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Dating apps ‘weaponised’ with extortion, revenge porn says online watchdog

Dating apps are being weaponised by criminals, including alarming rates of revenge porn and sexual extortion stemming from the services.

Jan 24, 2023, updated Jan 24, 2023
Kids Helpline records a huge increase in teens seeking help online. Photo: ABC

Kids Helpline records a huge increase in teens seeking help online. Photo: ABC

More than three million Australians use dating apps in the hopes of finding love, but too often find something more nefarious.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant says there are dangers in using the apps, particularly for women and the gender-diverse community.

There was a more than 600 per cent increase in image-based abuse – such as revenge porn – during lockdowns.

“Through our own complaints schemes, we have certainly seen this borne out in how dating sites can be weaponised by offenders,” the commissioner told AAP.

“Today, we are dealing with crippling levels of reports about sexual extortion.”

Inman Grant said dating apps needed to take more responsibility for stamping out the prolific behaviour.

“It’s clear online dating apps and websites must do more to make their platforms and services safer and this roundtable is an important next step in finding solutions to these problems,” she said.

The roundtable will be hosted by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Wednesday and includes state and territory ministers, dating app representatives and law enforcement.

“Some of the issues we’ll be highlighting include dating platforms doing more to deter misuse,” Ms Inman Grant said.

This includes “nudge” technology to make people think twice before sending something harassing or abusive.

Empowering victims to come forward will also be spotlighted.

“Ensuring the design of easy-to-use in-app reporting mechanisms and clear escalation pathways when things are going wrong is also critical,” Inman Grant said.

More also needs to be done to hold perpetrators to account, with the eSafety Commissioner expressing concerns about serial offenders.

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“One of the big problems we see is recidivism, where perpetrators are permanently banned but are still able to create a new account using a different device or email address,” Inman Grant said.

She wants to explore consistent and binding obligations that could ban criminals from popping up on other platforms to continue to abuse women online.

“This perpetrator information should also be able to be shared with law enforcement agencies and online safety regulators, as appropriate, so investigations can be pursued,” Inman Grant said.

Three-quarters of Australian Institute of Criminology survey respondents had been victims of some form of online sexual violence in the past five years.

One-third experienced in-person abuse from someone they met on an app, including incidents of sexual assault or coercion.

Lifeline 13 11 14

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

www.esafety.gov.au

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