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May 20, 2013

Plenty of Fish Uses Age Discrimination to Avoid "Hook-Ups"

I've been trying out the online dating scene again and joined Plenty of Fish (POF.com). On May 20, I received a message from the creator, "markus" (Markus Frind) telling me about some of POF's newest policies. The short version is that the site is trying to make a shift towards focusing on finding relationships by making it harder for users to look for "hookups". Of course, Markus and the POF team have decided that the best way to do this is to jump right into age discrimination!

This was the message from Markus:
When I created POF, I wanted it to be all about finding relationships with the right person. For the first 7 years this worked really well, I got the site to 10 million users without any employees people and POF was generating a ton of relationships. Around 3 years ago, everyone started using the website via mobile phones. Today about 70% of POF use is via a mobile phone and unfortunately about 2% of men started to use POF as more of a hookup site mostly due the the casual nature of cell phone use.
In sticking with my vision that POF is all about Relationships, I'm going to make a bunch of changes to ensure it stays a relationship-focused site.
Markus wants to blame mobile phone use for why people are using POF for casual hookups instead of relationships (not sure where he got that 2% of men statistic, doesn't seem like a high enough percentage to worry about). But let's take a look at POF for a moment and examine the real reason people are probably
using the site for casual hookups:

1. They're people. I've been on a variety of dating sites over the years and there will always be a percentage of users who just are looking to hook up. They may be open about this in their profiles or they might pretend to be looking for more, but there will always be people like that. Just like there will always be people that you meet anywhere (at the bar, at the gym, at the grocery store, wherever) that will just be looking for sex. It's a fact of life. POF can change their settings all they want, but there will still always be that 2% (or whatever the real numbers are).

2. POF's own settings are conducive to casual hookups. POF asks you for both your "Intent" and what you are "looking for" (which are sort of the same thing, but okay). Under "I am looking for:" you can choose "I am serious and want to find someone to marry"; "I am putting in serious effort to find someone"; "I want a relationship"; "I want to date but nothing serious" and "I'm looking for Casual dating/No Commitment". Under "Intent" you can choose "Hang Out", "Long-term", "Dating", "Friends" and "Intimate Encounter".

If Markus's original vision of POF was to be relationship-focused, why did he give people the option to select things like "No Commitment" or "Hang Out" or "Intimate Encounter" in the first place?

Getting rid of "Intimate Encounter" is #3 of the three changes Markus has announced he will be making in order to try to steer the site back towards Relationships. I don't have a problem with that - there are already plenty of sites devoted to finding "intimate encounters" so if he wants POF to be all about relationships that's fine. But the other two changes are really hard to grasp:
1. Any first contact between users that contains sexual references will not be sent. Anyone who tries to get around this rule will be deleted without warning. This rule has actually been in effect since last month and it's made the site so much better.

2. You can only contact people +/- 14 years of your age. There is no reason for a 50 year old man to contact a 18 year old women. The majority of messages sent outside those age ranges are all about hookups. Anyone who tries to get around this rule will get deleted.
3. Intimate Encounters will go away in the next few months. There are 3.3 Million people who use the site every day, of those there are only 6,041 single women looking for Intimate Encounters. Of those 6,041 women, the ones with hot pictures are mostly men pretending to be women. Intimate Encounters on POF can be summed up as a bunch of horny men talking to a bunch of horny men pretending to be women.

#1 is somewhat concerning... I guess I can understand why they might want to discourage people from sending sexually suggestive messages for the first message. I certainly prefer not to receive those from guys I'm not interested in (which is most of the guys on POF). But I'm not really sure I understand how they're going to enforce that. Are they reading our messages (totally uncool) or are they just going to flag any messages with certain buzzwords they deem inappropriate? I would love to see that list.

But my real issue is with #2 and I think we should all have an issue with this. Read it again:
2. You can only contact people +/- 14 years of your age. There is no reason for a 50 year old man to contact a 18 year old women. The majority of messages sent outside those age ranges are all about hookups. Anyone who tries to get around this rule will get deleted. [emphasis mine]
Isn't that age discrimination (or at the very least, forcing us to be discriminatory?) Fourteen years is really not that much of an age difference. One of my exes is fifteen years older than me and our relationship wasn't "all about hookups".

I'm in my mid-30s and I have a kid. I come across a lot of guys my age who are freaked out about dating a woman with a kid. You know who tends to be less freaked out about that? Older men. They're more likely to be parents themselves or they're at the point in their lives where they're okay with the idea of being a part of someone else's child's life instead of pushing to have their own. Obviously that's a huge generalization, and I'm sure there are many many exceptions, but Markus is making a pretty broad generalization too. I'm sure there are plenty of younger guys who would love to raise someone else's kid and I'm sure there are even more older guys who are gross, sleazy jerks, but I'm just speaking from my own personal experience. So how exactly can he claim that the majority of messages sent outside that age range is all about hookups?

One of the perks of POF that I do like is that you can set very specific restrictions on who can or can't contact you. For example, you can filter people based on gender, age, location, and other details. Check out what my profile settings currently look like:


Aside from the obvious fact that the reason I'm still single is probably because I'm super picky, you'll notice that you can get very specific on the age range you're willing to date. So if you don't want older people contacting you, you can stop them from contacting you without having to control what everyone else on POF is doing.

Also there's Markus's logic that there is "no reason" for a 50 year old man to contact an 18 year old woman. That's a 32 year age difference, not 14! And okay, while I'm sure that there are plenty of exceptions, I will go out on a limb and say that maybe there's something a little odd about a person who literally just became an adult and can't even drink yet dating someone who could be their parent, but if it works for them, who are we to judge? But it's quite a stretch to compare an 18-to-50 difference to say, 36-to-50. If I'm 18 (or any age) and don't want 50-year-olds contacting me, I can set my settings to prevent that... or here's a crazy idea, I can just not reply to them! And if someone persists, you can easily block them. There's really no reason to get so strict about the rules.

It just feels like POF is trying to take more and more control away from their users and if they really want to do that, fine, but this crosses the line into age discrimination and I'm not okay with that.

Markus's final words:
In short the vast majority of people will not be impacted. This is because the vast majority of people are not going around spamming women saying "let's have sex tonight". I can't change POF alone, I need your help to get the word out there that POF is all about relationships!
If he wants to steer POF to be "all about relationships" that's fine, because there are plenty of websites that are geared towards those who are looking for casual hookups. But I don't agree that preventing people from dating outside of the age range that Markus deems appropriate is necessarily the best way to prevent guys from spamming women saying "let's have sex tonight".

If you disagree with POF's new policy and feel that it amounts to age discrimination (or is just a stupid, unnecessary idea) let them know.  
Plentyoffish Media Inc.
701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5400,
Seattle, Washington 98104
Fax: (604) 648-9521

Media Inquiries:

We know haven't been blogging much lately (have been so busy with awesome ccon planning) so it's a little funny that the only two things we've written lately have been about online dating... but oh well...



Margaret said...

Ridiculous! I dated a man aged 44 when I was 24. Did it make other people uncomfortable? Sure. Was it all about hooking up? Absolutely not. We knew each other for months, and we ended up buying a house together.

I actually got a message from someone today that said I was s***y. I guess now I know why.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. This guy Marcus is delusional. I actually have a gf now and my profile is hidden. First time I went on my file for a while and got the email. I know it is his business, but really, telling people what age they can date. That is arrogance. Hopefully, I do not break up with my gf , we are about the same age. Still, I was always open to date whatever age, which is my business. OKCUPID is probably the best free site now, since POF has all these rules . These rules even apply to paying customers for other features. One guy in a forum was real pissed and wants a refund. I can not blame him. Anyway, have a great day and good luck finding a guy.

NikkiMic said...

"Of those 6,041 women, the ones with hot pictures are mostly men pretending to be women. Intimate Encounters on POF can be summed up as a bunch of horny men talking to a bunch of horny men pretending to be women."

This is pretty terrible too! First of all, if I were a user of POF, I'd be concerned that the creator is working through all of the profiles of women looking for Intimate Encounters requests and evaluating them on whether or not they are "hot," then doing further research.(Or having his staff do that for him.)

Second, I wonder how they're determining that they're just creepy dudes "pretending" to be women and that they're not actually trans, genderqueer, or even just your run-of-the-mill drag queens - ALL of which are perfectly acceptable things to be. I don't doubt there are a lot of people doing what he's describing, but I hope that they're not including gender non-conforming people in with the creeps. Since he didn't clarify, we have no way of knowing what sort of methodology was used.

And finally, I'd also be concerned about the sexual content of the first message, without knowing how it's going to work. If they're reading people's messages individually, then I agree that's creepy and a privacy concern (and will probably cause a major backlog). If not, they must be using some sort of algorithm that flags certain words or phrases, but those algorithms are never perfect. If you flag words like "cock," "slut," etc, you might end up not letting people talk about projects they've been involved in (SlutWalk, or, hell, this blog) or maybe even not let people sign their real names (there's probably a Mr. Cockwell or something out there somewhere).

I remember hearing about some high school in Sussex that had issues because its computer lab flagged the word "sex" so the students couldn't look up anything in their own community. Those kinds of issues could present a bigger problem and administrative headache than just letting users say whatever they want and allowing them to report abuse, as always.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am not really that concerned about the POF age thing because I see many web sites openly devoted to restricting certain groups from access to their members. For example, there are sites for white women to meet black men, christians, jews, wealthy men to meet young women. The list keeps on going. It is common, and in some cases people actually pay to be members of these restrictive groups.

Anonymous said...

I am a fourty plus year old man. In my mind adults get to choose whomever they want, for whatever reasons they agree upon. I agree with the poster who said there are user settings for people who choose to be exclusive. The part that irritates me is not that I can't date a hot 20 something chick. It's that I had met some nice pen pals over the years and that was ripped from me. Never given the chance to say farewell, before the thought police severed our ability to communicate one last time. Mid conversation, just cut off. No chance to exchange emails or phone numbers. We are not all in the same place, local that is.

Anonymous said...

submitted to pof and suggested e-mail link today, 23nov13

"complaining again about age discrimination.

you've really gotta fix this. it's totally inappropriate, not to mention illegal and sick.

i have heard the stories of gross guys doing gross things like sending junk shots etc..., and have no idea what they might be thinking, if thinking even enters into it.

i am Not one of those on any level, and never have been.

(incidentally, i have met two persons over the years on here with lifetime potential. it just didn't work out that way for whatever reason).

just tried to message a young lady who happens to also be a writer with common interests. due to system settings, i was not able to communicate with this person.

discrimination + censorship = lawsuit coming your way.

not from me. i don't have time, but i'm sure someone with a less full life is already getting ready to injure your business model.

i am a thoughtful and considerate person who is articulate and respectful of my fellow human beings.

self imposed ignorance, or communications settings, i realize, is something you have no control over.

thank you.


(name withheld here, for all the obvious reasons)

Anonymous said...

I'm actually a fan of the restricted settings. I was on Match, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish. I have to say that Match was the best site in terms of layout, search tools and other things, but they absolutely SUCKED about not allowing any filters when I first signed up. I will say that it has improved a bit because they did institute filters after I was on for a while. As I'm a 32 year old woman who really wants a guy within 5 years of my age, I got so sick of getting contacted by men 40+ on that site. It was so disappointing to get email notifications on my phone and open them up every time, just to see that some paunchy, balding, graying 46 year old sent me a message. I have no problem with those guys in general, they are free to like whoever they like. But I specifically put my cutoff at age 40. I specifically chose "definitely" under the Wants Kids option. I state in my profile how active I am and drop huge hints about wanting a partner to be physically fit and trim. Why would I want some overweight old guy who doesn't want kids and has already been divorced? It's extremely frustrating to get contacts solely from men who aren't my type. But I do sort of like that I can still get those emails, even if they immediately get deleted for the most part. That gives me a chance to at least see who's trying to reach me and what they have to say.