Hornet Plans To Combat Catfishing With Profile Verification Badges

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If you’ve ever spoken to someone on a dating app and thought, “This person is too good to be real,” you are not alone... and you might be right. The virtual world is full of scammers and other shady characters, including the notorious “catfish” — a person who creates a fictitious online identity to lure unsuspecting mates on dating services. The ever-increasing popularity of online dating means that catfishing, too, is increasing at an alarming rate, and more and more singles are falling victim to the cons.

Hornet has a solution. In a bid to stop would-be fraudsters in their tracks, the popular gay dating app has announced that will let users earn a badge of authenticity, akin to the blue checkmarks of verified profiles on Instagram and Twitter. Hornet is the first major gay dating app to intoduce a veification symbol to identify genuine users.

Unlike many other services with verification systems, Hornet will not use human moderators to award its badges. Instead, an algorithm will decide which profiles deserve a badge after evaluating the behavior of the profile on the app over time. Hornet has not described how the algorithm works due to concern that catfish could use the information to thwart the system. Speaking to the BBC, Hornet chief executive Christof Wittig simply said, "We look at people and how they earn trust while they interact with the community. It requires people to be authentic and interact."

Wittig admitted that it’s possible some catfish profiles could slip through the cracks and earn a badge. Scammers who put in enough effort to make their profile appear real could succeed in tricking the technology, and users of the app, but Wittig insists this is likely to be a rare case.

“With this system, the amount of work versus the probability of reward changes. We are making being a fake profile very costly. They can no longer do it at scale,” he said. "And even then once you know somebody is a catfish, their pattern is better understood. The machine learning has much more data to really understand how catfish behave."

Another potential concern of the verification system is that it could put users at risk in countries that discriminate against the LGBT community or have anti-LGBT laws. Users in these locations may choose to remain anonymous on their dating profiles for valid reasons, including personal safety. Verification badges could lead to unintended consequences for these individuals, or for anyone who is exploring their sexuality but not yet out of the closet.

Wittig said it will not be possible to opt out of Hornet’s verification system, but members will still be able to be discreet about their identity. The system does not involve checking ID and does not require users to upload any photos of their face in order to be verified.