Approximately 30.4 million Americans accessed online dating services in 2019, according to Statista.com. And while this already seems like a massive number of people, it doesn’t even account for those connecting through social media platforms, online chat rooms, and good ole fashion text messaging.
Digital technologies provide an infinite amount of ways for us to connect online and have become essential to functioning in modern society. But, what happens when people take advantage of the multidimensional structure of the internet to abuse other uses?
“You can still put someone down, call someone names, blame them for things which aren't their fault," said Joan Prittie, executive director of Project Safe. "You can do these via text or via message or via social media, just in the way that you can do them in person.”
Danielle Lambert, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia's College of Public Health, studies cyber dating abuse. She said there are multiple ways that users can be abused online.
“It could be through phone calls, through text messages, emails, social media platforms, websites, even some things that might not immediately come to mind, like using geo-tracking software to monitor someone's location.”
Lambert said abuse can also range in severity.
“It could be something on the less severe side, like a partner repeatedly calling you or repeatedly texting you, it can increase into stalking, more public displays of harassment," she said. "Even things like revenge porn would be under this umbrella of digital dating abuse."
Cyberdating abuse may also facilitate other forms of abuse, said Prittie.
“If someone is using technology to abuse or stalk someone else, they're probably mixing in some good old-fashioned ways as well.”
And like many other types of abuse, cyber abuse disproportionately affects minority populations. More specifically, LGBTQ+ youth experience more abuse online than other groups, perhaps because they turn to online platforms to seek community.
UGA’s Danielle Lambert recognized this phenomenon and spearheaded a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discover why this happens, what the effects are, and how it can be ameliorated.
“LGBTQ communities in the south particularly tend to experience more stigma or discrimination, they have greater barriers to accessing care," she said. "So, that's why we're really focusing on this community and really looking at, what can we do to address this? What resources can we really try to promote to help them access care?"
More and more people are asking themselves these questions. Thomas Kadri, an assistant professor at UGA’s Law School, said that our increased dependence on technology has created an increased awareness of this issue.
“We depend on these technologies so much, and it's no longer an adequate answer to just say to people, 'oh, you should just go offline. If you're facing abuse online, just turn off your computer,'" he said. "In my view, that was never an adequate response to digital abuse. But now especially I think, many more people can understand why that's not an adequate response to it.”
Project Safe's Hotline: 706-543-3331
Project Safe's Textline: 706-765-8019