Tanya Kovarsky (41) met her husband in 2014, after a casual encounter on Twitter. A random exchange in response to one of her tweets led to chatting over direct messaging and later on WhatsApp. Fast forward to 2017; they're now married with a child.
Kovarsky says social media has made it easier to meet people. All it takes is a 'like' here or a 'swipe' there, to make the first move.
"It's so easy to start a conversation on Twitter or Instagram, even if you don't have common friends or might not have otherwise met in a real-person situation. You also don't have geography as a limiting factor, you can 'meet' and start a conversation with someone, no matter where either of you are," she says.
It's no surprise that social media has become a playground for meeting romantic partners.
"Digital in 2017: Southern Africa", a report by a Singaporean-based digital agency We Are Social, put the number of South Africans connected to the internet at 28,6 million. That's an internet penetration of 52 percent. And the number of South Africans active on social media has leapt by 15 percent over the last year, according to the agency.
The "SA Social Media Landscape Report" for 2017, released by research house World Wide Worx and Ornico, backs this up. There are about 14 million South Africans on Facebook, and also 7,7 million on Twitter, 5,5 million on LinkedIn and 3,5 million on Instagram.
Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx says Facebook has evolved in the decade since it entered the South African market, but has only become pervasive in the last five.
"[It has] made people far more visible in terms of not just who they are and what they look like but also what they do, who their friends are and what their social environment looks like," he says.
This has opened the dating pool quite dramatically, says Goldstuck. Now, people actually go scouting on Facebook for potential dates.
"In the past they depended on friends and family connecting them with somebody, or meeting people in social environments, but that obviously has limited the range of people that you would potentially be interested in. With Facebook, you no longer have limitations," says Goldstuck.
"People naturally look for a specific kind of match and it doesn't necessarily have to be someone who they think is compatible with them but rather someone whose life looks like something they would want to be part of; that's what social media makes possible."
Last year, analytics company App Annie analysed the most downloaded dating apps of 2015 for the BBC. They found that Tinder and Badoo dominated globally. It turns out ten-year-old dating platform Badoo – and not Tinder - is still the most popular worldwide, including in South Africa.
You will find more statistics at Statista
According to the BBC, poor mobile internet penetration means the African app market is still in its infancy, so people use social networks rather than dedicated dating apps to meet potential partners. This lines up with what HuffPost SA found, when speaking to people who'd met their partners online.
MJ Khan (34) believes social media allows people to be more bold than they otherwise would. "It's much easier to put yourself out there when your mobile screen acts as a sort of shield," he says. At the same time, the screen acts as a buffer and allows people to show only their best selves.
Khan met his wife after she left a comment on a blog post, and then added him as a friend on Facebook. "It's a little strange because I wasn't looking for a partner at the time," he says. He and his wife were from different cities; they had a long distance relationship until they got married.
Social media makes it easier to connect with like-minded people, he says. "Virtual communities are a powerful surrogate of traditional notions of community."
Akhil Habib* (38) agrees that social media has removed traditional the barriers to meeting new people. "The follow, the invite, the like and the RT are the new pick-up lines," he says.
Habib met his wife in the comments thread of a mutual friend's Facebook post. "In our case, it was sort of random. We got to know each other via Facebook," he says. Habib later bought a BlackBerry handset so that he could chat to his future wife on the low-cost messaging platform BBM. The couple now have a child together.
Habib says meeting people on social media is faster and less risky then meeting people in the flesh. "People are more open to 'finding out' because if you're weird or strange or enjoy walking around in Crocs, you can be deleted and forever removed. People tend to move quite quickly," he says.
But Kovarsky doesn't quite agree. "If anything, it has made us more cautious and alert because there are so many horror stories relating to some dating disasters."
She thinks people have become much more savvy about who is on the other end. "Who hasn't Googled their potential dates and stalked to know exactly who we're chatting to?" she asks.
While the number of South Africans active on social media continues to grow, it seems people are increasingly likely to find more than what they were looking for on their smartphones.
*Not his real name.
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February is the month of love. At the Huffington Post South Africa, we take a look at how South Africans are finding and holding on to love. Author Shubnum Khan tells us about how cross-border romances are made or broken, tech journalist Nafisa Akabor looks at how social media replaced your meet-cute and lifestyle editor Sarah Koopman has some advice on how to get away from that tired old dinner-and-a-movie setup. Find them all and more here, or try these.
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