consider worthy of alarm bells.

As any person who has dated online will tell you, there are plenty of apparently “normal”-looking and sounding people out there who have quite bloodcurdling notions about consent, gender politics and/or racism. This can be anything from finding out that the nice-looking guy who works as a pro-bono lawyer thinks that abortion is wrong to discovering that the perfectly pleasant dude you’ve had a few coffees with didn’t immediately disagree with the latest right wing shock jock’s wisecracks about rape.

You could argue that answering “yes” to some of OkCupid’s less savoury Match Questions is not necessarily a reliable indicator of anything profound, personality-wise, because of the haphazard manner in which people approach them. For example, one night I was in bed with a raging fever, and decided to answer what turned out to be roughly 450 Match Questions just to pass the time; other people answer them “ironically”, and some people don’t answer any at all.

However, let’s say someone has answered 450 Match Questions, many people can’t be bothered reading them all; most just look at the match percentage, and decide whether or not to message or reply. If there’s a creepy or concerning answer to a Match Question hiding in the back passages of someone’s profile, it may go unnoticed.

So, if Predator Alert simply encourages people to “look before they leap” when it comes to perusing a potential date’s profile, surely that’s a good thing. After all, not every creep is as upfront as my friend Mr SS with his cemetery portrait.

14 comments so far

  • You can also use the 'unacceptable' answers to filter out people without having to look through every single question on a profile to find out if someone is a creep/racist/misogynist.

    Commenter
    SlavojZiz
    Date and time
    April 10, 2013, 9:11AM
    • It sounds like a pretty useful piece of software, the worry would be that some users might think that the fact that someone answered a question a certain way means that they definitely are a rapist. I'm hopeful though that most people would be smart enough to use it as an indicator that something may be wrong rather than something definitely is wrong.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      April 10, 2013, 9:28AM
      • Who cares?

        Whether they're really a rapist or not, you simply would not want to communicate or have anything to do with them.

        Commenter
        Chris
        Date and time
        April 10, 2013, 12:41PM
    • hopefully this will help all genders and sexualities to filter better.
      when i tried online dating could not believe some of the horrible mixed up women who replied and would have loved some sort of trigger

      Commenter
      david
      Date and time
      April 10, 2013, 11:14AM
      • What is a talented and obviously intelligent writer such as the author of this article doing on okcupid anyway? Surely this person would have a broad circle of similarly talented friends and acquaintances from which to seek potential dating partners. Please leave online dating for the people for whom it was originally intended for, awkward nerds with no social lives such as me.

        Commenter
        Robert
        Date and time
        April 10, 2013, 11:21AM
        • What an exceptionally empathetic comment, Robert. I live in a city where I know roughly six people, work from home in a job that has odd hours and frequent travel, and... wait, why am I justifying my lifestyle to "an awkward nerd with no social life"?!

          Commenter
          Clem Bastow
          Date and time
          April 10, 2013, 12:03PM
        • Some people just don't have many options, for any number of reasons.

          Or rather, some people only have options that include lots of losers that answer questions about whether they're an attempted rapist in the affirmative (be that ironically or otherwise!)

          Commenter
          Chris
          Date and time
          April 10, 2013, 12:43PM
        • " .. wait, why am I justifying my lifestyle to "an awkward nerd with no social life"?!"

          Why does being an awkward nerd with no social life mean that their opinion on a topic does not have validity?

          Commenter
          DM
          Date and time
          April 10, 2013, 2:11PM
        • I wonder if someone could write a piece on the evolution of dating.....arranged marriages, flirting with fans, marrying the boy next door, and now internet dating.

          Internet dating I think is the natural evolution, our community is becoming more and more global. My parents met in a bank where they worked, their community then was a small country town. I've lived and worked overseas my community is friends across the globe....I think I may have just endorsed dodgy visa marriage schemes but that's not what I meant :)

          Commenter
          Melbournite
          Date and time
          April 10, 2013, 4:10PM
      • I don't see any real issue with the app - it just seems to analyse publicly available answers, and draw a user's attention to potentially problematic answers they may have otherwise overlooked.
        If anything, it could be customised to highlight almost any negative personality type - aggressive, sociopath, gold-digger, whatever.

        The bigger issue here is what your gripe is with Nu Metal!

        Commenter
        Markus
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        April 10, 2013, 11:41AM

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