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Tech Tease: Do we need laws for online dating?



Online dating: it’s here, it’s queer, it’s fabulous, get used to it! The idea for social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook wasn’t ever truly original. Myspace actually started out as an online dating community? It’s true.

People have been hooking up through the World Wide Web for love or companionship since the early ’90s. (Sorry, Winklevoss twins, you lose again.) Before popular sites such as Adam4Adam and eHarmony, we were meeting kindred spirits via mIRC (internet relay chat rooms) and gaming forums. And, if you were to jump into the “way back machine” you could analyze email hook-ups with the ’90s romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail. Although people have been dating online for some time now, the rules of dating haven’t changed; they’ve just evolved, sort of. Online dating, at its worst, can be unpleasantly deceiving. As filmmakers revealed in Catfish, people lie about themselves.

On February 1, state Senator Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and state Representative Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, proposed cyber-dating legislation with SB 488 and HB 1052, aka the Internet Dating Safety Act. New Jersey passed a similar law in 2008.

Van de Putte told Tech Tease last week that the proposed legislation has been largely misunderstood — that is, it does not require criminal background checks be performed on dating community members, nor does it require the criminal history of members be disclosed. What it mandates is that dating services operating within Texas notify members if their site performs criminal background checks.

“The Act was created because it’s important for people dating online to know that some dating sites conduct criminal background checks, and some don’t,” she said.

The proposed legislation likewise requires online dating service providers to make information about online dating safety practices readily available. In an earlier prepared statement, Van de Putte said: “Texans should be cautious when beginning any relationship. Representative Patrick and I want to make sure our online daters are given the knowledge necessary to make smart choices.”

It’s important to point out that social networks and cyber-dating communities are engineered for socialization. Texas doesn’t require bar owners or amusement parks to conduct criminal background checks before patrons’ entry. People change their names and commit crimes throughout the country, and not all criminal records are created equal. Could it be the Act would create a false sense of security online?

Whether it passes or not, there are basic things you can do to be safer in your online dating. Here are my top five online safety tips:

• When in doubt, take a few minutes to do some digging on your own. Worried about meeting a criminal or pedophile in San Antonio? You can search for sex offenders by name, street, or zip code free of charge online at

• Most online dating sites use “too good to be true” profiles to bait you into paying first to view their members. Most of these sites, if not all, require some sort of credit card payment in advance. You wouldn’t give your credit card info to just anybody, right?

• Be picky. Consider a niche online dating site. Desperately seeking other passionate motorcycle enthusiast singles? Does your inner eyeliner-wearing self long for gothic interactions? Niche online dating sites boast smaller memberships and may help you find your type more quickly.

• Tell the world. We’ve grown to love these communities for the opportunity they provide to meet singles and new friends. Before meeting a potential match alone, use a reliable GPS (global positioning system) or other location mapping service to document your whereabouts. Update your Facebook/Twitter status, i.e. “Meeting Todd B. for coffee at the Foundry for the 1st time. Wish me luck, and check back with me for details.”

Should cyber-dating Texans be worried about the Internet Dating Safety Act? Moreover, why are internet dating practices the concern of state legislature? Share your comments online. We want to hear from you. •

San Antonio residents and media justice activists DeAnne Cuellar and Rebecca Ohnemus blog throughout the week at They welcome your questions and feedback and can be reached directly at Follow Tech Tease on Twitter at @thetechtease.

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