Isabelle Q. ’20 & Julia R. ’20
In honor of Valentine’s Day, two seniors, Julia R. and Isabelle Q. decided to take on a new challenge. Yubo, sometimes called “Tinder for teens,” is a dating app with up to 20 million users worldwide. It is limited to teens between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, though technically the app doesn’t have any way to determine the ages of its users beyond analyzing their profile pictures (which can easily be faked). Isabelle posed as “Jess,” using a dark and blurry photo of herself, while Julia went as “Peter,” using a male classmate’s photo (with permission) in order to examine the possible differences between the female and male experience on Yubo.
The app is structured in four tabs: Live, Chat, Add, and Swipe. While it is possible to access people from all over the world, the app generally asks its users to allow it access to their location, so that most of the profiles that they encounter are from teens in the same general geographic area. Julia and Isabelle each spent a couple of days on the app, swiping on a total of 384 people combined. As a general policy, they swiped right on everyone over the age of fifteen, though not all users included ages in their bios. Using the ages that users did report, they found an average age of just under sixteen. Almost all of the profiles that showed up for “Peter” were female, while “Jess” had a more even split.
In the following article, Julia and Isabelle discuss experiences using Yubo — their first reactions, trends they noticed, personal interactions that they had, and final reflections on their encounters with the app.
IQ: I knew it was going to be a disaster the moment the app spelled “around” with two r’s. The typo seemed to signal a kind of messiness and lack of thought — which was definitely confirmed the moment I opened the app. The plethora of photos and videos felt chaotic and a little overwhelming. I joined a Live (a group live stream) without knowing what it was, and then immediately exited it in a panic. I was also surprised by how quickly my profile circulated through the system. Within half an hour, I had multiple friend requests, which somewhat unnerved me. The idea that I could be connected with so many random people whom I had never met before was a little difficult to wrap my head around.
JR: Although the sections of the app were clearly labelled, there were zero instructions regarding use of the app. The Live tab simply consisted of live streams that you could join at random, complete with random people talking about random subjects. Notably, you could request to join the stream with audio and visual or with just audio. The app kept sending me notifications that some of my “friends” were holding Lives, but I never figured out how to access those them. The Chat section was basically texting, which was easy enough. You had to add people as friends before you could chat with them, which could happen in two different ways. 1) You could send friend requests (or so I surmised because I received them and not because I ever figured out how to send them), or 2) you automatically became friends with someone if they both swiped right on each other. In hindsight, the Add tab probably was how you sent friend requests, but I hardly ventured there. The Swipe tab was also self-explanatory (click through profiles, swipe right to add and left to delete), but the catch was that I couldn’t see who had swiped right on me. For that you need to subscribe for $5.99 a week to gain access to the “Power Pack” (power ups that increase the visibility of your Lives and swipeable profile, as well as allowing you to see who has swiped right on your profile). Perhaps someone more technologically advanced than me could figure it out, but I did not feel like the app was intuitive at all. I spent a long time agonizing over what picture to use and what to put in my bio (I ended up with a simple head-on photo and no bio because I couldn’t figure out how to edit it), including a frenzied consultation with Isabelle, though my fears were alleviated when I saw the seemingly low-effort work that other people put into their profiles.
JR: Although there was some variation in the bios, I started to notice a number of trends. First, a lot of people put down their social media handles and AMOS (add me on Snapchat) or some variation. When I finally figured out how to edit my bio, I realized that there is an actual place for people to put their Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram info. Others put their likes and dislikes (including “photography,” “painting,” “edgy bois,” and “The Office”). Some people put the time and effort into listing every country they had ancestors from, and girls, particularly, included variations of “I don’t send nudes so don’t ask.” People were also really into putting their heights down, although that was only if they were under 5’3” or over 5’8”. People also frequently put down what type of person they were looking for (“just lonely and want some friends,” “dtf,” “need a ft buddy,” “gimme a sugar daddy,”) their relationship status (“single as a pringle,” “not single not taken,” “take me on my first date,” “taken”) or their sexuality through pride flags and/or explicitly in words. On the other end of the spectrum, some people didn’t bother to add a bio or even more that one picture. Honestly, after swiping through enough bios, they all started to blur together.
IQ: Before opening the app, I had expected something more Tinder-like, with people posting nice photos of themselves and writing witty bios. But Yubo was seemingly populated mainly by blurry, poorly-lit selfies and undeniably cringey bios. Some profiles had as many as ten photos, all of which were poor quality, some of which included videos and screenshots of memes. I noticed that a number of guys had photos of their arms — presumably to prove how veiny they were. “Big hands” also showed up in multiple bios, as did, somewhat worryingly, “I like Asians.” Many people seemed only to be looking for “someone to smoke with.” Many others noted that they were “shy” and wouldn’t ever make first contact (HMU was definitely the most common thing I saw in people’s bios). One particularly memorable user had no bio at all; his profile was just a bunch of photos of himself either vaping or holding a ton of cash or vaping whilst holding a ton of cash. What struck me the most, however, was the general candidness of Yubo’s users. Bios ranged from saying things like, “I’m ugly but I have a good personality” to “Can someone love me already am almost 18 and I have never had a gf am so lonely” to…things that I don’t think I can publish in this paper. The weird combination of loneliness and thirstiness felt incredibly jarring and somewhat surreal. By the time I had swiped through more than 100 people, I felt simultaneously bored, disoriented, and somewhat disconcerted.
JR: Except for a “fellow” guy, I had to initiate all of the conversations I had on the app, of which there were between three and six, depending on what you define as a conversation. I am not a great conversationalist in person, let alone through semi-anonymous texts, so I began all my conversations with “Hey.” Two of the girls I used my magnificent pick up line on never responded; the guy, upon being told that I was an undercover journalist, responded with one or two useful answers and then just stopped replying. I did to get three girls to actually respond to my questions. Despite two of the three writing “single” in their bios, all three girls agreed that they were mainly on the app to make friends. They all seemed underwhelmed by the people they’d connected with, but agreed there was quite a volume of people they’d met and, as one girl put it, “I wouldn’t say [I’m] liking it, but it’s ok.” All three girls agreed that they mostly didn’t reach out first, and they were mostly contacted by guys. My male contact stopped responding before I got to that part of my interview. All of my contacts (except for the two who never responded to my initial message) seemed open and willing to at least give my questions a go, and even though one girl had in her bio, “Just add my Snapchat I don’t respond on here,” I actually got a fair amount of information from chatting with her through the app. So who knows.
IQ: I’m assuming that one difference between the male and female experience on Yubo involves first contact. All my contacts (mainly guys but there was one girl) reached out to me first. Most started with a fairly basic “Hey,” quickly followed by a request for my Snapchat info. On multiple occasions, after being informed that I didn’t have Snapchat, the person I was talking to basically went radio silent. More memorably, one guy actually began with a pickup line, but after I didn’t respond within two hours (I was at a piano recital), proceeded to unfriend me (bruh moment right there).
For the three guys who weren’t immediately discouraged by my lack of a Snapchat, I made it clear that I was only on the app to do research for an article and not in order to find others or establish relationships. Two of those guys–Joe and Frank*–accepted my request for an interview.
When asked why he had signed up for the app, Joe mainly focused on looking for friends. He told me that he didn’t really have many in his regular life, and as such, had joined Yubo in order to find others to “talk to if I feel lonely.” The app has, thus far, been a success for him, in that he has been able to connect with other people from around the world who share his same interests. However, he noted that it has been difficult to actually meet people within Washington. At the end of our conversation, when I told him that, despite his requests, I wasn’t willing to divulge any personal information, Joe immediately respected my wishes, which I very much appreciated. Frank, meanwhile, definitely joined Yubo to make more than just friends. However, though he has added people on social media, he has yet to meet anyone in person. When asked if he would recommend the app to others, Frank said, “Not really.” So far, Yubo has been a disappointment for him. He hasn’t been able to achieve the kind of interactions that he is looking for.
My most memorable interaction of all, however, was with James*: sixteen years old and looking mainly for someone to “cuddle and watch Friends” with. He messaged me, commenting on my profile picture’s lack of visibility, and when I noted that he had nevertheless swiped right, he responded with “I swipe on everyone so don’t feel special.” I told him that I was only on the app in order to write an article for my school paper, and asked if I could interview him. He told me to add him on Snapchat and, “Maybe I’ll consider it.” Even after I said that I didn’t have Snapchat, he continued to message me, which I took as a good sign.
Our conversation continued in a lighthearted and jocular tone — he seemed like a decently funny and even potentially charming guy. That is, until he started asking me what I looked like — as well as requesting my Instagram info or just general photos of me. “I’m only talking to you because you have nice teeth,” he said; I wasn’t sure how much of that statement was supposed to be a joke. Though I kept on trying to facetiously skirt around his requests with various answers like “I’m short,” or “I’m like a vampire; I don’t show up in photos,” I slowly realized that, though I had previously assumed that our conversation was based on the mutually-accepted fact that I was only the app for the purpose of journalism, James genuinely didn’t understand that I wasn’t interested in him. When I realized my mistake, I felt guilty. I sensed that I had perhaps inadvertently led him on — a result of bad communication — and I tried to clarify that I wasn’t on Yubo to find any kind of relationship with anyone or to send any photos of myself.
In retrospect, I should have foreseen his reaction, but at the time, it felt like a total whiplash. Up to that point, I had (somewhat naively) seen our conversation as casual and joking, so the sudden switch in tone shocked me mainly because it felt like such an incredible break from before. “Who said I thought you were attractive you thot,” he wrote. “You could look like a troll and I would have no clue and I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Frankly, there are worse things that he could have called me, but it was nevertheless a jarring moment. I wasn’t sure if I should feel entertained, angry, or ashamed. My first instinct was the clap back, but I eventually decided to just let our conversation end there. The thought of having to talk to him more felt more exhausting than anything else. He wasn’t worth the effort.
IQ: If I hadn’t already been somewhat tired of Yubo, my experience with James definitely would have tainted my opinion of the app. That being said, I don’t really think our interaction was necessarily that uncommon. Even in the real world, communicating intention can be pretty difficult; it becomes even harder when everything is happening online — especially if the person you’re communicating with is…well, not the nicest guy. If you are interested in signing up for Yubo, it’s best to keep in mind that you might very well meet people like James — people who are really looking for one specific thing and who, when they find out that you won’t give it to them, no longer feel an obligation to treat you with respect.
Even disregarding what happened with James, I still didn’t enjoy being on Yubo. Going into the app, I had expected to find the carefully-crafted public images of Tinder. The poorly-lit selfies and cringey bios were uncomfortable, partially because second-hand embarrassment is always uncomfortable, but also because it was weird to witness such a strange mix of desperation, horniness, and loneliness plastered so blatantly across the screen. It was the incredible bluntness and occasionally shocking vulnerability, the sense that these people seemed to be discarding self-awareness or even — at times — dignity, all in order to find strangers online, that felt so troublesome to me. Whether that says more about Yubo or more about our current society’s preference for presenting shiny, witty, curated images instead of a more naked candidness, I don’t know. Ultimately, though, I don’t think I would really recommend Yubo to anyone. There are better ways to connect with people — ways that don’t involve wading through endless selfies and guys you’ve never met calling you a thot. For me, Yubo felt more dispiriting than anything else, and when I finally deleted the app, my main feeling was a sense of relief.
JR: Honestly, I had no idea what to expect going in. If pressured, I would say I expected something like hormone-crazed teeenagers looking to hook up and show off all the drugs that they do. One of the biggest surprises was the prevalence of social media handles in people’s bios. I was under the impression you contacted people directly through the app and/or wanted a sense of anonymity when using something taboo like a teenage dating app. I was most interested to discover that the majority of people were on the app genuinely to make friends. Even if their bios decreed their relationship status, there were still a fair amount of “taken” people looking for friends. Perhaps I wasn’t approaching the right teenagers, but I was pleasantly surprised seeing the desire for new friendship-type connections. Overall, I rate the experience 2 out of 5 stars. Not as many horny teens and druggies as I’d expected, but if this online app is the new way to make friends, I’ll just stick to my good old-fashioned ones, thanks.