Tinder is no longer just a way to quickly swipe through a bunch of photos of prospective mates: it’s now also a place for opponents of sex work to promote their cause, at least in Ireland. Irish advertising agency EightyTwenty just launched a controversial new campaign on Tinder that uses several fake profiles of actresses portraying women supposedly forced into sex work in the country.
The first few photos on these profiles are nothing out of the ordinary, but interested parties who swipe right to see more photos soon come across images of the women showing startlingly realistic simulated injuries and other signs of abuse. The final two images on each fake profile include a message decrying sex trafficking and a link to another organization, Turn Off The Red Light, which seeks a full ban on all forms of sex work throughout all of Ireland. Up until recently, sex work was technically legal under Irish law, although public solicitation was not. Yet politicians in Northern Ireland recently passed a bill that makes any exchange of money for sexual services illegal, even when the exchange is consensual.
There are several big issues with this campaign: the first and most obvious being that creating fake profiles would seem to go against Tinder’s own user guidelines. It’s also an odd tactic to take to rally support for any cause: tricking people into believing what they’re seeing are actual potential dating matches, only to find out they’ve been duped by a political campaign.
But most problematic is the conflation of human trafficking with consensual sex work. The group linked to in each of these fake Tinder profiles, Turn Off The Red Light, claims that “very few women choose to willingly engage in prostitution. Most who are involved have had very few real choices.” Sex trafficking is a very real and pervasive problem, but it is not the same as consensual sex work, as the Human Trafficking Center notes. And the fact is that the overwhelming majority of sex workers in Ireland are opposed to the ban on their services, and say that criminalizing their business — driving it out of the public regulatory framework — will only make it more unsafe. (The use of the term “prostitution” is also considered derogatory by many sex workers, so it’s probably not the best choice for a group that claims to support women.) I’ve reached out to Tinder for a response to these actions and will update when I hear back.