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Column: Dating ... on Facebook?

Posted: May 3, 2018 1:43 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2018 1:00 a.m.

So, as part of its response to the privacy controversies that have cropped up lately, Facebook has decided to get into the dating game.

As in, it’s creating a “dating feature.” The man himself, CEO Mark Zuckerburg, announced the pending launch during F8, Facebook’s developer’s conference, on Tuesday. Of course, Zuckerburg assured those assembled (sorry, I’m still basking in the glow of Avengers: Infiniti War) that it’s been “designed ... with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning.” He also said your friends aren’t going to be able to see your dating profile, and you’re only going to be suggested to (date) people who are not your friends.” However, your potential dates could be friends of Facebook friends.
So, supposedly there’s no fear of embarrassing yourself in front of all your hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends. It also, apparently, will bypass the embarrassment of asking someone you already know to go on a date.

In some ways, that’s almost the opposite of how real life works, isn’t it? Most of us meet the people we want to go out with through the various activities in our lives -- work, church, clubs, and school. We spend more of our lives at work than almost anywhere else.

On the other hand, most workplace romances don’t, uh, work out. In fact, they can be downright horrifying when they fall apart. So, perhaps Facebook’s idea of only suggesting dates with people you don’t already “know” -- I put that in quotes because it’s almost impossible to truly know everyone you’re friends with on Facebook -- is a good idea.

So, how would it work? According to a video NBC News shared from the F8 conference featuring Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, just like with other online dating sites, you would create a dating profile. Now, this is separate from your regular Facebook profile -- again, your friends aren’t supposed to be able to see this; it’s only visible to people also using the dating feature and doesn’t show up in your News Feed or Timeline.

The next step is, apparently, to take advantage of Facebook’s groups and events features. This is where the “real life” analogy comes in, according to Cox. He said that because we tend to date (or find dates -- I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant) at events or “within institutions,” looking at events and groups and “unlocking” the ones you’re interested in is how things really get started.

Doing so makes your dating profile visible to people who are also interested in that event and theirs visible to you.

Like someone you see? You’d then start a private conversation with them based on one of the pictures from their profile, according to Cox. That conversation is not connected to any other app or service, including Facebook Messenger. Cox said it is completely separate, only connected to the dating feature. And, the first time you message will be text only -- no emojis, gifs or pictures -- which Facebook says is a safety measure.

“So, we hope this will make more folks meet and, hopefully, find partners,” Cox said at the end of his presentation, adding that more information will be rolled out during the next few months, so it’s going to be a while before this goes live.

According to a Pew Research Center Social Media Fact Sheet dated Feb. 5, 18- to 29-year-olds are still the most likely Facebook users among those who are active on social media, with 81 percent of that age group using the app or website. Thirty- to 49-year-olds are right behind them at 78 percent. But it’s the 50- to 64-year-old age group that seems to be coming up fast at 65 percent. Only about 41 percent of those 65 and older appear to be Facebook users, and all of the age groups are far less likely to use Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter, pretty much, although not purely, in that order.

Those 50- to -64-year-olds? In terms of all social media usage, not just Facebook, that group seems to the fastest growing. Where the 18-29 and 30-49 groups appear to be flattening, if not tapering off, during the past four years, it’s us “middle agers” who have shown a much steadier increase.

That actually makes sense as we developed brand loyalty to Facebook before many of its competitors had a chance, which was around the same time as previous platforms popular with younger folks petered out (see MySpace).

The major dating sites are actually pretty expensive, hooking you in with pretty good deals up front, but then charging you more for certain features. Perhaps there’s a “get what you pay for” thing going on, but I’d rather save my money for actual dates than wasting it away on a dating site.

If Facebook’s dating feature is free -- and I suspect it will be because, according to Wired magazine, it will “exist right within the social network’s own app” -- then it might be worth a shot.

Still, as Wired said, it’s a strange time for Facebook to be announcing this. Here’s hope of finding that special someone ... while not having my private data going hither and yon.

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