Bumble dating app bans gun images after mass shootings

A few swipes into the popular dating app Bumble, and the diversity of interests is obvious: Users post photos of themselves swinging from trapezes, playing French horns, posing with freshly caught fish and, occasionally, brandishing a handgun or aiming a semiautomatic rifle.

But following a string of mass shootings and nationwide calls for gun control in recent weeks, Bumble is setting plans in motion to ban images of firearms for its nearly 30 million users.

The company joins a long list of businesses that have cut ties with the National Rifle Association or sought to clarify their relationship with the industry since a deadly shooting in Florida last month.

Some 5,000 moderators around the world will scour new and existing profiles and remove gun-related content, said Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble’s founder and chief executive. Bumble will not censor images that appear in users’ Instagram feeds, which can be integrated into Bumble profiles.

The new policy, which resembles how Bumble already handles nudity, fake photos, hate speech and other transgressions, will extend to dangerous weapons like knives as well as firearms, she said. Users with military or law enforcement backgrounds will be allowed to post photos of themselves carrying firearms while in uniform.

“We just want to create a community where people feel at ease, where they do not feel threatened, and we just don’t see guns fitting into that equation,” Ms. Herd said.

Ms. Herd started Bumble in 2014 to create a “kinder, more accountable” online space where women initiate conversations. The app’s user base has expanded to include a wide range of users, including gun control advocates as well as people who use firearms for recreation and hunting.

Ms. Herd acknowledged that most gun owners consider themselves to be hobbyists and do not endorse violence. She said that users — such as competitive sport shooters — could appeal to have their photos restored.

“This is not super black and white,” she said. “It’s a very tricky battle we’ve chosen to taken on, but I’d rather pursue this than just ignore it.”

Bumble has received complaints about gun photos, but Ms. Herd said the new policy was not an attempt to “sweep up a mess” involving unhappy Bumble users. The company, which is based in Austin, Tex., and also operates a networking service for professionals and a friend-matching function, is donating $100,000 toward a nationwide protest against gun violence planned for later this month.

“Compared to what’s going on with Facebook and Twitter, we take a very proactive approach,” she said. “If I could police every other social platform in the world, I would.”

Bumble’s policy is likely to meet with “significant backlash” from certain users and could even spawn niche dating apps for firearms aficionados, said Sarah Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Some matchmaking services for gun advocates already exist.)

“It’s an interesting demonstration of the ways in which apps and social media platforms both reflect and are sensitive to cultural change and serve as a cultural barometer but can also codify what is acceptable behavior,” she said. “They have immense power to make changes like that, seemingly overnight, typically behind closed doors.”

Ms. Herd plans to eventually filter out mentions of guns in written content as well.

“This is not a politically driven decision, nor a decision driven by hatred of people’s personal beliefs or choices,” she said. “Not everyone’s going to love us for it, but it’s the right thing to do.”

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