Many people coming from Couchsurfing.com have felt that there are too many people treating the platform as a dating app. As a surfer and a host, I’ve come across my fair share of people hitting on me, expecting that because I’m a female traveling alone that I am open to hookups, and disrespecting my personal boundaries. This activity is in direct violation of the site’s policies.
Then there’s the category of people who tended to make unwanted lewd/flirtatious comments, couldn’t read the room, and made others uncomfortable with inappropriate remarks.
However, many people - me included - can honestly say they’ve found love through Couchsurfing.com. For me, strictly adhering to a ban on all dating activity seems like the wrong approach, but I do feel it’s important to deal out consequences to abusers.
Is there a way to prevent this kind of misuse completely? If not, how do you think we should approach such users?
I think the key is a reference system with some subtlety, which is quite a challenge.
Improving from just a binary “this person is good or bad” is easy enough, but the trick is to design it in such a way where you can say, “I wasn’t 100% comfortable with this person” without worrying about being too harsh, facing backlash, etc.
Checkboxes similar to the CS tag system (the one that has things like “fun”, “wanted to hang out”, “okay with not hanging out”) but more compulsory and extra stuff like “didn’t ever feel uncomfortable”
A ‘private’ aspect to references, where you can give a star rating for friendliness, appropriateness, etc and they are displayed only as an average after x references (you can’t see what each referee said)
I think the Stack Overflow reputation system is really interesting, where when you have more reputation, you can moderate others’ questions, and other responsibilities with more reputation. However the problem with this is people could end up with inflated egos from the power, and just having a lot of imaginary points doesn’t mean you can’t do anything bad. Especially if people just try and increase their reputation rather than actually wanting to help the community. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole.
Something to keep in mind as well is there should be a system to combat ‘revenge references’. I guess the current CS one is just reporting reviews to admins, but that could end up being a lot of work for volunteers, and often it might end up as one person’s word against another.
The possibility of a ‘revenge reference’ is definitely something that puts people off leaving a less than positive review. Echoing @lucas, having a ‘rating’ separate from individual references would make it difficult to see exactly from whom your score went down/up. I also worry about the inflated power some people could get with the community moderation system but as this function naturally encourages people to engage with the platform more, I imagine as the community grows it gets better moderating itself and establishing new norms for references.
In regards to dating/hookups/being hit on, there are also cultural differences that are difficult to specifically address and account for, but as long as people are able to feel comfortable leaving a negative comment in some way (public or not), I think the community moderation will make it clear to other people and the host/guest in question how their behaviour is received and what the expectations are.
Being able to filter references through gender and how recent is was written is also useful.
It seems like most people are in favour of at least some anonymous way of signaling if someone made you feel uncomfortable. If we implement that, should we give an option for users to explain what the person did that made them feel that way? Maybe a message that can be sent to them at a later date?
I think the community moderation will make it clear to other people and the host/guest in question how their behaviour is received and what the expectations are.
I’m trying to think of ways to let people know what specific behaviours they are doing that’s the problem. That way the community can more firmly understand what is and isn’t acceptable, and potentially have users change their behaviour.
This could be good. Maybe if in the ‘anonymous’ part of a reference, the option appears to send them a message with a delay. The message could even come from ‘Couchers.org’ rather than the user, anything from “You’ve recently been flagged as inappropriate. When hosting, always remember etc.” or more subtle, just “Remember, make sure your guests always feel safe and comfortable when hosting. Here are some tips…”
I don’t see this is a problem of CS but this is a general problem of life. Unfortunately there many men (and some women, as well) have this unfortunate behavior.
What do big corporate companies do to eliminate this?
-They are being very selective while hiring. They do back ground check, they ask references etc…
I think the best way to avoid this happening is not having those people part of the this community. Yes they do exist and once they are in us, it is difficult to control them but we can control from the root! The root cause of this problem is having that type of people part of our group. My solution here is the same :
Implementing "Make Membership Invite Only "
I think that as we grow, it’s inevitable that we’ll end up with some bad apples in the community. It might be that I only invite people I think will be good for the community, and my friends only invite those they think are good for the community, but eventually the sense of what is “good for the community” will diverge heavily from what the initial group was looking for.
I feel an invite-only system would help us initially to keep away those bad apples, but eventually even that will stop being enough; so regardless of what we do, we will need controls for this.
I think one approach is to have a robust filtering system and implement the community standing score to help users make informed decisions about who they interact with, and to filter out the obviously bad apples!
I don’t think using Couchsurfing for dating or hookups should be viewed as a bad thing at all. Consenting adults should be able to do what they want. The negative part comes in when people get a) unsolicited, rude and lewd comments in messages and b) are being creeped on in real life despite having clearly said no.
Getting rude messages: I am inclined towards having a report system, but having to moderate these messages and users will be a strain on manpower, especially when we are a non-profit where everyone’s a volunteer. Is it reasonable to lower a user’s community standing by a few points whenever they have a report lodged against them for inappropriate messages? And this is automatically, without moderation on our end. This could potentially be misused, but I’m not sure what other alternatives there are.
Feeling uncomfortable in real life: To be totally honest, I don’t have a good suggestion for this. Using the community standing score or any other rating with an average still signals that your last guest gave you a less-than-ideal score. I’m a bit confused actually - from what I remember, it wasn’t possible to edit your review after both parties have submitted them. Can somebody enlighten me on why there were fears of ‘revenge references’?
That’s pretty dumb. I suggest we implement only one column of references for all types of interactions (meetups, hosting, or surfing). And only allow references if users have had any sort of confirmed interaction.
I do acknowledge though that it doesn’t completely solve the revenge reference issue. A predator can still leave you a negative review when you react badly to their advances. It’s a very complex problem imo and people definitely need to be reassured somehow that there are no consequences to reporting, and we’ll step in if such a situation happens. Safety needs to be a higher priority in our messaging, I guess.
a “this is not a dating app” message at the start for new users?
I respectfully disagree with you here Kellyt, I think this is exactly the problem. The purpose of couchsurfing is for meeting new people and making connections - yes, this might sometimes turn romantic or into a hookup as things naturally do in real life when you meet people. But when people use it with the INTENTION of finding romance/sex is when it becomes “creepy” and I think totally inappropriate, and is why using the app can be uncomfortable and unappealing for so many people.
I personally have had several negative experiences with couchsurfing - not necessarily cos the guy was “rude” or “lewd” to me, but because his intention was to meet women and so there is an expectation that this is a date, and then sometimes sex is expected later and then you are in a very uncomfortable and unpleasant situation (especially if you are alone with them in a foreign country!!!). Not to mention countless messages and friend requests all from men which makes my inbox look no different to tinder! It makes it very hard to trust people, and I have heard similar sentiments from many of my female friends.
I agree with Lucas, and think there should be a clear message for new users that this app is NOT for dating, highlighting the importance of this in order to make others comfortable. If two people meet and then happen to get along like magic then that’s great but it should not be the purpose of the app for anyone, and first meetings/hostings of people should be tread with utmost care in this regard (ESPECIALLY if you are the host or the local ‘tour guide’, as you are in a position of power as such, in which case hitting on your couchsurfer is probably never appropriate).
Ofcourse you can’t control people and it will no doubt happen regardless, but having some kind of message like this to new users at the BEGINNING and throughout might make a lot of people think differently about their actions. I think a lot of people would just react mad and defensive if they receive a message like this afterwards.
After all, most “creeps” are just misguided and they may not realise they are doing anything bad.
To sum up my long argument (sorry)
It’s not about overtly creepy or gross messages. Although these do happen occasionally, for the most part it is just a hundred polite introductions (all from men! ), exactly as you would receive in a dating app :).
People need to be told not to use this as a dating app to make people think twice about how/why they use the app
This could be perhaps a pop up message to new users? part of their introductory email? Part of the main ethos of the community with frequent reminders? Like when you go to send a DM or accept a couchsurfer?
I wonder if in the profile I could link to another social media, for example my Facebook ? Anyone wondering about us (we are a couple) could at a click see who we are and see about our daily lives. This would also mean we wouldn’t need to put many pictures on this website. It wouldn’t be the "silver bullet"of stopping website dating/hookups/casual sex, but would at least give a more rounded view of the member than the just the profile alone.
I’ve received more “hey beautiful” or “hi i am looking for friends” (female friends of course) than I can count, and this is without being particularly beautiful or coming off as particularly friendly. I agree with Eileen and others that it needs to be very clear that Couchers is NOT a dating site. Sure, if love happens, it happens, and that’s fine, but we’re at the intention level here, and the intention should not be love / sex / durex / whatever.
I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the “hello” messages, though. I’ve found that some people send short “hello” or “hi” messages because of two reasons:
language barrier - it’s not that they don’t know more words, it’s just that writing long messages in a language you don’t know well takes a lot of effort, which is quickly seen as too much effort if you’re not even sure you’ll get a couch / a hookup / whatever at the end of it
social messaging - instead of writing one long message, they’ll write several short ones, first “hello”, then “how are you”, etc etc, ending up with “can you host me on 12th August” five messages down the line. Limited effort for limited certainty: they don’t know if you’ll host them / be friends with them / have sex with them, so first they’ll see if you reply, and if you do, they’ll continue the conversation, in the same way as many surfers will send copy-pastes out and then read the profiles of those who reply.
An automated “hey, this site is not for dating” seems condescending and potentially unnecessary to me. I’d rather see a more positively-worded “reaching out to introduce yourself? tell XXX what brought you to Couchers and how you’d like to contribute to the community” or something like that. I’m sure this could be far better worded but the idea would be to promote positivity rather than telling people off, and to use the opportunity to reinforce the idea that this is a travellers’ community of friendly people who meet and host each other, not a sexy international dating site where you can sleep with five different nationalities in a week.
Here are the ideas for a character limit warning message I’ve collected from the thread so far:
“Some hosts get a lot of messages every day - a more detailed message could catch their attention!”
“Reaching out to introduce yourself? Tell XXX what brought you to Couchers and how you’d like to contribute to the community”
“Just a warning - your message could be flagged as spam if it is too short.”
“Remember, Couchers is about forming sincere friendships across borders."
I think this could help if they try to send a message with less than 20 characters or whatever, and this warning comes up before they can hit send. I think it would be a great deterrent to dating spam and the phenomenon Emily mentioned, which is sending a few short messages instead of one with all the details.
Maybe go one next step further away from…couchsurfing and airbnb too.
Do not allow public references so that people dont feel obliged to leave a positive ref in order to receive one in return!
Allow them to leave extensive internal refs , like booking.com i think, after a stay in a hostel/hotel, you get an extensive bullet points questionaire about EVERYTHING regarding your stay altho the rating for ‘‘how close to public transport’’ kind of questions do not apply with hospex and when it does, it involves freeloaders who want to stay ‘centrally as possible’ which is not the spirit of hospex/exploring.
Then internal only rating could - if the tech allows it- be shown as a badge on each profile like this:
This user has hosted 4 couchers (1 female, 2 males, 1 non-binary)
Was hosted 2 times. (by 1 female, by 1 male)
Positive: 3 couchers said they trust this coucher
Negative:1 coucher said they dont trust this coucher
Neutral: 1 coucher said they dont trust this coucher
Map of where this couchers was hosted in.
Map of what countries/cultures this coucher has hosted.
From the above information we can get a sense of trust (and trust me some ppl will still choose to stay with someone despite negative refs). We know if someone is hosting only one gender (usually a sex predator). We know if he/she picks ppl from one region (again, usually but not always a sex predator). We can infer a lot of things about this info.
Another safety issue is prepare an safetey for couchers pdf ebook and send it default to each new member to download and have it always in some ‘‘resources’’ area called ‘‘travel library’’ or something where you can gather memoirs as ebooks from couchers, create even if you want a small bookshop if they want to sell them than give them for free, and allow ppl to pay and download memoirs of travel they want to read. Finally allow each member to have a blog if tech allows it, cause you can get a lot of personality traits and a lot of info about one’s personaity from his/her blog.
So overal trust would be shown by how much a user is engaging not just hosting (and socializing with ppl) but how much he/she support this concept of meeting and hosting or get hosted by a traveller/stranger.
A profile would be showing:
How many ppl he/she hosted and when was the last hosting
if they are hosting now or prefer only to meet up
if they created any events (im not happy with hangouts, they created a lot of bad vibes for me, events ar emore controlable and one can organize them ahead of time better and with more safety)
if they upheld any regular events (altho this can also indicate a sex predator, depends though what he/she do during those regular events)
if they write in this forum (yes, if they engage in online fora in couchers sharing their thoughts and ideas, this is also something a sex predator normally would not bother with, unless to promote himself to possible victims of his… like it happens in couchsurfing.com groups where you see peole with negative refs regarding their stalker behaviour, still having a profile, and still leaving comments to self-advertise their availability to women/men they like to host… need i say more?)
Overal engagement of a user should be shown on his /her profile with a badge and if they reach 1000 comments or posts in a forum get a new badge and so forth.
BUt i would not like to see a feature where you read all the contributions of a user. This is a good helper to stalkers. I think couchsurfering.com and facebook.com and any social network suffers from stalkers and haters (ppl you met already , you perhaps denied sex or whatever or they just hate you for whatever). COuchsurfing.com has allowed clusters and teams of old members to create hate squads to my knowledge. Racist hate squads even. IN a discussion you would see only europeans and australians and almos tnobody from other regions discussing.
I would say a forum where each country has its own subforum where they can talk in their own language if they want, that would be awesome and cool and a true sign of multicultural society in this project.