Joseph Newcomer met his partner while browsing Myspace.com, a free site that allows people to search for friends and potential dates through pictures and descriptions. After their first meeting at CherryVale Mall, he said, chemistry was not a problem.
However, the 29-year-old Rockford resident said he supports a proposed law that would require online dating services to disclose whether they check members for felony and sex offense convictions. Newcomer said he has younger siblings who spend a lot of time online and is more concerned with their safety.
“To be honest, judging from my own experience, you never know who you’re really gonna meet in real life,” he said. “I was lucky with the one I met, but I’m old enough to handle myself. Everybody lies about their age at one time or another, but to do it with someone under 18 is just too out there.”
Legislation advancing in Springfield would require online dating services that don’t conduct background checks to post this notice on their Web sites: “No background check of felony or sex offense convictions is done on members who use this service. Please take appropriate safety measures to increase awareness of possible risks associated with dating.”
The measure, which represents a practical, but cynical, approach to love, is just in time for Valentine’s Day. It would apply only to online dating services that charge a fee and have at least 1,000 members.
Nate Johnson, 32, of Rockford, has used eHarmony.com, a site that allows subscribers to search for and contact compatible people for a $50 monthly subscription fee. He said the bill could prove to be a double-edged sword if checks end up coming out of pocket.
“For the sites that do the checks, it certainly adds a big level of safety that would be a major selling point over the less-thorough sites,” he said. “If there was a cost involved that they passed along to the users, it might turn a handful of people off, but the positives would far outweigh the negatives.”
A House committee unanimously approved the measure Wednesday, and the full House could vote on it next week.
Rep. John Bradley, a Marion Democrat sponsoring the bill, told the committee he is trying to protect Illinoisans who go looking for love online.
“I don’t have anything against online dating,” Bradley said. “I think a lot of people enjoy it. They derive a lot of good ( from ) it. Let’s make something that’s good even better.”
Bradley said online dating services may be national in scope, but they would need to modify their formats to comply with his proposed Illinois law.
“Obviously, the only jurisdiction we have is within the state,” Bradley said. “But since the state of Illinois makes up a substantial portion of the public, obviously it would have effects.”
The committee hearing ended in comedy. Most of the committee’s members are lawyers and, therefore, are familiar with Latin doctrines. They roared with laughter when Bradley coined a Latin phrase just for his legislation.
Bradley said his goal is simple, let folks know that prospective online daters may not have been checked out.
“Caveat emptor,” he said, which is Latin for “let the buyer beware.”
Then, after pondering for a moment, Bradley suggested a more appropriate doctrine.
“Caveat amor,” he said. Loosely translated, it means “let the lover beware."