A tug-of-war between a Facebook group for women daters and an army of (allegedly) lawyered-up r/MensRights users poses questions about “good” internet behavior

I don’t know how to be a good person on the internet. I don’t know anyone who does. I know that I should not write a story referencing a peer’s kidney donation, or use therapy-speak to negate my loved ones’ needs, or launch a social media persona predicated on my best friend’s uncredited contributions—unless such a call-out will, ultimately, be fabulous publicity for both our careers. Still, the internet wants me to be good. Still, I want the internet to think I am good.

It was in pursuit of safety, not goodness, that I joined “Are We Dating the Same Guy? New York” on Facebook early this spring. Like most people I know, I signed up for dating apps hesitantly; that is to say, I was afraid of being diced into bite-sized pieces by a would-be lover. A local chapter of a global community that reports more than 1.8 million members, this group—ostensibly all New York-based women, per its entry guidelines, and heterosexual, per its title’s implications—defines itself as a place to crowdsource names and photos of known creeps, liars, and cheaters. I vetted a couple of potential dates by searching through previous posts, but the archives never included the men I went out with. I took their absence as a good sign, then gave up surfing for clues altogether.

My Facebook feed, however, did not relent. Posts from the group never ceased to materialize to the top of my home page, adorable dog photos and acquaintances’ wedding announcements be damned. This algorithmic insistence on pushing content from “Are We Dating the Same Guy? New York”—AWDTSG, for short—took root in some primal, gossip-loving corner of my amygdala. And this gossip was some of the most addictive and awful I’d ever seen.

“Im crushed!! Bf and i broke up 5 weeks ago and he already updated his facebook status as engaged to someone else and how much he loves her.”

“Posting for a friend – curious if anyones been out with this guy – he called her explaining that he has a full time armed security guard that has to accompany him on dates […] we are dying for more info lol.”

“Any tea? This is my live-in bf/child’s father of 7 years and I need answers!”

These are the kinds of posts you find on AWDTSG—overshares that are equal parts bleak and intriguing. The lattermost is emblematic of the group’s dominant format: A user shares a screenshot of a man’s profile, asking for “any tea” the community might have. There is, of course, the point to be made that—while not an invasion of privacy per se—a bachelor might not be thrilled to have his presence on dating apps announced and scrutinized. (More on this later.) Mostly, the posts above seemed like relatively well-intentioned uses of the group: an internetification of the whisper networks people have long-used to distribute empirical information, emblematic of gossip-as-survival-strategy or a democratized #MeToo-style conversation that could play out in real time.

“AWDTSG isn’t (just) a forum to share personal dating traumas—it is also a space that commodifies narratives of danger.”

In reality, what often transpires on AWDTSG is akin to what writer and girl-on-the-internet Rayne Fisher-Quann dubbed the “feminist panopticon” in her viral article on West Elm Caleb: conversations marked by the lexicon of an nth-wave feminist, distorted by a profound distrust of cishet men, an appetite for retribution, and an eagerness to both divulge and consume deeply personal stories. A user shares a photo of her beau—“We just meet in person for the first time. It went great. Almost too great. So does he belong to anyone or anything….?”—and the comments sound off: “girl you and I must have a type because I went out with this guy too. He was NOT for me. Very small (like under 5’ 5) and was not conversational at all. Wanted to grab a coffee near his house. Zero effort.” Or, “Went on one date earlier this year. I had a good time and there weren’t any glaring red flags […] I will say though, he is boisterous. And sends a lot of selfies. I’m not sure if he crosses the line to obnoxious and opinionated, because it was only one date, but I could see that as a possibility.” Even if a commenter hasn’t met the man in question, she might speculate on his “vibes” or appraise his attractiveness. (These kinds of comments violate the group’s guidelines, though their frequency suggests this ban is only loosely enforced.)

Some stories are truly bleak—domestic abuse, sexual assault, serial cheating. One poster describes an on-again, off-again partner sleeping with her teenage niece. Such severe allegations are, purportedly, the point of AWDTSG. While they aren’t the bulk of the posts, they punctuate the timeline with a gravity—a reminder of how high the stakes are in dating. Sprinkled among cautionary tales of bad first dates and relationship-status miscommunications, it’s easy to draw a sinister red thread through these disparate divulgences of abuse. Pessimism prevails on the forum. Under a post about a man living a double life, one woman commented, “Yea I think ima sit out this hellscape of dating.”

Altogether, there is an ambivalence around the group’s work: It is at once a space to warn the greater (virtual) community of authentic abusers, and a place to chastise a shitty boyfriend—maybe diagnose him with narcissism and share his selfie—in front of a chorus of fellow jaded bachelorettes. Some of the dialogue—especially discussions picking apart a man’s looks—is unabashedly nasty and judgmental. Other times, the page seems to make space for productive conversations, wherein users can build community around the otherwise placeless, isolating, and harassment-ridden experience of being a woman on a dating app. One user called out into the AWDTSG void, “How do you ladies deal with ‘emptiness’ when alone?”

It is this engine of emptiness that drives all the discourse, however superficial or knee-jerk or angry. Not all the anger is righteous, but its popularity seems to indicate its necessity.

Then the men’s rights activists caught wind of it.

“If enough men scream ‘lawsuit’ and stand up to this online bullying, Facebook will be forced to take down the site.”

In February of this year, writer Carlyn Beccia came across a trending Reddit post, in which u/Mr_Jadien describes how he came to be posted on AWDTSG: He had been non-exclusively dating one woman (who he calls Lady A) for a couple of months when he began talking to another woman. When the latter posted about him—“Any *tea* on [u/Mr_Jadien’s name],” with an accompanying photo—Lady A called him, furious. The next day, he says, his car had been spray-painted with the word “TOY.” He suspects it was a retaliatory move.

Using u/Mr_Jaiden’s cautionary tale as her opener, Beccia lambasts the group in her Medium essay, “‘Are We Dating The Same Guy?’ Has Become A Hate Group To Slander Innocent Men.” Beccia writes, “I am over a decade older than most women on this site, yet the men I date are far better catches.” This is because, she speculates, “The kind of woman who posts your picture on an online forum behind your back before a date is the kind of woman who will be burning your bunny by date three.” In Beccia’s piece, it is the women of the group—not the men they’re sharing stories about—that one need be wary of. And it’s a tempting conclusion: that they’re crazy, or man-hating, or unloveable. (The clincher of the article—that the group’s owner “does not exist”—seems a bizarre conclusion. While founder Paola Sanchez did not respond to repeated requests for comment, the name is common enough that “a little investigative digging” on Beccia’s part doesn’t seem sufficient to claim the former is an entirely fabricated personality.)

This dim view of the women populating AWDTSG is certainly dominant in r/MensRights—one of the dozen communities u/Mr_Jaiden shared his story with. Discourse bemoans the women’s perceived vigilantism: One commenter went so far as to make the comparison, “That kind of thinking is what got Emmett Till killed.” Others frame it through a pick-up artist’s worldview: “I don’t see the problem. We are free to do the same to them […] Women just realized they are being played at their own game.” And still others suggest legal recourse: “Men need to sue these shrews. That is libel.” Some users are more sympathetic to the intentions of the group, but there’s a general consensus that it’s gone too far. The manosphere’s thesis might be summed up by the title of one subReddit: r/AWDTSGisToxic.

Since men’s rights activists discovered the pages, they’ve been working to get them removed, spamming Facebook with defamation and harassment reports. The aforementioned Reddit community even has a dedicated manual for getting chapters taken down. These coordinated efforts have been fairly successful: In early-June, an AWDTSG moderator shared that “4 of our largest groups, Chicago, Boston, Raleigh, and Vancouver (which had a combined total of 219,000 members), were shut down.” It was a course of action Beccia herself predicted: “If enough men scream ‘lawsuit’ and stand up to this online bullying, Facebook will be forced to take down the site.”

Some targets of AWDTSG are, indeed, screaming “lawsuit.” In April, via a free online press release distributor, a group calling itself “Protect Men” announced its (typo-laden) plan for justice: “A group of individuals are seeking legal actional against 20,000+ women for their involvement in doxing and harassment on the Facebook groups called ‘Are we dating the same guy,’ [seeking] both monetary damages and jail time for the defendants.” (I was unable to verify the validity of this legal pursuit, and both my emails to their contact—amusingly named connect@dontdateher.com—went unanswered.)

As of now, the fates of these Facebook pages, and these allegedly forthcoming lawsuits, remain to be seen. Reddit discourse is still active, as is, I assume, AWDTSG New York. I wouldn’t know. After reaching out to the group’s founder and several chapter moderators for comment, I was blocked from the page.

“[AWDTSG] isn’t a gossip circle. It’s a scary story anthology.”

AWDTSG isn’t (just) a forum to share personal dating traumas—it is also a space that commodifies narratives of danger. I think of Emma Berquist, stabbed while walking her dog, who sympathizes with trauma survivors’ hypervigilance, while advocating for a more uncomfortable truth: Danger and uncertainty are inevitable dimensions of a full life. As AWDTSG members delight in picking men apart and rehashing bad date stories with a fervor reminiscent of America’s favorite podcast genre, something very different from a whisper-network is being pioneered. It isn’t a gossip circle. It’s a scary story anthology.

In Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, author Katherine Angel alerts us to the fallacy of thinking that romantic or erotic vulnerability can be safeguarded against: “In sex, we are all vulnerable […] Our utopian horizon [should be] a world where we give up the illusion that any of us have real, or total, power when it comes to pleasure and sex.” It is, admittedly, difficult to imagine such surrender when dating violence is so commonplace. Still, it is a necessary dream. We cannot insulate ourselves from evil. The machine of discourse that seeks to “out” men, not because they are predators or cheaters, but because they were flippant about their relationship preference or wanted to split the bill—isn’t that predicated on the notion that discomfort, friction, or heartbreak can be evaded? That a suitor’s moral character can be identified through the “vibes” of his profile photo, or the speed with which he texts back? This dissemination of stories emerges from a place of genuine hurt—but it circulates in a way that makes modern dating out to be an exercise in excavating expectations and underestimating pleasure.

To be sure, it seems that the men crying “libel” on Reddit are hooked, too, on the pleasure of moral arbitration. Just as the women of AWDTSG seek validation that their experiences were painful and real, members of the manosphere share their “victimization” stories in search of vindication. Two months ago, u/Mr_Jaiden posted about having his name and image shared in AWDTSG again. This time a woman claimed he gave her an STD. u/Mr_Jaiden staunchly denies her accusation. He also posted about the incident in seven different Reddit communities.

It is a very human tug, this aspiration towards externally-affirmed rightness. When one guy stopped texting me back after our second date, I experienced a brief flicker of desire to post the “offender” on the Facebook page. After all, he treated me badly. Why shouldn’t I warn other women that they, too, might be dropped without a word? Instead, I broke getting-ghosted protocol and followed-up about a movie we discussed which I had just watched. He apologized profusely, sent a screenshot of a message he’d drafted but never finished, explained he just didn’t think we were a match. The screenshot also included his contact for me, which was “olivia (hinge).” The experience was humbling. He was not a bad person, not even a ghoster—just some guy, clumsy with language, insensitive, maybe, but not worthy of a private Facebook group’s wrath.

I am not guilty, nor am I clean. I’ve stolen chapstick and made out with someone’s boyfriend and lowballed on eBay. To circulate these as defining moments, warranting a warning, would be to stunt the ambivalence, the complexity, the confusion of my humanness. I am not righteous. I don’t think you are, either. I welcome gossip and discourse, but I don’t think goodness is a worthy North Star. When we judge each other with a moral yardstick and an appetite for retribution, we risk indulging in the mindless pleasure of punishment. I want my dating prospects bulbous and lopsided, and with personality, faults, doses of cruelty and altruism both. The refusal of nuance, and the joy of recognizing badness, do not absolve us—they annihilate us.