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Will Online Shame Prevent You From a Holiday Romance?

New survey: Over half of Americans will search you online before dating you.

Source: fizkes/Shutterstock

We are now upon the busiest time of the year for online dating. Today finding a partner through the internet has become one of the most common ways to meet people; 59 percent of American adults agree, according to PEW Research.

There is no shortage of dating apps available to you, from free services to fee-based. In 2016, PEW Research shared that online dating had tripled among young people (18-to-24-year-olds) since 2013, from 10 percent to 27 percent. Use by older adults (55-to-64-year-olds) had spiked since 2013 by 6 percent.

Whether you're tired of attending office holiday parties as a single or you're stressed about going home to the perennial question, "Have you meet anyone yet?" this is the time of year when people most often venture into the digital dating pool.

There can be a lot of skepticism around online dating, especially when you begin to understand how many people seem to lie (or at least exaggerate) on their profiles. Researchers suggest that two out of three people don't tell the truth online — especially when it comes to dating sites. One of the first rules of online dating, then, is that you Google someone before you meet in person.

Are you dateable?

A recent YouGov Omnibus survey uncovered that over half of Americans (56 percent) have taken to the internet to research a person before dating them. Millennials ranked highest, with 65 percent performing online background checks; 52 percent of them reported that they would go through one to three pages of search results. According to the same survey, 61 percent of single women performed cybersearches of prospective dates, compared to 51 percent of men.

We often read about how your online reputation can impact your career opportunities, since more employers are using search engines to review applicants before interviewing them. This trend has clearly extended into our personal lives. So, are you Google-ready?

Have you been a victim of online shaming? Are you in the middle of a contentious divorce, or is there a disgruntled business client out there venting their frustrations with your services? Worse, is an old flame perhaps posting revenge porn? As revealed in the YouGov Omnibus survey, 21 percent of all adults, and 26 percent of millennials, have not gone out on a date with someone because they saw something negative about the person on social media or elsewhere online. Further, almost half of women (48 percent) said that they would be unlikely to stay in a relationship, even if the first date went well, if they found something they considered negative online about the person; 28 percent of men said they would do the same.

The haunting truth

We live in times when sexting is becoming a new norm; some might say it's the new first base. Another YouGov Omnibus survey found an increase in the sending of sexual images.

Are these people considering the consequences?

In Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate (October 2017), we share the following real-life stories of how offline actions can have consequences to your online life. These individuals' names were tainted, making it impossible for them to date for any length of time.

  • An English professor found her intimate images for sale on ebay, when her former lover put their pictures up for auction after she broke up with him.
  • A criminal-justice student discovered racist slurs on her Facebook account, after her former boyfriend invaded her unlocked phone and decided to get "e-venge."
  • A divorced college professor, after ending his contentious marriage, found himself in a malicious divorce battle that went viral. He is haunted by the lingering records of twisted trusts and outright lies from the courtroom war. Dating has become nearly impossible.
  • A young woman who simply made a comment on a blog got sucked into a flame war of trolls. She is now the victim of online shame and has not only been unemployable, but un-dateable due to the destruction of her online reputation.

Building your cyber-shield

It's impossible to predict what others will do online, but you can take control of your own virtual platform. Being proactive and using digital wisdom can help you protect your virtual reputation:

  • Be mindful of your sharing, and limit personal information.
  • Humblebraggers are frowned upon and don't appear genuine. There's a difference between showcasing yourself and being a show-off.
  • Many singles will Facebook-friend a potential date. Be sure you have created protected lists so that they aren't privy to all of your information.
  • The internet is a permanent, public domain, while many relationships aren't. Pause before you send anyone a private message.
  • Google yourself regularly, get Google alerts on yourself, and generally strive to be aware of what the internet is saying about you.
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