The Current

How British activists used Tinder to get young people to vote

Can you swipe a vote from your phone? A British activist explains how she — along with her roommate — used the Tinder app to campaign in the U.K.'s recent election.
Is Tinder tipping the vote in the U.K.? (Mike Blake/Reuters)

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Britain's left-of-centre Labour party had a strong showing in June's general election, thanks in large part to the support of younger voters.

And it turns out one secret weapon might have involved the Tinder app.

Yara Rodrigues Fowler and her roommate Charlotte Goodman got involved with women developers to create an artificial intelligent computer program — a chatbot — that chatted up progressive policies inside the flirty world of the GPS dating app Tinder.

Related: How Tinder Could Take Back the White House

The purpose was to get young Britons hooked up with the political process, voters who were eligible to vote but disproportionately unregistered. 
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, poses for a selfie at a campaign event. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Rodrigues Fowler noticed an opportunity to reach those people when on her Facebook feed she kept seeing status updates telling like-minded people to register and vote.

"We're just reaching the same people over and over again. How can I reach people who aren't in my bubble and that's when I turned to my Tinder matches to convince them," she explains to The Current's guest host Mike Finnerty.

"And then after that we thought how can we do this on a larger scale and reach people in the constituencies, so the voting districts that were marginal where the votes really matter." 

How the chatbot program works to talk politics

The chat program puts your profile in a marginal feed and after young people targeted swipe "yes" then a script similar to when one is canvassing comes up: Hi! Who are you going to vote for? 

"It would encourage people to turn out to vote or to vote tactically."

RelatedCorbyn goes from no-hoper to crowd-puller in U.K. election

Rodrigues Fowler tells Finnerty this platform is a great way to engage conversation but after three or four political messages the chatbot disconnects.

"We wouldn't have done it on a site where people were looking for sort of very serious emotional relationships with connections or partners."

But what if political parties such as the far right used this approach?

Rodrigues Fowler suggests it wouldn't be as effective because she says young people don't tend to vote far right in the same way.

"I think the way that we communicate with each other is changing. I don't think that's reversible … but as of any new technology, it can be empowering or it can marginalize people." 

Although the Tinder chatbot may seem similar to canvassing, Colin Horgan, a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his 2015 election campaign, says the context changes when it's not grassroots activists using this method to reach voters. 
With the departure of online campaigning from traditional politics, could apps be the next way forward to reach voters? (CBC)

"What's a concern perhaps for us is … there's a campaign that goes on during elections that people don't really see. In this case it was a group of grassroots activists who, you know, obviously used the technology available completely fairly," he tells Finnerty.

"However, you know, if we did discover in the aftermath of this that the Labour Party or the Conservative Party had been the ones who were running this Tinderbot, would we feel the same way? And I think the answer would be: 'No.'"

Horgan argues without a campaign that is in public view, a void is created where there's no evidence to prove credibility and fairness.

"The stories or the ideas that people come up with about how the election was actually decided can kind of proliferate because nobody's really sure what happened."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien, Julian Uzielli and Ramraajh Sharvendiran.