It's been a big week for the regulation of online dating. First, Match.com pledged to check new members against the sex offender registry — and now several states are considering laws aimed at making online dating safer. Will they work?
According to the AP, online dating bills are in the works this year in both Connecticut and Texas. Rather than requiring more screening, though, these bills are aimed at giving users more information. The Connecticut law would require states to display a notice during registration warning users not to provide identifying information in their profiles (similar laws already exist in New York, Florida, and New Jersey). In Texas, lawmakers want dating sites to tell users whether they conduct background checks on new members — and also to remind them that such background checks aren't a guarantee of safety. New York's considering beefing up its legislation with similar info on background checks.
On the face of it, simply giving users more information seems like a better idea than barring all sex offenders. If, for instance, some sites don't follow Match's lead and begin to screen, it would be good for users to know this. Many critics have worried that Match's move might provide users with a false sense of security — most rapists, they point out, are not previously convicted sex offenders. A message that a site hasn't conducted background checks might do the opposite, placing daters on their guard.
On the other hand, consumers have been known to ignore warning label in lots of other situations, and they may well do so in online dating. More information is almost never a bad idea, but in this case, it may not be that effective. Yes, daters should be careful, but we should also remember that, as Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory has noted, sexual assault is really a law enforcement issue. If someone is too dangerous to have a relationship with another human being, we should be asking not "how can we keep this person off Match.com" but "why isn't he or she in jail?"
States Seek To Make It Safer To Find Love Online [AP, via ABC]
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