Bumble's Gun Ban Won't Achieve Much. It Could Also Backfire.

Theron Mohamed
March 6, 2018

Bumble, a feminist dating app that only allows women to initiate conversations with men, has banned images of guns on its users’ profiles. The move is intended to address gun violence and make its users feel safer, but it doesn't tackle the issue, clashes with the company’s stated values, threatens to alienate users and makes it harder to filter out gun enthusiasts.

The decision was sparked by the deaths of 17 students in a mass shooting at a Florida high school in February. Their classmates have loudly and relentlessly shamed politicians for their inaction, raising the rare prospect of actual changes to gun laws rather than the usual rounds of ‘thoughts and prayers’. President Trump has discussed raising the age limit for assault weapons and banning ‘bump stocks’ that convert semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons, and made wilder suggestions such as arming teachers and taking guns away from mentally ill people without due process.

Corporate America has also taken action. More than 20 major companies including Delta Airlines, Hertz and Best Western have cut ties to the National Rifle Association over its resistance to tighter gun laws, removing discounts for members of the gun lobby. Moreover, retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart have raised their age limits for guns and ammunition purchases from 18 to 21, while the former has removed assault-style rifles from its Field & Stream stores and banned the sale of high-capacity magazines.

Bumble has arguably taken a more extreme step by outlawing guns on its platform. “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,” CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd told the New York Times. “This is not a politically driven decision, nor a decision driven by hatred of people’s personal beliefs or choices,” she added.

The move may not be politically motivated, but it’s undoubtedly political. Nearly 40% of Americans own guns, and there’s a deep ideological and cultural divide between those who view themselves as fierce defenders of their Second Amendment right to bear arms and those who want stricter gun laws or lower gun ownership. Bumble is targeting recreational gun owners specifically, as uniformed military and law enforcement personnel are exempt from the ban. Proud gun owners are being forced to hide that aspect of their identity in order to use Bumble, yet the app asks its users to “respect other people’s beliefs, interests and property” in its guidelines.

Bumble has framed its decision as a stand against gun violence. “We’re going to be part of the solution”, its editorial director tweeted. But it’s unclear how banning images of guns, and any mentions of guns in the future, addresses that problem; it might reduce their glorification online or shame owners into discarding their guns, but the company doesn’t explain. The company argues its platform will become safer. It likens the move to its bans on hate speech and pornography, and plans to remove pictures of knives and other dangerous weapons down the line as well.

The decision also has its downsides. Several users fear that removing gun images will make it tougher to filter out firearms enthusiasts. It’s also likely to alienate a significant number of current and potential users, even if there’s limited overlap between users of a feminist dating app and gun-rights advocates. Executives will be hoping the exodus is offset by an influx of supportive progressives and increased loyalty among liberal users.

Bumble’s gun ban likely reflects its executives’ frustration with incessant mass shootings and their identification of a chance to make a political statement and curry favour with Bumble’s core user base. However, banning images of guns in order to stop gun violence will be as effective as removing them from TV shows and video games; it might help on the margin, but the far more pressing problem is access to military-grade weapons by dangerous people. Moreover, Bumble is being overzealous in its censorship and overprotective of its users, as a virtual image of a gun hardly constitutes a threat in a country where gun ownership is legal and widespread. If the company really wants to “be part of the solution”, it should publicly support and fund gun-control advocates and rally its users to vote for them.