Tinder has a Bill Cosby problem

One of the more memorable—to say the least—threads in Reddit history was one in which the site’s users shared stories of hooking up with rock stars. Of the hearsay and tall tales, one nugget stood out—a sordid tale of one young woman’s alleged ill-fated tryst with John Mayer. “A girl I knew in college ‘slept’ with John Mayer after the Concert for Virginia Tech,” user TheLonelyScientist recalled. “I say ‘slept’ because he had her lie on the bed, then he jacked off on her. Then he just left.”

If you’re looking for your own John Mayer story—of which there are a number circulating the Web—Tinder just made it a lot easier by verifying celebrities on its service, after famous folks like Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, and Leonardo DiCaprio joined the dating app. While Duff is likely doing it for the sweet, sweet publicity, the app revolution has made it easier than ever to connect to celebrities—whether that’s following them, tweeting them, or engaging in NSFW activities with them. These days, you don’t need to get pulled on stage at a concert to get lucky with your favorite celeb. You just have a Tinder account and pics to share.

That might make for a delightfully absurd anecdote on a Reddit forum, but the blurred lines between celebrities and the public allow for grave abuses of that dynamic. What’s notable about the controversial Bill Cosby rape allegations isn’t just the people who continue defending him, even after a 2005 deposition leaked on the Internet Tuesday showed he admitted to drugging women with quaaludes, numbing their ability to consent to intercourse. It’s also about the fact that we gave him such unchecked power to begin with.

At the time of this writing, CNN reports that more than 25 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them over a span of 40 years. These stories include remarkably similar methods of coercion and promises made to his alleged victims, in which he reportedly leveraged his weight as a cultural icon and authority figure to put women in situations where they were at particular risk of being drugged and raped.

These days, you don’t need to get pulled on stage at a concert to get lucky with your favorite celeb. You just have a Tinder account and pics to share.

In a 2014 interview with People magazine, Jena T. recalled her experience with the famed comedian. As a 17-year-old looking to break into the modeling business, Cosby got her a “walk-on role on The Cosby Show and felt drawn by his invitations into his celebrity universe.” But she says that he promised her more than fame—he used his wealth to bribe her and make her complacent, even as she grew uncomfortable about his intentions toward her. “‘He said, ‘I’ll send you to college and buy you a car,’” she told People.

Jena’s story is, of course, impossible to substantiate, but even skeptics have to admit that it fits a larger pattern of abuse when it comes to the allegations against Cosby. Women like Janice Dickinson, Beverly Johnson, and former Cosby Show actress Helen Gumpel all tell strikingly similar stories of harassment and intimidation, and the template for these allegations follow a very specific template: 1) Cosby befriends young, impressionable actress or model 2) Cosby invites said woman to his hotel room or dressing room 3) He offers her a drink 4) She blacks out and 5) She wakes up to a cab waiting to take her home. In the case of Jena T., she says that Cosby sent her off with $700.

While it might seem like the actions he’s accused of stand in “stark contrast” from his public persona as America’s ‘80s TV dad, as U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno argued in a statement on why he released the deposition, the two are powerfully intertwined. As Pamela Engel notes in a piece for Business Insider, Cosby’s accusers say he “[lured] them in with the promise of mentorship.” Engel continues, “Some have said they were discouraged from going public because of Cosby’s fame, power, and reputation as ‘America’s dad.’”

It was Bill Cosby’s show that gave him access to these women, deemed an “open secret” on set for years. But with the advent of technology, abusers no longer need to rely on physical spaces to seek out potential victims. As just about any episode of To Catch a Predator warns, the Internet is a potential rapist’s best friend. In the case of Tinder, there’s a notable incidence of women filing sexual assault claims against their matches—with alleged incidents in locations from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Omaha, Nebraska and Dublin, Ireland. In the latter cases, the women weren’t just reportedly assaulted: They were attacked, abducted, and gang raped.

What makes the added issue of celebrity a particular problem for services like Tinder is the fact that Bill Cosby is hardly the only famous man to be accused of abusing his power. R. Kelly, Roman Polanski, Kobe Bryant, Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, and CeeLo Green have all come under fire for predatory relationships with women, often underage. And as the Daily Dot’s own Rae Votta, Aja Romano, and Michelle Jaworski pointed out, sexual assault controversies even follow YouTube stars—from Sam Pepper to musician Mike Lombardo, who “[encouraged] minors to send him explicit photos and videos of themselves masturbating.”

It was Bill Cosby’s show that gave him access to these women, deemed an “open secret” on set for years. 

Their closeness with fans via social media platforms only enables this behavior, as evidenced from a 2014 controversy involving James Franco, who may or may not have tried to hook up with one of his teenage followers through Instagram. While the young woman in question was 17 years old, which is the legal age of consent, the Internet’s reaction to leaked screenshots of their conversation showed why we’re so uncomfortable with these situations: Even when it’s not actively illegal, it’s still really, really creepy.

When it comes to the James Francos and John Mayers of the world, you’d be better advised to just swipe left. You might not get the Reddit karma, but if the Mayer rumor is any indication, it sounds like it wouldn’t have been worth it anyway.

Nico Lang is the Opinion Editor for the Daily Dot.

Screengrab via ABC News/YouTube

Nico Lang

Nico Lang

Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.