After Charlottesville, Even Dating Apps Are Cracking Down on Hate

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The man, Christopher Cantwell, had been prominently featured in the documentary endorsing violence and calling for an “ethno-state.” In the days to come, he would surrender to the police on charges related to his alleged illegal use of tear gas during a torch-lit white supremacist march the night before the larger rally.

But OKCupid officials said they already had enough evidence to ban Mr. Cantwell for life from the dating service. After being contacted by the user, they worked to verify that the man was indeed Mr. Cantwell, and on Aug. 17, the site tweeted, “Within 10 minutes, we banned him for life.”

“We do not tolerate anyone who promotes racism or hatred — it’s that simple,” said Elie Seidman, OKCupid’s chief executive, in an email to The New York Times. “At OKCupid, our mission is to connect people based on substance — based on their shared sensibility. The privilege of being in our community does not extend to Nazis and supremacists.”

OKCupid officials then went a step further, urging site users to immediately report anyone “involved in hate groups.”

On the same day, another dating site, Bumble, announced it was also seeking to ban “all forms of hate” through a collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League. Bumble officials said they would look to the organization for guidance on identifying hate symbols and, like OKCupid, called on its users to block and report anyone they saw expressing hate.

The moves are “a consequence of the increased political polarity,” said John Drew, an assistant professor of digital media at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.

He added, “Some companies, especially ones that cater to younger, urban audiences — like Bumble — are no doubt considering the contemporary moment as a potential opportunity to cash in politically and win over users.”

Dating apps have waded into a larger clash between the Silicon Valley and the alt-right that seems to have escalated in recent months. OKCupid was just one of several internet companies to undertake a sweeping purge after Charlottesville, stepping briskly away from what experts said was a longstanding laissez-faire approach that helped some social networks develop the broad base of users they once needed to function.

Earlier this month, Discord, a group chat app that was popular among far-right activists, banned several of the largest alt-right communities on it. Companies that offer hosting services, like GoDaddy and Google, have removed white nationalist and neo-Nazi sites. And after adding tools that allow users to report hateful messages, Twitter and Facebook have banned individual users who violated terms of service. Facebook has also banned a range of pages with names like “Right Wing Death Squad” and “White Nationalists United.”

Indeed, even PayPal has joined the fray, electing to cut off the white nationalist Richard Spencer’s organization. On his blog, Mr. Cantwell also complained about his PayPal account being shut down.

“Companies and C.E.O.s have an obligation — maybe even a moral obligation — to stand up for values,” PayPal’s chief executive Dan Schulman said in an interview with The New York Times. “We have an acceptable use policy — any site that promotes hatred, violence or racial intolerance, we shut down.”

But experts warned that once online services start banning users because of their views, they risk tumbling down a slippery slope. OKCupid may have had several good reasons to ban Mr. Cantwell, said Jeremy Littau, an associate professor in the department of journalism and communication at Lehigh University. But “once they start policing peoples’ beliefs offline,” he said, “it’s not unreasonable to ask why they allow people who have other beliefs or behaviors that are repugnant.”

For his part, Mr. Cantwell complained in an interview before his arrest this week that in the days since the march and rally in Charlottesville, he had also been kicked off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Match and Tinder.

“I can’t even watch the Vice video on YouTube because it’s age-restricted and I can’t log in,” Mr. Cantwell said.

Spokeswomen for Facebook, Instagram, and Google (which owns YouTube) confirmed that Mr. Cantwell’s profiles and channel were disabled because of hate speech. A Twitter spokeswoman would not comment on individual accounts, but said that the site’s rules prohibit violent threats, harassment and hateful conduct. Officials with Tinder and Match, which like OKCupid are owned by Match Group , did not respond to emails.

Mr. Seidman, the OKCupid C.E.O., said the need to remove Mr. Cantwell was clear and noted that the company’s terms and conditions give officials full discretion to do so.

Still, he acknowledged that “as any person who has ever been on a date can understand,” some cases are not as “obviously cut and dry” as Mr. Cantwell’s.

All harassment flags are reviewed by human moderators who review so-called fringe cases, Mr. Seidman said. One question he said moderators consider during a review: Did the user’s action make the recipient feel unsafe or violated?

“We, of course, always veer on the side of caution,” Mr. Seidman said.

Like most dating sites, OKCupid allows its members to filter their search for companions by age, location, race and religion. Paying members can even refine their results by attractiveness, body type and their answers to specific questions such as: “Would you consider dating someone who has vocalized a strong negative bias toward a certain race of people?” and “Do you believe that there exists a statistical correlation between race and intelligence?”

Asked if that type of filtering posed a contradiction, Mr. Seidman said, “We do not believe that there is a slippery slope between banning white supremacists on OkCupid to policing other beliefs.”

“White supremacy and Nazi ideology perpetuate oppression, hate, violence, terrorism,” he wrote, and they “are in a league of their own. We will not trade a neo-Nazi’s ability to espouse hate and murderous ideology at the cost of many people’s freedom to date without fear and hatred.”

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