Haters: They have always been with us, but never have they had more power than in our age of social media, where haters can draw their targets into ugly online pissing matches that end up making everyone look bad. The world got another excellent illustration of this phenomenon this week, when Tinder, the smartphone dating app, got drawn into a fight with writer Nancy Jo Sales. Sales, who has a long history of alarmist stories about how everyone younger than herself has lost their way, wrote a piece for Vanity Fair demonizing Tinder for supposedly making it too easy for men to get sex without commitment.
The article was sex-negative gibberish. The premise is that men are natural misogynists and that women, who apparently live to trap said misogynists into relationships, need to use sex as the bait for their man-traps. But someone on the Tinder social media team got defensive, anyway, unleashing a torrent of tweets Tuesday night accusing Sales of misrepresenting their user base, sneering at Sales for being prudish, and asserting that plenty of people have found monogamous partners on their app.
This turned out to be the worst possible move Tinder could have made. Online writers, forever in a contest of blasé posturing to show who wins the title of Cooler Than Thou, immediately dog-piled Tinder for not acting cool. “Callllllllmmmmm down,” Joanna Rothkopf at Jezebel instructed. Zack Beauchamp at Vox called the tirade “bizarre” and “cringeworthy.” “Tinder, just like us, cannot handle rejection,” snarked Ashley Feinberg at Gawker.
Tinder’s tantrum only alienated the natural allies, as Sales’s sexual fear-mongering was not particularly cool, either. Dealing with haters is hard, and Tinder failed. But there’s a lot that can be learned about how to do it successfully from this incident.
Less is more. It’s hard when people are saying unfair things about you, but your first impulse should be to brush that dirt off your shoulder. Utter silence should be your first move, but if that is too unbearable, a haughty response that suggests you have no time for this crap can work. Bonus points if you don’t even acknowledge your haters by name.
Tinder almost got there with this tweet:
–@VanityFair Little known fact: sex was invented in 2012 when Tinder was launched.
— Tinder (@Tinder) August 11, 2015
If they had declined to mention Vanity Fair—a process known as subtweeting—and had left it at this single tweet, they would have had the upper hand in this fight.
Do not let your opponent define the terms. Sales’s article was based on a false and frankly offensive premise, that there are people who only want casual sex (men) and desperate people who long for a relationship, any relationship (women). And that men exploit women’s desperation to extract sex from them. And while there are caddish men and ring-hungry women out there, the reality is that most men and women are alike in their dating style. They date in an open-ended fashion, trying to have fun and seeing where things go, letting things like chemistry with another person determine if it’s a long-term relationship or just a short fling.
Sadly, the Tinder tweeter allowed Sales to bait them into agreeing that it’s somehow better for someone to be a spouse hunter than an open-minded dater. “Our data tells us that the vast majority of Tinder users are looking for meaningful connections,” they tweeted.
“Talk to the many Tinder couples—gay and straight,” they added, “that have gotten married after meeting on Tinder.”
Bad move. These tweets, intentionally or not, ended up reinforcing Sales’s false premise, which is that chasing down a wedding ring is the only legitimate use for dating. That opens the door to more attacks on Tinder for allowing people to hook up who don’t end up marrying each other. It also is unwise, for a service aimed at single people, to be seen endorsing the idea that married people are better.
A better strategy would be to reject the premise altogether, and ask why Sales is so intent on controlling how other people choose to live their lives.
Humility! It may seem counterintuitive to embrace humility when trying to defend yourself against unfair attacks, but actually, it’s one of the best weapons you have. Tinder’s Twitter rant went from being embarrassing to hide-under-the-couch humiliating when the tweeter started trying to portray the app as some kind of human rights crusade.
“Talk to the female journalist in Pakistan who wrote just yesterday about using Tinder to find a relationship where being gay is illegal,” read one self-righteous tweet.
“Talk to our many users in China and North Korea who find a way to meet people on Tinder even though Facebook is banned,” read another.
These things may be true, but bragging about them is a bad look. People know that Tinder is a dating app whose main purpose is making money, so don’t try to front. The smarter move would be, if you must say anything at all, to be upfront about that.
A humble pose—“We’re just a photo matching service and our subscribers use it however they wish,” for instance—would have done a lot to show that Sales is being paternalistic here. By downplaying their own role, they could also highlight what’s really going on here, which is that Sales is using tech as a hook for the real mission: demonizing young people for the high crime of not having everything figured out, as if older people do.
Lead photo: Pat (Clech) Williams on Flickr
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.