Why Dating Sites Like Bumble Shouldn’t Ban Gun Images
Dating site Bumble announced Monday that it will ban images of guns in users’ profile pictures, unless the users are in the military or shoot competitively. The move comes in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, in which 17 people were killed.
Erasing guns from online dating sites will not curb gun violence. It will prevent users from determining whether or not potential dates are a good cultural fit, and it will isolate users who have a legitimate hobby.
In a blog post announcing the decision, Bumble wrote, “Online behavior can both mirror and predict how people treat each other in the real world.”
But there’s no evidence to suggest that someone who poses in a picture with a gun is more likely to be violent. It’s also been long-debunked that seeing pictures of weapons — or even virtually interacting with weapons, like in video games — makes it easier for people to be violent or homicidal in real life. A University of York study found “there is no link between […] realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.”
Some have told me that allowing guns on dating websites means companies are endorsing a culture that celebrates gun ownership. But online dating sites are platforms for user-generated content. Just as the views we express on Facebook are not the views of Facebook itself, it is also true that content posted on dating platforms does not necessarily reflect the views of the company. No one would ever assume dating sites actually endorse everything their users post. If so, they’d have to remove every single guy who’s ever sent me nasty messages or called me a “stuck up b*tch” for not responding — behavior few competent people would endorse.
As a private company, not a government entity, Bumble is well within its rights to ban whatever type of content it pleases. But that doesn’t mean it will have the effect desired — or be helpful to users.
Banning guns from the platform actually hurts Bumble users who are anti-gun, because it eliminates their ability to properly vet who they’re going on a date with. Eliminating the ability for dating site users to filter for gun lovers makes the platform a less effective filtering mechanism (that’s what dating sites are — filtering mechanisms) and doesn’t help anybody who wants to ensure their potential partner is a good cultural fit.
There are also people using dating sites who may find it attractive that someone knows how to shoot a gun and could protect them in the event of a home invasion or other dangerous event. I grew up in a tiny town in rural Western Pennsylvania surrounded by countless peaceful and competent gun owners. My father taught me how to shoot a gun because it is a necessary skill when you live in a rural area where the nearest police station could be miles away, meaning you may have to wait a very long time for police to show up if you are in danger. For folks living in rural areas like the one I grew up in, a gun-toting partner can be a sexy thing.
Bumble and other anti-gun advocates also don’t want to admit that guns are a legitimate hobby for many peaceful people. I spin fire as a hobby. Many folks would, at face value, find this activity dangerous — don’t fires kill scores of people every year? Should I not be allowed to post pictures of myself spinning fire on a dating site, despite the fact that I am adequately trained, have years of experience with the practice, know my tools, select places to spin where it is most safe, and engage in other harm reduction techniques, like ensuring a safety person and fire retardant blanket are on site at all times?
Bumble will still allow gun photos for people who are in the military. This is hypocritical, as government officials are often criticized for killing innocent or unarmed people. This was the crux of the Black Lives Matter movement. If you take unjustified wars overseas into account, the government has likely used guns to kill more innocent people than all mass shooters combined. With a track record like that, it makes little sense for government employees to retain the freedom to brandish their guns online, but not civilians.
Until we can look at the real causes of gun violence — isolation, nihilism, lack of meaning — organizations like Bumble will just continue to put a Band Aid on the problem. Bumble is isolating people who have legitimate hobbies and interests, and it will not serve its users — or help to eradicate gun violence in any meaningful way.
Update: A friend also pointed out that the ambiguity in Bumble’s definition of a gun makes it seem like even cos play photos would be banned from the platform. What if someone posted a picture of themselves dressed as Harley Quinn?