Facebook dating isn’t new. It’s always been terrible

In the words of Ian Malcolm, it seems that Facebook was so focused on seeing if it could, it never stopped to ask if it should.

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I have Facebook to thank for my first relationship, aged 16. We met at a spectacularly uncool sixth form party in our local town. It had a wedding-style DJ and adults patrolled the grounds to make sure no one was smoking.

That night, we barely spoke two words to each other, partly because I had come to the party with his friend, and partly because we were basically strangers. But when you're 16, your threshold for shame is largely nonexistent, and the next morning I went and added him on Facebook regardless. He accepted straight away, spurring me on, and we began a month-long messaging dance before we met again in real life.

This scenario would, and should, never be repeated in adulthood for obvious reasons. When you’re 16, adding a stranger on Facebook isn’t embarrassing. But fundamentally, nothing is embarrassing at 16. Your bad clothes and your bad hair, as well as your terrible flirting, can all be forgotten in the black hole we call formative years.

Thankfully, Facebook has grown up and is no longer the thirst trap it used to be. Actual teenagers made a mass exodus about three years ago. Those of us left have evolved our feeds into a place for family, friends and nostalgia. Over the years, we have collected co-workers, university classmates and parents. Uncomfortable reminders of romantic entanglements or broken hearts have been blocked and disposed of. What is left is a clean slate of people you choose to keep. The rest? Culled. No more unexpected messages from strangers, no more unsolicited “pokes”. We are, all of us, adults.

And yet, Facebook wants to reopen this cesspool of awkwardness. Yesterday, the platform announced the introduction of Facebook Crush, a new feature that allows you to secretly list the friends you fancy. If they also list you, you are both notified and you match like a dating app.

There are some obvious red flags that frighten ex-Facebook flirters like me. As with most social media features, this new tool can easily be abused. While you are only able to list nine friends at a time, human nature suggests that users will attempt to match with their entire friendship list in order to unearth the people that are attracted to them.

Worse still, users will get a notification every time someone adds you to their list. This feels like a below the belt move. In a vapid attempt to retain its users, or possibly lure back teens, Facebook has opted to exploit some of our most human vulnerabilities: our vanity and our loneliness.

But, crucially, Facebook has forgotten that the world of dating has changed. Social media has allowed us to compartmentalise our lives: LinkedIn for work, Tinder for love, Instagram for friends. Now, we choose our interactions. When we have the ability to shapeshift between our various, online personas, we no longer need to awkwardly stumble upon romantic surprises.

In the words of fictional mathematician Ian Malcolm, it seems that Facebook was so focused on seeing if it could, it never stopped to ask if it should.

 

Eleanor Peake is the New Statesman’s social media editor.