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The ‘Tinder Swindler’ or the history of the absurd

'Tinder Swindler,' a true-crime documentary about Israeli con man Shimon Hayut, drops on Netflix. (Courtesy: Netflix)

“Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

A few days ago an Israeli girl in a fleeting chat asked me if I had seen “The Tinder Swindler” and about my opinion as a journalist regarding this new Netflix documentary. Well, I couldn’t give a concrete or profound answer, but now I am encouraged to write about this documentary that is reaching different places and will soon become a global trend.

It is the story of an Israeli boy from an ultra-orthodox family. Bnei Barak, his place of origin, is a small town, though more of an almost entirely exclusive neighborhood for religious Jewish families with different geographical origin, tradition and observance of Mosaic law. But this is not the reason why antisemitism or anti-Zionism can be a flag-bearer. The Tinder scammer could have been English, Russian, French, Italian, etc., and then there are those, here and there.

It is a phenomenon typical of Hollywood and literature, for example, to see how a character is built up through gimmicks, trickery and lies. Although he is certainly not the first to do so, he will end up becoming the most famous, because if he is on Netflix, he is already more of a celebrity than anything else. He evokes the character of the “Great Gatsby”, the most famous novel by the American writer of the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Under the name Shimon Leviev, i.e. the “alter ego” of Shimon Yehuda Hayu, he set about dating different European women, in principle. Moreover, his focus was Europe, not only because of the presumed wealth they might have in this place above others, but because in Israel it would have been very difficult for him to proceed with his plans.

In turn, Tinder, the app that served this man who presumed to be a billionaire heir to the diamond industry, was launched in 2011 and transformed, perhaps forever, the way people relate to each other.

Tinder became a phenomenon that crossed borders and, although there were already applications such as platforms for finding a partner long before its launch, this was the one that had the greatest effect on society, due to its agile, modern and accessible form.

And, technology created the whole scenario for platforms and applications or applications that now begin to manage themselves with the new “artificial intelligence” (AI). Love in the time of Tinder, before that in the time of Facebook, then Instagram and whatever follows, allows whoever wants to hide behind the screen. How many scammers exist on these online sites, apps or social networks, the answer is obvious.

So much so that an app like Tinder, which is of course a multi-billion dollar company, has enormous power over the mere mortals who use it and who can also fall for various scams, as this type of app can lend itself to anything that a disruptive mind like Leviev’s can think of.

In this specific case, it is documented that Leviev’s modus operandi was to attract and entice women or simply empathize with them in a friendly way, and then ask them for sums of money that would be returned without any problem and even more than that, in exchange for saving their lives from a dangerous situation.

For some, Leviev would be considered a psychopath, but he is most likely a normal person with a rather high IQ. Just as he designed such a scheme for women (specifically) to unknowingly finance his life of luxury, excess and of course snobbery, he could have created a startup in Israel or a company somewhere in the world.

But, Tinder, the most popular online dating app, even at the level of being considered a social network, allowed an ordinary person to become a celebrity, at least there and on Instagram.

Leviev created a Ponzi scheme (after Carlo Ponzi, Italian swindler, creator of financial pyramids), whereby he used one victim’s money to get another victim and so on. And he had the opportunity in his hands. Or how many women are not looking for their prince charming on apps? But more to the point, is there a woman within these apps who would abstain from a millionaire?

The Tinder scammer is just one example of the anomaly of a strange relationship system. It is virtual, i.e. it only exists in appearance and is not real. It is not real to begin with. And are the feelings behind the screens real or not? Well, surely in some particular cases they are, so much so that there are those who are exposed to being cheated, deceived, mocked and so on, by those who use feelings in a virtual way. Apparently there is a virtual “real feeling”, but it is not real, so it does not exist.

Now, Shimon Yehuda Hayu created a character and also a performance, which means that he created a spectacle for his creation Simon Leviev, and with that, more than a false identity, an “ideal being”, which I am sure many men would like to be and many others would like to have.

There is a crisis of values, which has been going on for at least two decades, and now, together with COVID-19, the complexity of relating to each other in the old way means that it has become quite difficult or at least fictitious to relate to each other, without even talking about gender.

Thus, virtual commonplaces such as Tinder have moved to traditional commonplaces.

Tinder has transformed the way people relate to each other as they seek to meet others with a common interest, whatever it may be, from the simplest and most casual to something as elaborate as a formal marriage. But it is not only Tinder and the other apps that followed that have transformed society as it was known before.

Uber, transformed not only the way of transporting oneself, but also the behavior of people, when they understood this new transport proposal. An innovative service that transcended and crossed borders. Airbnb transformed the way of staying or lodging, of traveling and even of living for some. Netflix transformed the way society sees the world, more than watching movies, it is a window to the outside world, albeit almost virtual as well.

In fact, everything is connected, as Leviev surely used other apps such as Uber and Airbnb in addition to Tinder. And, in the end, it was Netflix, when it became interested in this media story, that decided to go for a documentary, which ends up being as superficial and fictitious as Leviev.

As Albert Camus defined the absurd, where “the absurd” is the search for meaning in something that simply has none. So it would seem that day after day society lives in the absurd.

About the Author
Political scientist, international analyst, researcher, journalist and columnist in various media in Latin America, Spain and Israel. Historical researcher and presenter of "Los pasos de Sefarad en el Nuevo Mundo", a radio programme on Radio Sefarad about the Sephardic heritage in America. He is also a lecturer on many subjects, such as history, literature, Judaism, historical figures, important women in history and mysticism.
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