Days before the Iowa Caucuses vote, Rhiannon Payne was in the bumble dating app – not to find a partner, but to enforce her case for her candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Payne, a 28-year-old digital communications consultant, flew with a friend from San Francisco to volunteer for the Warren campaign, and the two women came up with the idea when they were sitting in a hotel room.
"I was tired and bored and looked at Bumble and I saw all these potential voters, all these guys I was wiping through," she told AFP.
Payne, who applied for "bad bitch" for Warren, politely declined multiple requests for data, but said that most of the men who contacted her were "polite and receptive" and that the experience was positive for the campaign efforts.
The Iowa experience was not the first to use dating apps for political campaigns to reach voters on digital platforms, especially younger adults.
At least two women attracted media attention in 2016 because they created parking spaces for democrat Bernie Sanders with their tinder profiles.
Stefanie Duguay, a professor at Concordia University in Canada who investigated the "off-label" use of dating apps, said there are signs that they could be useful for political campaigns.
"I found that Tinder's expected use – dating and contacting – often informed or added to the campaigns," she says.
"There would be a coquettish element, or they would be based on the perception of Tinder users as a digital context for intimate exchange."
Jen Winston, a 31-year-old New Yorker, said she used the premium version of Tinder to change her location in the app and talk to voters in Georgia and North Dakota about candidates in the 2018 election.
The connections led to "in-depth talks" with multiple voters and may have motivated them, she said.
"I don't think it's deceptive because we should all talk politics," said Winston. "I only had conversations like I would on a date."
Winston, Payne and others said they were banned from campaigning, but the app guidelines leave some leeway.
A statement from Tinder states that the service encourages "meeting new people and having conversations with people from all walks of life … these conversations often include policies, specific candidates, causes and more. We encourage this as long as they are respectful and stay human and spam free. "
Bumble also said that politics might be acceptable: "Our users are more than welcome to discuss issues that are important to them … (but) if users copy the same message and paste it into multiple games, they are likely to be blocked from spam -like behavior. "
Dating apps have become increasingly popular in the U.S. in recent years, making them a fertile area to connect with voters.
A recent Pew Research Center report found that 30 percent of adults in the United States used an app or dating service – a number that identifies adults under the age of 30 and people who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual , increased to half.
New York congressional candidate Suraj Patel encouraged supporters in 2018 to use dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, or Grindr to "talk to as many people as possible" in a strategy called "Tinder Banking".
A North Carolina congressional candidate, Patrick Register, used his own tinder profile as part of his unsuccessful campaign.
"Tell me what you want from a representative," he wrote in his profile. "Tell me your fears, hopes, ideas so we can build a platform for you."
Candidates are always looking for new ways to connect with potential voters, but some strategists say dating apps have limited potential.
Mark Jablonowski, managing partner of digital advertising group DSPolitical, said that while it is not clear that dating apps are effective, "it is great that campaigns think outside the box."
"Yes, people spend time using dating apps, but it doesn't scale," said Eric Wilson, a digital strategist who works with Republican candidates.
"It's perfect for Iowa where you're working on getting commits. I don't think it's an effective strategy beyond that."
But automated technologies could make dating apps a more powerful political weapon, says Nick Monaco, research director of the Digital Intelligence Lab at California's Think Tanks Institute for the Future.
Monaco points out that this strategy had already been used in the 2017 British elections when Labor Party activists created a tinder bot and persuaded supporters to "lend" their dating app profiles to automate it Program would send political messages to recipients.
Although the activists boasted of the technology and received positive media coverage, Monaco said he viewed the technology as "shameful".
"There is a lot of deception because you interact 95 percent of the time as a human and then the bot takes over," he said.
"It makes it difficult for bot detection tools to find these accounts."
According to Monaco, app users should be careful with such campaigns because they can collect sensitive personal information.
"This is a data-rich environment," he said. "When you collect data for a political campaign, dating app users may tell you who they are, where they live, their political affiliation if they enjoy hiking at weekends. If you try to vote, they can Kind of information will be useful. "
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)