New York state may soon outlaw “Tinder tigers,” the questionably attractive/sane practice of posing for online-dating pictures while hugging or touching a … dangerous predator.
There are many, many issues to unpack here, including the (a) bizarre and gendered psychology of attraction, (b) astoundingly lax safety measures at certain wildlife refuges and zoos and (c) buzz-killing encroachments of New York’s nanny state. But instead of worrying about those qualitative questions, we’d like to take a look at a more quantitative debate. Namely, do that many guys even do this?!
Sadly, Tinder did not respond to The Washington Post’s request for a solid number on the issue. (Perhaps because the location-based hook-up app, unlike many of its users, doesn’t want to be associated with idiotic male posturing?) But in either case, the line we keep seeing — “some Tinder users estimate they encounter tigers in one out of every 10 profiles” — is easily debunked.
Why? Well, first off, it doesn’t really matter what “some users” see: Tinder operates on a secretive algorithm, like most online dating sites, and thus each user’s results are personalized to his or her behavior. Some users could see tons of models; some users could see tons of clowns. In either case, “some users” aren’t representative — because in this case, at least, that would be crazy.
After all, as of last month, Tinder recorded 10 million active daily users — which means, if roughly half those users are male and roughly 10 percent take selfies with tigers, that there are 500,000 dudes running around hosting photo shoots at zoos.
Except that is … self-evidently untrue. While there are thousands of tigers in captivity in the United States (more than 5,000, as of the World Wildlife Fund’s last count) the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets strict limits for public handling of lions, tigers and other “dangerous animals,” while the American Zoo Association has asked its members to ban the practice entirely. There simply isn’t that much access to tigers in this country. And while there may be greater access in some other countries, foreign travel doesn’t exactly seem like a font of tiger photos. More than half of Americans have never been abroad.
The Tinder tiger meme, such as it is, clearly bears that out: The Tumblr “Tinder Guys with Tigers” — which exists solely to document the phenomenon — has only 40 entries. I just spent 20 minutes scrolling through the app and found no animals more predatory than a slobbery pet dog.
That’s not conclusive, of course, but it’s certainly indicative of the squishiness of Internet trends, which are open to exaggeration and contortion in a way that even equally arbitrary IRL trends aren’t. It’s easy to be convinced that Tinder is facing a widespread tiger epidemic when you have no idea how many people use Tinder to begin with, or have never used the app yourself. Likewise, as a middle-aged, married New York State legislator with no exposure to Tinder besides that one article in the Journal, it’s easy to be convinced that some Internet thing is serious and actionable when, in all likelihood, it’s just a dumb meme. (In that middle-aged, married legislator’s defense, she’s insisted this is all about safety at county fairs.)
In either case, whatever New York State does, Tinder tigers will still be allowed in the other 49 states. So don’t let New York ruin your game! There’s probably another (carefully enclosured, USDA-monitored) tiger near you.