I suppose this should come as no surprise: Match.com has decided to start screening for sex offenders. As I reported last week, a Los Angeles woman filed a suit against the online dating giant after a man she met on the site sexually assaulted her; turns out he had a criminal record of repeated sexual battery. Match has always resisted such calls, but suddenly it changed course late yesterday, announcing that it would begin booting sex offenders from the site, and preventing any new ones from joining, within 60 to 90 days. So, what exactly has changed?
For several years now, the company has argued that the available screening services are unreliable and could ultimately provide a false sense of security (which is also the tack I took in response to this recent controversy). On Sunday, President Mandy Ginsberg said in a press release, "In recent conversations with providers over the last few days, we've been advised that a combination of improved technology and an improved database now enables a sufficient degree of accuracy to move forward with this initiative, despite its continued imperfection."
Now, there have been positive shifts in electronic data collection, to be sure -- but nothing revolutionary has happened on this front. I suspect the most dramatic change here is in Match.com's cost-benefit analysis of screening. Sure, that recalculation has something to do with technological advances, but you also can't overstate the P.R. liability of being in any way associated with sex offenders. Ginsberg herself notes, "While these checks may help in certain instances, they remain highly flawed." It isn't just the sex offender checks that are faulty; remember that domestic abusers, murderers and all other fun flavor of criminal are still welcome to join.
Look, from a political and philosophical standpoint I disagree with banning sex offenders of all stripes, all of whom have served their time, from online dating. I also think it's irrational to single out this one breed of violent criminal above all others. Also note that the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported. That said, this isn't about politics, philosophy or rationality -- as is so often the case with sex offenders, it's about making everyone else feel safe.