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.