“A Screen, Some Keys, and a Mouse,” by Daniel Waters

Jun 5th, 2013 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

I was logged onto OkCupid for what I thought was the last time. It was long overdue that I close the book on the droves of single mothers, vegan astrologers and sucked-in abdomens in front of bathroom mirrors. Then I saw a message in my inbox. Well this was a first. Could one of the countless women who had pitilessly ignored my verbose attempts at starting a conversation have finally realized her atrocious error in judgment? No, of course not. It turned out to be a message from the higher-ups at OkCupid: “How’d you like to help moderate the site?” the message title asked. I tentatively opened it.

First sentence: “Thanks for being a loyal and active member of the OkCupid community!” “Not for long,” I said under my breath. Next sentence: “We wish everyone could be such an upstanding citizen, but like any user-driven website, OkCupid attracts its share of trolls, scammers, and people who just don’t follow directions well.” I nodded to myself. I am upstanding, I thought, and gave myself a mental pat on the back. Next sentence: “To help minimize this element, we’d like to invite you to moderate the many reports of misbehavior that we receive daily.” Then I started to wonder, to what extremes did the member misbehavior at a public and free dating site like OkCupid reach. I imagined it could get pretty ugly. I was circling the bait. Next sentence: “Moderating can be fun, but it’s not for the faint of heart.” I chuckled manfully, I may be a clean, upstanding citizen but that doesn’t mean I can’t handle the dirty misconduct that goes on at a site like this. They played into the Batman side of my ego perfectly, “I can be whatever the fuck Gotham needs me to be, motherfucker,” I muttered. Next sentence: “If you’ve never seen a rated-R movie in your life, you may want to sit this battle out.” Fuck you, I saw Munich when I was like 13. Last sentence: “Otherwise, accept our gratitude for embarking on a journey into the dark recesses of online dating!” And here I was thinking the dark recess of online dating was how much it sucked. Well, here this went.

There really wasn’t much to it at all. The OkCupid robot would show you the profile, photo or message that had been flagged and you would deem it to be A.) Containing nudity/obscene, B.) Deleted, C.) Left alone or D.) Can’t tell. At first it wasn’t very exciting at all. A picture of a pet here (which isn’t allowed), a profile with an external link there (also not allowed). Hell, even the faint of heart could handle this! Then came the penises. Oh, the penises. Every shape, size and color of penis you could imagine. I was tempted on a few to choose the “can’t tell” option on whether it included nudity, but I valued the integrity of my moderation above the temptation of acting on my audience-less joke. Despite my integrity, I grew frustrated at the fact that the women on this site weren’t giving me anything obscene to moderate. So, naturally, I started going faster and faster through my moderation, searching furiously for that elusive boob amongst the dogs, cats and phalluses, oh my. After a few days the boob came and went. “Isn’t that almost always the case that the women who are most open about their bodies are the women who you want to be the least open about their bodies,” I thought irritably to myself. Who was this site turning me into? I was too busy moderating to stop and think about such things though, so I marked it “obscene” and moved on.

The final aspect of my responsibilities was to moderate flagged messages. These mostly included men messaging women sexually explicit remarks. For example, a 40something man would message a 20something woman a line like, “hey sexy, wish I could see more of that smoking bod. wanna fuck?” In this instance, we moderators were instructed by the OkCupid team to ask the victim to block the desperately horny user instead of deleting him. I thought this made sense. After all, it was probably just that desperately horny demographic who kept dating sites like this in business. It’s just the subtlety through which the horniness is conveyed that varies. Even my disregarded messages to various users about bands, movies and mutual interests were, deep down, probably just masked versions of that same, “wanna fuck?” But those times were over. No, no, I was no longer a mere civilian in the town of OkCupid. I was the goddamn sheriff. And I loved it. In fact, as I went on moderating, I realized that it was the part of my day that I most looked forward to. I’d be out with friends at a bar or at my desk at work and I wouldn’t be able to get my mind off of that all-powerful feeling of anonymous adjudication. So, every last second that I had, I spent reviewing flagged content on OkCupid. I moderated without moderation.

My decisions as sheriff started to reflect my current mood. If I was having a terrible day I would take it out on the prospective violators: “Oh so it’s a picture of you and there just happens to be a dog in the background, tough titties I don’t make the rules punk I just enforce them!” Delete. Or, if I was in an especially cheery mood I’d let the boner through the underwear picture slide, “Ok I’ll let you off easy this time ya little hooligan, now run on home and don’t get yourself into anymore mischief.”

It wasn’t until about a month had passed before I thought of my moderating as anything more than escapist recreation, a way to regulate my mood and allow the barrage of freaks mask the extent of my own freaky addiction. It was a message flagged by an attractive young blonde. Pretty standard fare, I thought to myself. But it wasn’t. The writer was a 21-year-old male without a profile picture or a filled out profile. The message went as follows: “Dear user, I know that I don’t know you and I’m sorry. I don’t really have anywhere else to turn. I think I’m going to kill myself.” The message ended right there. My heart raced. I was expecting to read something along the lines of “I don’t have anywhere else to turn…except up your butt.” I was hoping for that. The young woman responded with the number of a suicide hotline and the words “I hope you find the help you need.” She wrote on her explanation for the flagged comment, “didn’t know what to do with this one.” And then she probably forgot about it. After all, she was just a stranger, she knew nothing about this man, and she couldn’t help him. And, as my mind searched for something that I could do, I slowly realized that I couldn’t help him either. I closed my computer and sat in silence for a few minutes. How could someone slip so far that they had to rely on a complete stranger to help them survive? Then I thought about my last month. I thought about the countless strangers who I knew nothing about whose foibles I used as my own fodder. I thought about the coarse messages, the indiscreet photographs and even my own string of failed attempts at communication that gradually elevated in their desperation. Then I realized that all online dating really is a community of strangers asking each other for help. Asking for a hand to hold or to steady them. The problem is, there are no hands anywhere near you. There’s just a screen, some keys and a mouse. So, just as the original message from OkCupid had told me would happen, being a moderator showed me the dark recess of online dating. Before deleting my profile I replied back to that message, “I hope you find the help you need.”


Defenestration-Daniel WatersDaniel Waters is a retired 20something who spends his days in Portland, Oregon and his nights in Rodanthe. He’s slightly lonely but doesn’t want to sound complainy. He’s in the process of developing a rectal thermometer App. In his free time he enjoys posing for Facebook pics with his friends and making his own cottage cheese. He insists that if he could just have 5 minutes alone in a room with Jennifer Lawrence then they’d really hit it off. You can follow him on twitter @DWwrites.

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