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fakes fakes fakes!!!!

Inside the Ecosystem of Bots, Scammers, Catfish, and Self-Promoters

· dating,dating app,dating industry,dating scams,fake users

"What's something that feels like it should be illegal to know?"

I've come across many horrors and subjected myself to innumerable traumas over my 12 years working in the dating industry. I've been assaulted, kidnapped, held at knifepoint, catfished, manipulated, and mugged...just to name a few.

The topic on my mind tonight is "animation," the industry term for "fake users, fake activity, anything to make a dating app feel like there are signs of life on it."

It's not just a matter of some Tinder accounts having modelesque photos, blank bios, and/or a link to an Instagram or OnlyFans profile.

Dating apps can actually choose which degree of “animation” they prefer to integrate into their system. They can also, by virtue of choosing not to pay for adequate moderation, invite particularly harmful forms of animation.

Here’s a rough outline of the types of "animation" I’ve seen:

1. Static Fake Profiles

Apps can pay ~$50-500 for 1,000-50,000 fake profiles — just the photos and fake bios — basically as a .zip file that you can load into your backend servers. This is typically used for testing out features and populating your user rolls, so you can see what an experience might look and feel like; but it’s also used to pad user numbers when presenting to investors, just like how you can pay for Instagram followers.

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2. Real Person, Fake Profile

Some companies offer free modeling shoots to women, on the condition that they provide their photo ID and consent to having their images used across 1 or more dating/networking apps. This is a common occurrence in the “international premium dating” industry (aka mail order brides). Users will message these fake profiles, and the dating company can pay randos in eastern Europe to manage a dozen or more of these fake profiles at time. If at some point the end user wants to meet up with their prospective bride, the company will contact the original model and ask them if they want to meet; if they do not want to, the profile's ghostwriter will say something like, “My love, I desperately want to marry you but my father is being stubborn and won’t let me! I’m so sad! Can we keep talking in case he changes his mind?”

Keep in mind, these services may charge you on a per-message basis, so the goal is always to keep you talking, endlessly, online, sometimes totalling $50k or more annually in accumulated fees. Interestingly, if the model actually says yes to meeting, then the app actually can arrange for the end user to meet up with them.

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3. Real users (aka a living human on the other end) who happen to be scammers

Most platforms deal with this problem constantly, and need to pay upwards of $1million/month to stem the tide. It results from either lax profile creation standards, or lax content moderation standards, or both. Consequently, any bad actors can simply come in with fake photos/profiles of their own and begin extorting and manipulating users.

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4. Fake users who are also scammers — aka “bots.”

Platforms fight tooth and nail to cull bots whenever possible, but there are entire industries built upon creating more advanced and nuanced bot networks. If you can deploy 10,000 AI bots to a dating platform, sending malicious links and pre-scripted text flows to millions of users in just a few hours, it’s possible to make millions of dollars. Most of these accounts get banned very quickly, but it only takes a few getting through to wreak havoc. Dating scams result in the loss of $4.5 BILLION annually.

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5. Influencers, escorts, “solopreneurs” (aka OnlyFans pushers) and trolls

Platforms typically like having attractive people on their platforms who are keen to message people with some regularity. This boosts their metrics for total members, total daily logins, and total message counts. However, there are entire cohorts of users who systematically violate the spirit of the app by not intending to date, but really just using the platform as a marketing channel for their own content. Influencers usually push you to their IG or Tiktok; escorts usually push you to kik/snapchat/whatsapp/text, and OnlyFans models typically push to either IG, Snap, or direct to OF, depending on the app's profile text affordances and the level of content moderation the dating app employs. Trolls, on the other hand, could be authentic users, but they're usually so burned out and jaded by online dating that they just throw random shit at their profile and see what sticks.





If you're curious to learn more about the inner workings of content moderation, you can check out the white paper I wrote on the topic, or delve into the ongoing efforts of Integrity Institute to build up better globally coordinated systems of user/data/privacy/election protection.

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If you ever want to discuss these issues further, or learn more about how I coach daters through these minefields, please reach out! You can schedule a free chat via my calendar link on my website,