Lying on Tinder: Why this prof wants to make it illegal to dupe people into sex online

Irina Manta knows that people tell little lies on dating apps — but the law professor says there should be a legal penalty for substantial lies that result in sex, and that it should even be considered fraud.

Irina Manta wants to outlaw substantial lies on dating apps — like a person's marital status

A stock photo of a Tinder profile. (Shutterstock / Alex Ruhl)
Listen6:37

Transcript

Irina Manta knows that people tell little lies on dating apps — about their weight, height or sense of humour. 

But the law professor says there should be a legal penalty for more substantial lies, like a person's marital status, that result in sex. She says lies like these could amount to fraud.  

Manta points to Anna Rowe, a woman in the U.K. who the Guardian reports was recently deceived by a married man for over a year. The man claimed to be a single businessman and used a fake name on Tinder to invent a persona and have sex with multiple women. 

Manta is a law professor at Hofstra University, and the founding director of its Center for Intellectual Property Law. She recently wrote about her proposed law for the Washington Post.

She spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about how the law could work. 

Here is part of that conversation. 

How many other [stories] do you think are out there like Anna Rowe?

What we do know is that there is a very large percentage of people who lie on these online dating apps, so we can speculate that at least a segment of those represent serious lies.

Unfortunately, there are predators out there really taking advantage of this relatively new tool to reach many more victims than they were able to before.

Law professor Irina Manta is calling on states to pass laws making substantial lies on dating sites illegal because there should be a penalty for obtaining sex through fraud. (Submitted by Irina Manta)

What stories have you heard?

There are a number of stories ... where somebody claims to be single and the person is actually married.

There are a number of serious lies that somebody could tell, where if the other person knew the truth they would not choose to have sexual intercourse with the person — which really puts a big question mark on whether there was genuine consent.

Now you're asking state lawmakers to punish what you call "material lies" online, that deceive someone into having sexual relations. What are material lies?

So material lies would be the kind that were the ... "make or break" point as to whether a reasonable person  — using that as a legal term  — would have chosen to have sex with somebody.

So when somebody lies about their height or their weight or something like that ... it's easy to figure out once one meets the person that that information was not accurate. But there are lots of other things that are much harder to ascertain, even if you Google the person.

And so I'm asking state lawmakers to step up and impose a small civil sanction that could be enforced in small claims court. So we're talking five or ten thousand dollars a pop against such perpetrators.

But this is online deception. How different is it than ... what's been going on for a very long time with dating —  that people, usually women, find out that the man that they thought was single is not and that he's not telling the entire story or she's not telling the entire story. This is part of dating, isn't it?

Well I certainly don't condone lies that start, let's say, at a bar. There are two main differences between that scenario and the online dating scenario.

The first one is scale. So individuals who want to perpetrate these kinds of harms on people now have the means to do so at the scale of, you know, dozens even hundreds of people a year. So in that sense it is quite unprecedented.

The second thing, though, is that on the "bright side" now that we have online dating apps and all the texting that follows there is a long evidentiary trail that one can show in court.

So it's no longer simply "he said, she said" but rather "he wrote, she wrote." And so somebody could go to small claims court and really show black on white what that individual said and then we can impose a sanction accordingly.

This stock photo shows a phone screen with a number of different dating apps. Irina Manta says the large number of dating apps means there are many more chances for people to be deceived. (Getty Images)

Going back to the woman ... at the beginning, Anna Rowe. She describes how how much she wanted to believe him.

He knew how to play her, he knew what to give her. He was seeing her a couple of times a week for months and, she finds out later, seeing other women as well. But even when she started to get suspicious she didn't want to believe it. So isn't that part of it, that people who are on these sites want to believe the lies?

I think that human psychology is complex, certainly, and people's motivations and wants are going to vary. But I also think there's a lot of victim blaming going on in this area.

And then to the other thing, I've heard a number of people say, "Aren't the victims just stupid?" But the fact of the matter is that in many areas ... the law protects stupid people as well.

I do think that there is a minimum level of awareness that we should require. 

But there are a number of other things where I think we shouldn't be so hard on people and we should also ask ourselves: "If it was really something "wrong" with a person, how come this is happening to so many people?"

Written by Sarah Jackson. Produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.