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A recent investigation by ABC in Australia found that hundreds of people experience sexual harassment and abuse on Tinder and damningly, that Tinder largely ignored survivors who approached the app for help after the abuse. This report once again brings to the fore the clear need for internet intermediaries, including online dating companies, to take more active steps to combat gender-based violence (GBV) facilitated by their platforms. While there are growing calls from the public for dating apps or websites such as Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and Hinge to abide by this moral responsibility, the legal position on this issue is murkier.

Most countries lack clear legal frameworks which establish the obligations or responsibilities of intermediaries to prevent and respond to cases of online GBV, let alone offline sexual violence which is facilitated by online platforms. In some countries, safe harbour provisions established to preserve free speech online that were intended to protect intermediaries from liability for third party content hosted on their platform have been expanded to protect intermediaries from liability for any illegal acts conducted by third parties using the platform. For instance, in the United States, Grindr was held to be protected from liability under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (the safe harbour provision under US law). This was despite the fact that Grindr took no action in response to over fifty requests to take down fake profiles created by one user’s ex which led to hundreds of men harassing the user at his home. On the other hand, courts in Israel have held dating sites liable for failing to remove fake profiles using the personal information of another user, and have ordered the payment of compensation in such cases.

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Image credit: Sydney Sims on Unsplash.