Starting this past year, various Whatsapp groups geared specifically toward Orthodox Jews in the Tri-State area have been created. Just since May, I have joined about 15 “rides groups,” which give primarily frum people the opportunity to offer and request rides to and from particular areas. Especially for people like me who live in Manhattan, the groups seem to be super convenient, with options such as “Baltimore Rides,” “Monsey Rides,” and even “Upstate Rides.” I wanted to be part of these groups just in case I might ever need a ride somewhere that is less-than-convenient to get to on public transportation. I figured that most of the time I would be ignoring the messages, and would mute the notifications unless I had requested a ride. While these groups were still a relatively new phenomenon, I was surprised to see that, toward the beginning of the school year, people started posting invite links within these rides groups to join various “shidduch” groups. I am personally not dating right now, and am not looking to find a shidduch through a Whatsapp group. But, I decided to do an experiment, and watch how social media–specifically Whatsapp–affects the shidduch system. Unfortunately, what I learned from being in both the rides groups and the shidduch groups is pretty disappointing and frankly, disturbing.
Before talking about the shidduch groups, which by definition and practical application have a lot of possible issues, I first have to bring up the troublesome reality I have experienced from the rides groups. You might think, “What could go wrong with a group allowing Jews to hitch rides to a wedding in Brooklyn?” I thought the same thing, until I started receiving private messages from people in the group. Since I have starting joining the rides groups in May, I have gotten unsolicited messages from random men in the groups at least ten times. They have messaged me things from “hey” with no context (as if I’m supposed to just know who they are), to “hey hottie.” In order to figure out exactly why I was receiving a personal message from a stranger, I decided to do a little research before reporting the person to the administrator of the group.
Sometimes, the messages are very blunt and contain photos of graphic content. And sometimes, there are messages that are less harassing, but still creepy. So as not to provide anything too disturbing, here is one of the less graphic conversations:
(Random number that I do not recognize): Waving hand symbol
Me: Hey, who is this?
Him: I’m on a chat with u
Me: Oh but we don’t know each other? So exactly why are you texting me? Lol
Him: I’m bored
While the rides group admins do not encourage this kind of private messaging, and in fact specifically prohibit any personal conversations in the group chats, this problem is something that I have experienced from members of groups such as Monsey, Brooklyn and Baltimore Rides. These people either remove themselves from the group or are removed by an admin not too long after these encounters, but the damage has already been done. I assume that these people simply scroll through the profile pictures of all of the members of the groups in order to find girls to message, and so I am definitely not the only woman to be messaged or harassed. Fortunately (or not), this kind of experience does not particularly faze me, perhaps because I went to a coed public school where I had this kind of experience on text and in person many a time. But considering the variety of people who are members of these groups, I am sad to think that other people may be suffering from more damaging effects.
My conclusion about Jewish rides Whatsapp groups is that, while they could theoretically be convenient, both the constant notifications and the consequence of receiving solicitations from random strangers–supposedly frum guys from communities where I am trying to travel–render membership in these groups not worth it. Some people in the groups could theoretically be trolls who somehow made it into the group, but I have also found some of my mysterious harassers on Facebook and seen that we have mutual friends. Either way, why would I take the chance that the person who is giving me a ride is one of these creeps or predators? The group itself isn’t useful to me now that I know the risks associated even within a supposedly frum group. Unfortunately, staying both mentally and perhaps physically safe means membership in Jewish rides groups isn’t an option for me.
On the Jewish rides groups, people sometimes post invite links to Jewish shidduch groups. For example, I joined groups called “Modern Yeshivish 28 and Under” and “Stern Touro Ner Shidduchim.” Shidduch Line is an organization which just started three months ago, and oversees Whatsapp groups for many specific types of people, primarily separated by hashkafa and age range. The organization has official rules which require a person to go through a Shidduch Line Shadchan (whose number is posted in the group) to inquire about anybody whose resume and pictures have been posted. However, yet again, I have been receiving unsolicited messages.
Twice within a couple of days, not only did I receive very strange and inappropriate pictures, but was called repeatedly, and was sent nude pictures from members of these two shidduch groups. Again, I reported the people and they were removed from the groups, but it was too late.
Here is another conversation that happened just a couple weeks ago:
Him (again, random unknown number): Hot profile pic
Me: Who are you?
Him: Where are you from? On a group with you.
Me: What group? Who are you?
Him: Shidduch chat
Me: Interesting. Pretty sure you’re not supposed to message people individually.
Him: Ok I hear. What are you into?
Immediately following that message from him, I received a nude photo.
Once, after reporting one of these harassers to an admin, I was told that I should delete my Whatsapp profile picture. He said that once people didn’t know I was a girl, and couldn’t see my “attractive” picture, I wouldn’t be harassed anymore.
I never knew that trying to get a ride to a friend’s wedding in Monsey or sending my shidduch resume to a group of frum Jews would lead me to get harassed by strangers and unwillingly receive nude photos. Unfortunately, I think the message we can learn is that while it seems smart to utilize social media for sharing rides and shidduch resumes, there are major risks that need to be considered as well. It seems that the Jewish community is as equally susceptible to online predators as anywhere else, and we need to be vigilant when participating in these online groups, if not avoiding them completely.