Redefining dating: the humanitarians of Tinder

Looking for a date? Forget dazzling them with your wits, a photo of you posing with local children in Kenya or helping to build a school in Vietnam may serve as a better tactic.

Popular dating app Tinder is all about first impressions – users’ profiles contain only photos and an optional bio, with users swiping left to pass or right if they like a potential date’s profile. Two users who have both swiped right on each other then match and can begin chatting.

With such a small window of opportunity to make an impression, users curate their most inviting photos for maximum matching potential. This often includes a selfie pulling faces with local kids, or a pose with an African child strapped on one’s back in the local tradition.


Images credit: Humanitarians of Tinder

Humanitarians of Tinder (HoT) is a blog which shares these photos, through submissions from users who have come across such “humanitarians” in their “Tinder travels”. Through the blog and a Facebook page, HoT shares the images without captions or context, allowing the images to speak for themselves. The popularity of the blog’s content has resulted in coverage by The Guardian, The Washington Post and Huffingpost Post.

Rettberg (2017, p. 1) considers visual self-representations as the “images and icons we use to express ourselves”, on platforms such as social media. She argues self-representations such as photos allow us to show “a certain aspect…a certain way of seeing” ourselves (2017, p. 26), and writes that selfies in particular “can be a way for the photographer to imagine how he or she could be different” (p. 15). Rettberg (2017, p. 17-18) draws on ideas from Frosh (2015), who contends that the selfie is different from a photograph in that it says “see me showing you me”, pointing to the “performance of a communicative action”.

With this in mind, why are Tinder users including photos with poor children in their profiles?

Mathews thinks it’s because they want to be seen as a “hotter, younger Mother Theresa”; he imagines the inner monologue of users with these photos to be: “I’m a good person. Just because I’m white and privileged doesn’t mean I’m not a good person. And I don’t have to apologise for being a good person, either. I went to Africa and Guatemala, and it’s part of my experience, so I can show a picture of me smiling with a gaggle of pantless brown children on my Tinder. It happened. It’s not bragging about how worldly and selfless and kind and humble I am. I just am. I helped. Me and my two soft, weak hands and my pop cultural knowledge did good for those three weeks of my sophomore year winter break. If I saw these pictures on Tinder, I would definitely want to have sex with me.”

In a similar tune to Mathews’ view of the Tinder user, 22-year-old “Angela” claimed a trip to Malawi completely changed her Facebook profile: “I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders”. While Angela is fictitious (the article was published by The Onion), her story resonated with audiences due to its relatability.

While such images may portray individuals as caring, selfless and worldly – very important traits to showcase to a potential date – there can be child protection implications. These consequences can be easily overlooked when selecting one’s most appealing photos for a dating profile – photos that may feature potentially vulnerable children. What if a Tinder user’s photo of a child at a school in Peru provided enough context for that child to be located or contacted? Saving or sharing another user’s images on Tinder is easy – as demonstrated by the HoT blog, which has had thousands of views and shares. This makes the reach – and any potential harm – of such images even greater. Dewey also raises the ethics of “turning a child into a prop” for photos, as well as “the inherent racial, cultural and socioeconomic privilege” such images highlight.

While Tinder has published safety tips for its users, its app and website offer no information about appropriate profile content, such as what photos are and are not suitable. World Vision Austraila has published guidelines to protect the privacy, dignity and personal safety of its sponsored children. This includes information for supporters as to what they are able to share online about the children they sponsor. Tinder would benefit from providing similar information to guide its users as to what they can post on their profiles. While the app obviously serves a different purpose to an organisation like World Vision, its considerations for child protection shouldn’t differ.

Rettberg (2017, p. 27) notes that “the social contract for what is photographable or sharable or representable is changing”. While she means this to be as a result of technology updates and content trends, more conversation and guidelines around the implications of current photo practices would be welcome. Scoring a date thanks to a photo of a cute foreign child is not as harmless as it may appear.

Featured image credit: The Odyssey Online