By Stephanie Forshee
Skimming through the old OkCupid profile of ItsChris603, users read that “when a woman is with me she should feel loved, protected, safe, comfortable, and satisfied. She should be smiling, and happy, and if she’s not, then I’m not playing my role.”
But those sweet nothings weren’t what prompted OkCupid to ban the account user.
One year ago this month, the dating site joined a list of major companies—Twitter and Facebook among them—to denounce the actions of Christopher Cantwell, notorious for a starkly different role: that of a white nationalist who led violent protests in the “Unite the Right” rally that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia and led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer.
OkCupid, at the time, was sure to tout how it banned Cantwell “for life” after users alerted the company their “match” had appeared in a VICE documentary—days earlier—spewing hate and violence against minorities and Jews.
In an August 17, 2017 tweet, OkCupid proudly announced:
“We were alerted that white supremacist Chris Cantwell was on OkCupid. Within 10 minutes we banned him for life.”
“There is no room for hate in a place where you’re looking for love,” wrote then-CEO of OkCupid Elie Seidman in a blog post the following day.
As it turns out, Cantwell, or “the crying Nazi,” as he became known to many, who was later arrested and last month pleaded guilty to charges of assault and battery, had once been considered a pretty standup guy by the dating site.
In fact, circa 2012, Cantwell was chosen by OkCupid to moderate content posted by other dating site users who were potentially in violation of company policies that prohibit full nudity and hate speech. “Individual messages could be reported and mods could take action on reported messages,” Cantwell told me in an email.
Most of what he saw “were generic complaints about fake profiles, which were often discovered by reverse searching profile photos and discovering they were stock images or something to that effect,” said Cantwell, who only used the community moderator features for a matter of weeks. (He believes he still had access to the moderator feature for years after, though he didn’t continue to use it.)
The link between Cantwell’s former, albeit short-lived, role as a moderator, has not been previously reported, although he was interviewed in 2012 by the Huffington Post about his experience—prior to becoming a face for the alt right.
In the 2012 interview, reporter Bianca Bosker asked Cantwell:
Why do you think people bother to tattletale? And what does that say about how we behave online?
For the same reason that they vote for asshole politicians and ‘cause all the other problems they cause in the world: because they’re assholes. I really have no faith in the human race. I look at this stuff, I look at politics and I think people are idiots and there’s just no hope for them.
“I can assure you that when that Huffington Post piece was written I still thought it was a bad thing to be called a racist,” Cantwell told me. “I actually dated a black girl who I met on either OKC or [Plenty of Fish] POF, I forget, after that thing had come out. I wish I could say something worse about the platform, because I really think they’re terrible excuses for human beings.”
In an August 2013 blog post, another OkCupid moderator, Colin Sharp, shared how he didn’t apply but rather just logged in to the dating site one day and he was invited to make decisions about other users’ behavior.
“How’d you like to help moderate the site?” the message from the dating company reads. “Thanks for being a loyal and active member of the OkCupid community. 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.”
Sharp told me in a LinkedIn message that he doesn’t remember too much about the experience other than what he shared back in 2013. During his one and a half years as a moderator for OkCupid, he explains, “you just click into the ‘moderation’ tab when you feel bored and want to vote on some reported pictures.”
That’s one part that Cantwell finds unfair. He was removed from OkCupid even though he claims he didn’t share any racist or hateful communications on the site itself.
In 2017, Cantwell was filmed telling correspondent Elle Reeve in the VICE documentary that “we’re not non-violent. We’ll fucking kill these people if we have to.”
The documentary release came days before OkCupid banned Cantwell, which he says is “worth noting that they publicly announced on their Twitter feed that they banned me for my politics, which I had never made an issue of on the platform. I think that is a really egregious violation of trust that all OKC users should take into consideration when they give left wing activists their most private information.”
OkCupid did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
In the “crying Nazi” video posted by Cantwell last year, he says, “If I have to go to jail today, it won’t be the fucking first time.”
According to Cantwell, he spent four months in prison in 2000 “for a series of misdemeanors including drunk driving, petit larceny and possession of stolen property.” In 2010, he says in an email, “I did another four weeks” for a second drunk driving conviction.
So why was the jailbird allowed access to OkCupid or other dating sites? Even if Cantwell had spent time in jail, or had been a former felon for that matter, the site says in its terms and conditions, “OkCupid does not conduct criminal background checks on or screenings of its users. OkCupid also does not inquire into the backgrounds of its members or attempt to verify the statements of its members but reserves the right to conduct any criminal background check or other screenings (such as sex offender register searches), at any time and using available public records.”
OkCupid is owned by Match Group, which also owns Match.com. Back in 2011, the oldest dating website announced it would cross-check its members against the national sex offenders registry amid a lawsuit filed by Carole Markin who publicly shared she was raped by a user she met on the dating platform. Her date, Alan Wurtzel, turned out to be a repeat convicted offender.
In a phone call Sunday, Markin said she is unaware of any recent change in Match.com’s policies on screening users.
“They agreed to screen [for sexual offenders],” she says. “At first glance of their terms of service, if they’re not screening, there’s something wrong.”
Match.com also entered into an agreement with former California Attorney General Kamala Harris that committed the site to protecting its users.
In the 2012 agreement, also signed by eHarmony and Spark Networks (parent to Christian Mingle and JDate), Match agrees to “use tools and technologies to identify sexual predators, including checking sex offender registries when the providers possess the requisite information to conduct such checks, and, when identified, remove registered sexual predators from participating in fee-based services on their websites.”
And in recent months, Match announced an alliance with consumer protection groups and #MeToo Movement Founder Tarana Burke.
“We’re bringing together leading experts to help us further maximize the safety of our users and to support their campaigns to make the world a safer place for all,” Match Group states on its website.
Cantwell, who does not fall into the category of sexual offender but was banned from OkCupid rather for his public hate speech and racist views, confirmed that as of April 2018, he continues to be banned from the dating site, as well as Google-owned YouTube and GooglePlus. He says he still has access to Gmail and Google Voice.
“I suspect this is because the FBI is reading my email and wouldn’t want to lose access to the resource,” Cantwell says.