Should Couchers.org make it clear that the platform is not for dating?

Yeah, I felt that mostly occured in the original incarnation of CS. (Not the ID verification but everything else) Given less ‘functionality’ on the platform, people generally gravitated to ‘doing more’ in person. You weren’t long at any given event before some ambassador or experienced user hipped you to the problem people in attendence.
“Watch that guy, he just tries to get in every girls pants”
“Don’t waste too much time with Dave, he’s mostly just here to get people into his Amway pyramid scheme”
I still err on the ‘less is more’ side of design.

Hi, I’m new to the forum, but very curious about this topic, which is indeed quite complicated and multi-faceted. I would like to suggest a different approach to the matter, which is not based on tools to implement but on a wider perspective on these points:

  • Since the negative experiences of unwanted avances and their repercussions (less trust in the platform, less willingness to host male travelers or strangers at all, among others) affect mostly women/queer folks, what about having a team of these people lead the discussion/decision making about these points?

  • A consequence of this unbalance on the issue is that safety is after all a matter of inclusivity, beginning from how these matters are discussed. How do we make sure we can get opinions on the issue from people with first-hand experience, make sure their words can help people not affected by this issue to understand what does it mean to host someone in their home and feel uncomfortable and not safe, and not have those words drowned by a majority of comments by those not affected?

  • A step back which can help find good solutions also on this matter: what is the identity and what are the values of this new community? For sure, hosting and being hosted is about trust. But what does “trust” mean for the founders of this website? How does the community makes clear to users that “trust” is something vital for its very existence? Where does “trust” come from, and how is it incentivized and mantained? What does it mean to be able to have trust and appreciate what this platform is doing?
    I mean: yeah, the core is meeting people/hosting them in your home/being hosted in their homes, but then how is that different from dating/meeting/accomodation websites? The next CS I hope for has to have something more, a vision on what are the shared values of the users it attracts.

Uh, I just noticed a topic about this has been created already, but hasn’t been much a success. I would suggest the founders and all the community to give the right amount of importance to this issue, which is imho vital to the success of this project.

Cheers :slight_smile:

7 Likes

Welcome to the forum, Francesco! :slightly_smiling_face:

These are all very good and valid points! We currently have provisional Forum discussion rules where we point out that we won’t tolerate prejudiced comments and denying first-hand experiences. Asserting these rules has already led to some disputes, but we’re serious about their foundational value.

We want this to be a safe and inclusive platform and we prioritize this over members being able to do or say whatever they feel like. We’re currently working on integrating this into Community guidelines and the overall approach to moderation, so this aspect gets the importance and visibility it deserves. I hope we can publish this soon and I’m very much looking forward to everyone’s feedback then!

Thanks for your reply, I look forward to them :slight_smile: please don’t be afraid to take bold decisions on how to discuss these issues, guidelines and their enforcement can help but we all know how easy it is to hijack a conversation in a sneaky way, shifting the focus on the discussion with useless noise, or to end up in an all-male conversation on these matters. For the same reason that women give up on hosting, they can give up in participating in conversations that don’t value much their points of view.

I realized just after writing there are in-depth analyses on the website on what can be done differently than CS had done, especially here. I really like both how they’re written and their content. I think that if the community shares those action points, it would be good to bring these bits here to the forum and find out:

  • how to implement those points in how the website communicates its identity (vision, mission)
  • how to make clear to users that these things are important in several steps of the website experience.

To be more specific, and regarding previous posts in this thread, and sorry if I’m blunt:

  • I don’t think it’s very positive or useful for the importance of the discussion comparing hitting on your host to asking them for money, or saying “this website is not for murder” is like saying is not for dating
  • I think references are just an ex-post tool to avoid these kind of interactions (someone has to have had the bad experience in the first place) and it would not help much in terms of educating surfers on the matter (they will still think “hey but I didn’t do anything wrong”)
  • I think an approach based on how to implement a message before assessing how that message is an important part of the vision you have for the website can only produce timid solutions, which was a problem on CS: they would write “not for dating” but I don’t think it was so clear to male users “why” and what did that mean
  • I do have the feeling this discussion is very male driven and therefore probably not the ideal to take a decision on how to make clear that if a girl hosts you, while you are consenting adults and can do anything you want with consent, it’s easier than you think to make their experience of hosting you an unpleasant one. When I was younger I sure wished this was something discussed more on CS.

It could be a good idea to try and get in touch with the people at Host a Sister (just an idea) and see if they could help shaping a platform that really addresses this issue of trying to have users respect their boundaries and educating them to do so?

4 Likes

We’ve reached out to Host A Sister to some extent but it seems they’re working on projects of their own. For the time being we’ve been looking to find more female perspectives from various other groups on social media, but we are open to more ideas! It can be hard to get the word out when so many of the female communities have strict rules on what kind of content is allowed. For instance, I’m finding that most places we’d want to post in forbid outside links.

2 Likes

It’s not only women. It crosses all lines.

Agree. However, that policy gives them a legitimate means to warn, suspend, or ban someone.

Thumbs up. In essence, it’s an onboarding/ orientation system.

Yes! I’ve been part of that… the private warning system.

Unfortunately, I am going to have to disagree.

I am privy to several cis males who were on the receiving end of unwanted attention from both women and men. They let me read the messages. Eye popping.

One guy had a really horrible experience with a sexually aggressive male host. I encouraged him to report it. Another male had offers for sex from older females.

I’m also aware of at least six heterosexual men who had to be rescued from their host in the middle of a stay.

One surfer showed me a message he received from his next host. I helped him quickly find an alternate host.

My only point is that this problem crosses all boundaries. Guys are definitely less willing to talk about it (it’s too emasculating, or they wonder if it’s their fault).

Beautiful.

I’ve had extensive conversations about this with both genders.

To an extent, the issue appears to be cultural. It’s worse in patriarchal/ macho societies, and really bad in cultures in which genders are kept separate until marriage.

It leads to ignorant behavior from naive people with little experience dealing with the opposite sex. They literally didn’t know what is appropriate and what is not.

4 Likes

On this forum, trust is build around user trust levels. I just posted information on this in Understanding user trust levels.

I dont think trust on the platform is (or should be) built around a merely technical implementation, but staging access to different functionality based on feedback and requirements is also part of it.

E.g. you can only start to host once you are verified to a certain degree. Or I could imagine having messaging limits as long as you don’t have a minimal positive feedback from reviews.

I tend to believe that when it’s not a problem for women, it’s most likely solved across boundaries.

That’s missing the point. Cult formation and murder aren’t grievances a lot of people voice about couch-surfing culture. They aren’t problems writ large. The reason to specify something about dating/hookups is because unwanted sexual advances, unlike murder and cult forming, is an actual, pervasive issue in the culture.

I agree with you that simply putting it in our policy/mission statement/etc isn’t going to suddenly dissuade people from pursuing sexual relations, and actually the intent ISN’T that doing that will just magically change the way people act. The intent of it is to make it clear where the platform stands on the issue. And let me clarify: the platform is against unwanted sexual advances, not mutually consenting adults engaging in mutually consensual activities.

So yes, of course we need to work this philosophy into actual features that help shape the community. But we also need make it clear in our messaging as part of our identity - because that will provide the framework for the kind of hospex culture we want to grow.

5 Likes

Thank you @Trenton, I agree: the platform is against unwanted sexual advances is the main point this thread should be about, and I think it would make sense to start from scratch in a new thread.

I find this definition to be much more honest, educative, clear and true to reality than “it’s not for dating”, especially taking into consideration how vague is the definition of “dating” and difficult to understand for non-native english speakers.

To reply to @nolo and @Friendly_Charles , I think once it’s clear what is the essence of we want to say (and I think Trenton’s definition is really good) we can discuss elsewhere about who/what demographic this message should particularly be addressed to (again, by listening first and foremost to those who had most first-hand experiences of this unwanted behavior).

4 Likes

I’m not aware of any platform that is “for unwanted sexual advances.” What you’ve boiled this down to is that couchers.org is against assault. Well, of course it is.

Our message has to deter people from using the site in hopes of finding a romantic partner. Whether we refer to that as “dating” is a different conversation.

It’s about intentions. Even if you are fine with having a mutually consenting hookup with your surfer and guest, many women are uncomfortable with people using our platform for doing that. I’m sure @Eileen or @Aleja could help me expand a bit on this if you don’t understand what I mean.

5 Likes

Thank you Emily! Yes we have already made many posts about why using it for dating is bad for everybody and discourages women from using the app, so you can go back and read those :slight_smile:

2 Likes

Sounds a bit mischaracterizing to me to put it like that. The distinction surely is taking a clear stand vs. not taking a clear stand (and not being against or for).

2 Likes

Thanks @Emily

I agree with most said BUT when you use the wording “unwanted sexual advances” we all know what predators are going to say: “it was not unwanted, s/he smiled at me”, or laughed at my joke, or looked me in the eye or accepted to go for a beer or just breath, because for this kind of guy ANYTHING is an invitation to hit on you. Annoying.

I think we need to stop discussing the people that have concented hookups or relationships. When two people really click, they’ll hook up, or fall in love, or get married, and that’s fine and beautiful, and we can’t stop the real magic between 2 consenting adults. So let’s stop discussing that, is not the problem.

The problem is the people that use the platform with the main intention of finding a sexual or romantic partner. As I’ve said in other posts: if you allow or not make clear it’s not the place for it, it will become tinderish and unusable. As we say in Spanish: si les das la mano, te agarran hasta el codo (if you gave them the hand, they will grab up to your elbow). :wink:

I do like the idea of an easy report button for messages as “dating” with a big red flag, so people know before sending the message they can and will be reported for that. Let’s make it visible.

8 Likes

True. Another high five, @Aleja.

Somewhere else, I made reference to men who live in cultures in which the sexes are separated. They are truly ignorant, in the sense they don’t understand, how to treat the other gender. That does not mean they are stupid. It means they really don’t understand.

I met a CSer from a conservative religious society. He literally had zero experience interacting with women. So when a female agreed to hang out with him, he interpreted it as an invitation for sex.

He truly did not understand. Where he’s from, a women who agrees to meet a man without a family member present, or a face covering, is “asking for sex.”

As you might guess, women left hangouts with him after 5 minutes.

That literally did to compute in his brain. I had to sit him down for a serious talk.

Very proactive. Puts people on notice.

Guys have shown me messages from other men who offered to host them, openly asking about massages with happy endings, shared beds, etc.

They get hit on too—even if their profile made it clear they’re straight/cis.

I’ve seen dozens of messages like that.

It’s a common problem.

2 Likes

Thank you all for for your replies! I definitely see that ideally for everyone involved (users, community and platform) the best desirable outcome would be to not have users considering sex/romance while looking for a host/hosting/being hosted/meeting other users, and leaving outside the platform anything that consenting adults decide to do. And I agree that probably “unwanted sexual advances” does not cover it all, but I still think there is some gap between this ideal situation and the reality of hospex sites in order to communicate effectively to the userbase.

I discussed this with some CS friends and indeed the topic is difficult, I understand that and I will try to change perspective with a few questions I’m wondering, please just take them as a sort of brainstorming:

  • to what extent is it possible or realistic “to deter people from using the site in hopes of finding a romantic partner”, or in other words: to police or control users’ hopes and intentions?

We know that people will necessarily take into consideration attraction when deciding which other new people to meet, that’s inevitable. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean that every interaction on CS was based on that, but for sure a part of those were. That’s a fact.
We also know that a certain number of romantic encounters that happened between users, which is not so surprising given the user base and travel lifestyle. How can you rule out that the people involved did not have any “hopes” when sending each other a request?
And once someone has had a positive experience of romance through a hospex site, when they find themselves again looking for a host or accepting a guest request, why wouldn’t those “hopes” be there?

  • do you think the CS rule “this website is not for dating” was effective in achieving its desired goal, from your personal experience?

This formulation has always sounded quite dissonating and hypocritical to me compared to what I was seeing in the reality of meetups, but maybe that was just my experience of a big European city in my 20s where the CS group was very active and people were f*ing around all the time. And at the same time, I’ve seen countless CS profiles from women who had to reinforce on their profile that they were categorically not interested in “dating” other users even if the policy was (kinda) clear, and that for sure came from bad experiences.

But overall it felt like CS was saying “this website is not for sex” while most users in that age base would have replied “yes ok but just about everyone is having sex here!”. How does that click? Is it sufficient to say “yeah we know, but for what we’re concerned you need not to have sexual intentions”? How can a young user take that seriously when the exception is the norm, especially if they’re someone not so aware of the power imbalance or mature in handling delicate situations? Is the platform communicating clearly to those who need to get that message the most?

In a nutshell:

  • I agree that this website is not FOR dating, but let’s be clear that their users DO date, whether we’ll like it or not. I think taking this into account openly can help identifying how to address the “no dating” issue.

  • I agree that it would be very dangerous and I’m definitely NOT suggesting in any way that users could express openly whether they are “up to” anything, .

  • I also agree that some nuance is necessary to address the dating that happens, in order not to seem like the platform is promoting itself as a place where users are more keen for romance than elsewhere in the real world

  • At the same time your userbase is adults and I would value the honesty in communicating that while dating happens and nobody is burying their head in the sand about it, hospex sites facilitate a delicate and specific setting (people hosting other people), which is unfortunately one where things can go wrong extremely easily.

So what I propose is to tackle proactively the reasons why things can go wrong. For example, big companies provide “misconduct training” that employees are required to attend. It could probably be useful to provide content related to “what can go wrong”, incentivize users to check it, and display a badge for users who’ve done so, and maybe allowing some features only to those who have done it.

How and to what extent to implement this is to be discussed, but the advantages of being open and vocal about safety would be:

  • making the userbase aware of the platform interest in having users valuing others’ safety
  • informing the users what is considered misbehavior, why, and what are the tools they can use to report misbehavior (or why their behavior has been reported)
  • incentivizing discussion among users on what’s considered dangerous or unacceptable behavior (eg. you receive a request from someone who hasn’t gone through the “training”, you can tell them your more comfortable hosting people who took the time to do so. Or maybe when two people meet in person, they would find themselves talking about why they think is a good or a bad idea to have this “educational material” on the website, therefore promoting talk about safety in groups, etc)
  • If some machos are so pissed off that a community “forces” them to waste a few minutes of their time informing them about their safety policies, maybe they’ll be turned away, or they will find ways to express their discontent in groups of messages thus making it easier to mark them with a red flag

Sorry for the wall of text :frowning: What do you think? :slight_smile:

3 Likes

sorry but what does being cis or not have to do with being hit on?
(also who states on their profile they’re cisgender?)

The discussion here appeared to be focused on the problem women have. I wanted to be clear that the problem exists for all people.

As I just posted elsewhere, I co-mod the local emergency group. I’ve heard reports that are unsettling, and seen grown men cry in response to things that have happened to them.

I also see a growing number of profiles using cis gender as a self description or when talking about others. It’s somewhat common in the LGBT groups, especially among younger people.

Look, I still struggle with people listing their preferred pronouns, but that’s the way the world is moving. I was shocked to see that my doctor’s office now has that on their intake form.

1 Like

No one is saying that this doesn’t happen to men. It does, which is bad, but it happens to women at a far higher rate hence the focus on them more generally, and is something they have to be more constantly worried about. The bad experiences you have observed can hopefully give you some empathy to what women experience at a much greater frequency. No one is forgetting about men here and these policies should benefit everyone :slight_smile:

3 Likes

I appreciate the way @Friendly_Charles writes about it. But there’s men that get downright triggered by harassment of women being in the spotlight. Why does it trigger them? Very likely because they can only imagine that stressing the safety and well-being of women is to their disadvantage. To me, that’s also important here: not trying to accommodate this group.

I’d expect there will be dedicated pages on lgbt+ and couchers, maybe we could rather be inclusive about it in this context, stressing that everything that is said about harassment of women of course relates to all gender attributions?

3 Likes

I’d like to bring the topic back to the original question: “Should Couchers make it clear that the platform is not for dating”. My answer to this question is yes, but I think the real question is how to go about conveying this information.

In my personal opinion, I think it needs to be made abundantly clear from the beginning that the platform is NOT for dating/hookups, so there are no misunderstandings and people cannot make assumptions. I’m not saying it needs to be on the front page, but it does need it to be made clear in the introduction, faq, etc.

Of course some people will just ignore the message, but that is why it will be important to have other tools to protect members and discourage people from using it as a dating platform. What those tools should be is a discussion for another thread. We can discuss them here. Thanks @Emily !

Messaging is very important because we need to convey where we stand on the issue and reassure people that safety measures are in place.

5 Likes