Online Dating: Is it Trustworthy?
Online dating has exploded in popularity over the past decade. According to a survey by PEW, about one in four teens with dating experience had dated or hooked up with someone they met online (Pew Research Center, 2015). Despite this large chunk, most teens expressed worries or doubts about online dating. Their chief concern with the platform was trustworthiness (Pew Research Center, 2015). Despite this concern, online dating is likely here to stay and will probably only increase in popularity. This research proposal seeks to examine the phenomenon specifically focusing on whether, and to what extent, trustworthiness can be maintained. This proposal shall explain why this is a topic important to the field of Communications. It shall then explain why the author of this paper is pursuing this topic as well. Finally, this paper shall outline several research questions that this paper will seek to answer. This is an important topic for the field of Communications, and this paper will ultimately explain exactly why and how Communications Scholars should examine it.
The field of Communications focuses on exactly what its name implies: how humans communicate with each other. It is distinct from other fields such as psychology that investigate thought processes or sociology that investigates how large groups of humans behave. While both aforementioned fields could potentially illuminate various questions regarding online dating trustworthiness, Communications lends itself quite well to investigating online dating on its own for the following reason. Trust may be a state of mind regarding how one person feels about another, but trust is only possible when those involved communicate with one another. If the internet has altered one major aspect of the lives of humans, it is how they communicate with one another. Exploring exactly how this new method of communication is extremely relevant to Communications. The internet has fundamentally altered the way humans communicate with one another in almost every facet of their lives. Even something as fundamental as romantic relationships has been affected by the internet. That something as personal as forming romantic relationships can take place over such a medium as impersonal as the internet is quite surprising and demands to be studied by a field that specifically focuses on how human beings interact and communicate with one another, such as Communications. A commonly cited fear among those who do engage in online dating or who are fearful of doing so is the lack of perceived trustworthiness. When talking to someone over the internet, they could be anyone with an internet connection. Verifying their identity is extremely difficult. This fear has even spawned a new word, “catfished,” to describe meeting someone who is very different than what their online persona described. This paper hopes to study that and see if these fears are well-founded or not. These fears, however, could be based on a few isolated cases, and it could very well be that the practice is very trustworthy overall. Generating trust, as we have mentioned earlier, requires communication between the two parties and is extremely vital for a romantic relationship, or any positive relationship at that. This alone means it should be examined in an academic manner.
The author of this paper is pursuing this topic for several reasons. One, already mentioned, is because it is a new field where lots of progress can be made. There are many questions that are specifically suited for the field of Communications to investigate, and this study hopes to investigate one of them. Another, more personal reason is that the author themselves has friends and relatives who are interested in online dating but have expressed fears over the trustworthiness of the practice. The author of this paper hopes that by conducting an academically rigorous study of this short, the fears of friends and family can either be assuaged or verified. If it turns out the process is trustworthy, then there is little for them to worry about, if, on the other hand, it turns out to be extremely untrustworthy then the author of this paper can advise them to refrain from the practice altogether. It may turn out that the practice is trustworthy provided certain precautions are taken. If that is the case, then they can be advised of these precautions and then proceed with online dating. It is a certainty that others could also benefit from this research as well because of these reasons.
There are several research questions this paper is seeking to answer in this study. The primary one has already been alluded to in the title of this paper: is online dating trustworthy? The answer to this research question is composed of the answers to several other questions this paper will seek to answer in the process. Naturally the first is: what is “trust”? Trust is an interesting concept with humans. Precisely defining that is fairly easy, however, there are different degrees of trust. People might “trust” that the stranger standing behind them in line at a supermarket will refrain from jumping the line in front of them. However, they probably would not “trust” this stranger with their bank account information. This paper will first have to find a level of trust necessary for people to be comfortable engage in online dating. It is important that 100 percent trust is not possible for this study. Such a level of trust, if possible in human relationships at all, can only come about from years of direct experience between people. Such a level is not possible, nor is it feasible, nor should it be required for online dating. Standard, “offline” dating itself is not held to such a high standard, and it would be unreasonable to hold online dating to one either. An intermediate level, a sort of minimum level of trust must be established for the sake of this research. Once this question has been answered, further questions can be answered as well.
The next question that needs to be examined is if it is possible to reach such a level of trust at all over online communications. It may be fundamentally impossible. The author of this paper is optimistic such a level can be achieved online. After all, given that many people use online banking, online shopping, online document storage, online business transaction services, online communication services, upload their pictures to the internet for anyone to view, routinely post their vacation plans, upload pictures of their young children, and handle or openly discuss many other deeply personal parts of their lives using the internet, it seems it is possible to generate this level of trustworthiness over the internet. Further research must be done however and will be discussed in the full version of this paper.
The final question this paper seeks to answer is, assuming such a level of trustworthiness is possible with online dating, do people perceive it does be there? It may be that such levels of trustworthiness are in fact possible and may even exist, yet “trust” is a fundamentally human construct and no matter what factors may be present, people may not perceive it as being there. There are also many different online dating websites and apps available. Most operate differently. Some may create higher levels of trust than others. Examining that do and how they do so could be very important to this research. This is ultimately the most important part of the research question this paper seeks to answer.
The question of trustworthiness is vital to all human interactions. People engage in implicit levels of trust in nearly all interactions with one another. Examining how the internet affects those, especially something as fundamental to society as romantic relationships is a vital area of study for Communications scholars. The results of this paper will almost certainly open up further avenues of research questions. Online dating appears to be here to stay. As such, researching it must be as well.
Pew Research Center. (October 1, 2015). Teen Voices: Dating in the Digital Age. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/online-romance/