In the year that’s passed since F8 2018, it appears that Facebook remains undeterred in its quest to become the internet’s matchmaker. At its annual developers conference this week, the social media giant announced the next step in its mission to help you find love: the addition of a “Secret Crush” feature. The update lets single users populate a list of up to nine friends they like-like — if their crush adds them to their lists too, then the match is revealed.
Facebook Dating is also going global. As part of the update, the company also announced that it has expanded to 14 new countries: the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guyana, and Suriname. The service has been active for a year in Colombia, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, and Mexico. While the company hasn’t offered any data as to how many people are using the feature, Tuesday’s update would suggest it’s picking up steam.
This would come as a surprise to people in the United States, where many Facebook users remain wary of trusting the social media site with their most intimate personal information. Users across Twitter voiced concerns about the feature when it hopped up in the their notification feed, which is only fair given Facebook’s track record on privacy.
While the haters flooded social media, they might actually be in the minority. Between its network effect, international appeal, and the fact that many of Facebook’s matches will be at least partially based on IRL interactions — for example by attending the same event — Facebook’s dating operation could be the dating app to rule them all.
Facebook Dating will take a different approach to the one taken by apps like Tinder and Bumble, which ascended alongside the iPhone with its easy and addictive swipe-right, swipe-left mechanics. It also eschews the data-driven, compatibility-seeking approach by OkCupid and many paid services. These approaches, some dating experts say, are not typically how most people find love.
Instead, Facebook will let users create a separate dating account, where they are matched with one another based on their interests, Facebook Groups, and events they’re both attending. Like Hinge, the person who sends the first message needs to respond to either one of their match’s profile photos (something like, “Hey are you in Rome in that pic? I’ve been there too.”) or answer one of Facebook’s ice-breaker questions (like, “What’s your idea of a perfect day?”).
With these baked-in features, Facebook has accounted for the two most common ways that people meet and develop romantic connections. William Chopik, a social-personality psychologist and assistant professor at Michigan State University, tells Inverse that this combination has the potential to make Facebook the online dating service to rule them all.
“Based on polling data, the most common ways people meet is through friends in common followed by in a social setting, like an activity or group event,” he said. “Based on those things alone, facilitating the ways that people most commonly meet sounds like a promising direction. In this way, Facebook Dating has a considerable advantage because other apps.”
Facebook Dating lands somewhere in the middle of traditional dating sites — like eHarmony and OKCupid — and hook-up apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble. It offers a massive network of singles, while rooting matches in mutual connections and interests, and it could even give users a first date idea with the events feature.
Today’s most popular dating apps all use the “shopping” format, where users swipe through an almost infinite number of singles in their area. This is good for an app’s engagement but not for finding love: A study published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication found that while online daters enjoy “shopping” for matches out of large groups, they have difficulty choosing an actual date. Facebook Dating offers a less random shopping experience, that could potentially solve that issue.
The more than 2 billion Facebook users also make the platform a massive dating pool in a time where a large portion of relationships begin online. Sociologists Michael Rosenfeld and Sonia Hausen of Stanford University and Reuben Thomas of University of New Mexico found that 39% of heterosexual couples that got together in the U.S. in 2017 met online.
So what’s the hitch? As indicated by the international roll-out, dating on Facebook is an easier sell overseas, where people have had less time to get used to using Facebook in certain contexts. Maria Avgitidis, founder and CEO of matchmaking service Agape Match, tells Inverse that Facebook Dating will make a splash outside of the U.S. but likely won’t be received well by Americans.
“Take Greece for instance. It has a really small dating population all things considered and apps like Tinder aren’t as popular,” she explains. “Facebook has always been a popular way to date there. I have a cousin that got married through Facebook. So it makes sense for certain countries, because that’s what exists already. But it’s not going to make sense in every market.”
She compared trying to date on Facebook in the U.S. to hitting on people using LinkedIn, a situation where the platform and the pursuit of a romantic match are fundamentally misaligned. That could very well be true, seeing as Facebook hasn’t launched its dating venture in the U.S. or anywhere in Europe. In addition to Facebook’s privacy record, these are also markets where people have gotten used to thinking of Facebook as way of keeping in touch with friends and family.
On the other hand, that could change. It was only recently that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook’s transgressions remain fresh in the minds of Americans and Euros alike, but that might not be the case forever.
Facebook seems acutely aware of this fact, and hasn’t even mentioned U.S. and European release dates. But if Facebook Dating can deliver on this experience in friendlier markets, they’re positioned to rectify many of online dating’s flaws. If they can do that, lonely Americans and Europeans will be quicker to forget the past.