I started a dating site last Sunday. Not words I ever thought I’d write, but I’ve become a kind of den mother to a large group of people who believe the risk of coronavirus has been exaggerated, and it dawned on me that this could be a useful service for them.
The idea is that if you’re a Covid realist you don’t want to go out with a hysteric who thinks the lockdown is being eased too quickly and frets about a ‘second wave’. You probably wouldn’t even be able to arrange a first date, let alone manage a kiss at the end of the evening. What you need is a ‘safe space’ where you can meet potential partners who share similar views.
It all began in April when I started a blog called Lockdown Sceptics. I wanted to create a clubhouse for that small band of dissenters who think that locking down the entire population, the healthy as well as the sick, is a violation of our civil liberties, particularly when our scientific understanding of how the virus is transmitted is so incomplete. It quickly started getting a lot of traffic, suggesting we aren’t such a tiny minority after all. On an average day, the site gets 25,000 visitors and to date it’s had more than 2.5 million page views.
Last week I got an email from one of my regular correspondents saying he was newly divorced and thinking of signing up with a dating agency. ‘It made me realise that a key criterion for meeting someone is that they absolutely must be a lockdown sceptic,’ he wrote. ‘I genuinely think that if I can find a girl as sceptical as me, she must therefore be marriage material. That’s how important (and sadly divisive) this issue has now become. I could never date (let alone build a relationship with) a lockdown zealot.’
That’s when the lightbulb appeared above my head. Why not start a dating site myself? My tech-savvy collaborator, Ian Rons, had already created some discussion forums on the website, so all he needed to do was add a new page where users could post their lonely hearts messages. We decided to call it ‘Love in a Covid climate’.
Almost as soon as it was launched, it was invaded by pro-lockdown trolls who think anyone who downplays the threat of the virus is a middle-aged, Brexit-supporting, Tory-voting, scientifically illiterate 5G conspiracy theorist. They began to post satirical personal ads, some of which, I have to admit, were quite funny.
‘After a demoralising divorce I was, like many, reinvigorated by the Brexit movement only to be let down by Boris in this mask debacle,’ wrote one. ‘Looking for Albion-loving lady 35-50 who would be open to dressing up as Winston Churchill and spanking me with a cricket bat while I sing “Land of Hope and Glory”. No snowflakes need apply.’
Other wags suggested alternative names for the new service, including ‘Two Meeters’, ‘-OkStupid’ and ‘Spreadr’. The general theme was that lockdown sceptics are more likely to have the virus than other people, making them extremely unappealing as dating prospects. I even got an email from a journalist at the Guardian asking me to respond to the charge that the forum could spread coronavirus and harm the individuals involved.
But as we sceptics are fond of pointing out, almost no one has the virus any more. Many people wildly exaggerate the risk. For instance, a poll published a couple of weeks ago found that the public believe that 7 per cent of the UK population has died of Covid-19. That’s more than 4.5 million people. In fact, the real number of Covid fatalities in Britain is about 45,000, 1 per cent of that.
According to John Ioannidis, a Stanford Professor of Medicine, you’re more likely to die in a road-traffic accident than you are of the virus if you’re under 65. As I told the Guardian reporter, I’ve created my dating site for people who are properly informed about the risk and want to meet others who haven’t succumbed to what Bernard-Henri Lévy calls ‘psychotic delirium’.
Luckily, Ian Rons had already put a team of moderators in place to keep the forums clean and tidy and they quickly went to work, kicking out the trolls. Since then, I’m happy to report, it’s really taken off, with dozens of legitimate users now posting bona fide messages. I have no doubt that within six months we’ll be celebrating our first Lockdown Sceptics wedding.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.