Increasingly, human interactions are communicated using electronic, internet-based medias. It allows for easy access to a lot of content in an organized format within a short amount of time. This creates for an ideal setting for facilitating online dating networks, where its users search for other users with the same intimate-based goals by using the community. Online dating communities are tailored specifically to users who are looking for a romantic partner, in contrast to social networking websites (Quesnel, 2010). The main difference between social media platforms and dating communities is that the first connects people who already know each other, and the second connects people that would like to know each other (Piskorski, 2014).
The growing popularity of online dating websites is altering one of the most fundamental human activities; finding a date or even a marriage partner. Research from the US Census Bureau has shown that 46% of the single population in the US uses online dating to initiate and engage in the process of finding a partner (Paumgarten, 2011). A recent trend is that online dating platforms offer new capabilities to users, such as extensive search, big data-based mate recommendations and varying levels of anonymity, whose parallels do not exist in the physical world (Gelles, 2011). However, little is known about the causal effects, which the authors of this paper seek to examine. Moreover, the authors of this article ran a randomized field experiment on a major North American online dating website, where 50,000 randomly selected users were gifted the ability to anonymously view profiles of other users. The control group was not able to anonymously view other profiles.
The effect of anonymity on users’ behavior
Anonymity may impact a user’s behavior through two distinct causal mechanisms (Bakos, 1997). First of all, lowering searching costs may lead to improved matching because users can express true preferences. An anonymous user has uninhibited access to information as compared to non-anonymous user, who may not visit a profile or regret visiting a profile, because the other user can see this. Because of anonymity, users do not need to worry about repeatedly visiting one’s profile, which is normally seen as stalking or inappropriate behavior. Furthermore, anonymity may impact the matching process because of the lack of signaling-related mechanisms, which are necessary to establish successful communication with a potential mate. It leads to an information asymmetry in which anonymous and non-anonymous users differ in the ability to gather information about the users they are interested in. Therefore, the research objective is to examine the net effect of disinhibition and signaling in online dating (Bapna, 2015).
Social norms may also inhibit the expression of what are considered taboo preferences, such as same-sex and interracial mate seeking (Panchankis and Goldfried, 2006). An anonymity feature may potentially lower this stigma, thereby lowering searching costs and resulting in improved search and improved matching.
The results of the article suggest that weak signaling is a key mechanism in increasing number of matches. Anonymous users ended up having fewer matches compared with their non-anonymous counterparts, as they were not able to leave a weak signal to the profile they viewed. This effect was particularly strong for women, as they tend not to make the first move and instead rely on the counterparty to initiate the communication. The reduction in quantity of matches by anonymous users is not compensated by a corresponding increase in quality of matches.
The results of this article also show that straight individuals of both genders significantly increase their likelihood of viewing profiles of users of the same gender when they are anonymous. Yet, total number of matches decreases for the anonymous users. Furthermore, this research shows that incoming views and messages decrease because of anonymity, while the number of outgoing messages remains unchanged. The findings of this article from the basis for further research on how the internet, social media and social communities are changing some of the fundamental activities we carry out as humans. Last, the results can also be used to further examine the impact of various levels of privacy protection on individuals’ behavior (Goldfarb and Tucker, 2011).
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