As COVID-19 spreads rapidly around the world, people are eager to keep up with developments at its epicentre in Wuhan, China.
But government censorship, partisan media and misinformation have led many to feel the public isn't seeing a full picture of life in a city on lockdown. So some have developed a creative solution to bypass the gatekeepers and go straight to the source: Tinder.
Most Tinder users use the app to match with people nearby, for obvious reasons. But the world's most used dating app has a premium feature, Passport, that allows a user with Tinder Plus or Tinder Gold memberships to choose to swipe in any location — like, say, Wuhan — no matter where they are.
And despite Tinder being banned in China, users say they're having luck setting their location to Wuhan, allowing them to match with and chat to residents to hear their perspective on the global story.
US-based Twitter user @drethelin tweeted "Setting my tinder to Wuhan so I can get the real scoop on what's going on" on Jan. 28 — just before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 was a public health emergency.
He told BuzzFeed News he suspected the Chinese government was holding back information. It was obvious, he said, to use the app to speak directly to people there — and it worked.
"I learned the quarantine is not exactly soldiers on every block keeping people in, it's more like your neighbours will snitch on you if they see you out and about," @drethelin wrote. "But I probably could have learnt that from public sources if I did more research."
He said Wuhan residents were finding out information the same way he was: talking to each other and from public sources.
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James, who is an English teacher in Vietnam, had a similar objective.
"With all the scaremongering and fake news, I just wanted to find out about the experiences of the people who were actually there," James told BuzzFeed News.
Wuhan-based Tinder users were happy to tell James how they were feeling, and he shared some of their responses in a post on his blog MediaVSReality.
Some were anxious.
Others were more positive.
And some were, of course, just horny. Fair enough!
Megan Monroe is an English teacher living in Wuhan who is using TikTok to document life during lockdown.
Monroe (who uses the pronoun "they") noticed Tinder had been inundated with people from outside of Wuhan.
"After the quarantine everyone with Tinder Gold switched their location to Wuhan and I got infinite messages asking me about what was going on," they wrote.
Using Tinder isn't a perfect way to communicate. Another user, Bianca, was curious about what life was like in Wuhan. She said she was able to chat from the Philippines to people in Wuhan who used a VPN. She spoke to a few users whose emotions ranged from being depressed, to bored, to optimistic they wouldn't get sick and that China would soon recover from the crisis.
Bianca struck up a friendship with one Tinder user who claimed to be a journalist for a Chinese news publication. He shared pictures of a deserted Wuhan with her, but then stopped replying.
But Bianca has had some luck with the dating app.
She matched with someone who works on the railways in Wuhan — and she's planning on meeting up with him when the lockdown is over.
"That's the plan hehe but aren't exclusive yet since we haven't met but we get along well so far. But my city is just starting to get worse while his is getting better -.-" she said.
Meanwhile, Tinder is taking its own steps to contain COVID-19. Users in Wuhan and around the world are being warned by the app to take precautions and find out more.