You may be familiar with Bumble as the dating app that allows women to make the first move when it comes to chatting up romantic prospects, but you likely aren’t aware they’re also making the first move in statehouses across the country in an ongoing fight to outlaw unsolicited dick pics.
When the dating and social networking app conducted a national survey in 2018, they found that 1 in 3 women have received an unsolicited nude image in their lifetime. These women received these images via AirDrop or a messaging app and a whopping 96 percent confirmed they were received without their consent. If you’re like me, your knee-jerk response to that was something akin to, “duh.” Most women I know have received an unsolicited dick pic or several. Which is why it’s heartening to hear that since that survey, Bumble executives like CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd (a co-founder of rival app, Tinder) and new Policy Director Nkechi “Payton” Iheme have quietly been leading the effort to criminalize sending nudes without consent.
Shortly after Bumble’s findings were published, the billion dollar platform — which has historically been lauded as one of the only existing “feminist” dating apps — first responded by rolling out a protective feature called, Private Detector. Utilizing A.I. technology to automatically blur images determined to be lewd, Private Detector effectively empowered recipients with the option to see them or simply leave them unopened.
“The scourge of the unsolicited nude photo is over — on Bumble, at least,” trumpeted the feature’s accompanying press release in 2019. And yet, it wasn’t enough of a solve for executive leadership amid an increasingly prevalent problem.
That same year, Herd and many of her cohorts went on to find that while indecent exposure was a crime in every state, there was an overall lack of legislation being introduced that would protect against it online.
That discovery prompted the group to begin meeting with legislators on both sides of the aisle in the app’s home turf of Texas to address the issue from the top. By March 2019, Herd would band together with Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) to introduce House Bill 2789, which made it so that sending a lewd photo without the recipient’s consent would be a Class C misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of $500 or less. Though court challenges were expected, the bill was signed into law just two months later by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
“Many people, especially women, get unwanted sexually explicit pictures, either by text or social media, it’s disgusting,” said Gov. Abbott, stating the obvious as he passed the legislation as a then-pregnant Herd proudly looked on.
It was the first time the company lobbied for legislation at the state level, but it was only the beginning of what’s sure to be a lengthy national battle. According to an op-ed recently penned by Iheme, several states—including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Virginia—have either advanced or successfully passed legislation that would follow Texas’ suit. The FLASH (Forbid Lewd Activity and Sexual Harassment) Act recently passed California’s State Senate with bipartisan support. Should it pass when it goes to Assembly vote, it would take the Texas legislation one step further and make sending lewd photos punishable by $500 for the first offense, and $1,000 any time thereafter. New York State Sen. Alexandra Biaggi has also seen her legislation — Senate Bill S4843, which would establish the unsolicited disclosure of an intimate image as a crime — move forward in both senate and assembly votes. Bumble is also reportedly urging Florida legislators to introduce similar legislation.
And the app’s impact has even transcended the United States. Last month, “cyberflashing” was made illegal in England and Wales, but unlike U.S. legislation, perpetrators face up to two years in prison. That announcement came a mere four months after Bumble announced its #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing campaign, which called on U.K. lawmakers to make take action on sending illicit photos without consent. While advocates in the U.K. have aptly pointed out such legislation isn’t exactly bulletproof, it’s admirable a mere dating app has managed to spark the movement to criminalize dick pics — if not also a little absurd that legislators didn’t find a way do it first, of course.
Swipe on, Bumble!