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How dating sites automate sexual racism — Harvard Gazette

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses how dating sites and apps automate and perpetuate racial biases and stereotypes in the online dating landscape. It examines the role of algorithms in curating matches based on racial preferences, leading to the marginalization of certain racial groups, particularly Black women and Asian men. The article also highlights the need for dating platforms to be more transparent, accountable, and proactive in addressing issues of sexual racism, discrimination, and user safety.

🙋 Q&A

[01] How dating sites automate racism

1. What sparked the author's academic curiosity about the algorithms used by dating apps?

  • The author's academic curiosity was sparked by a presentation at a 2015 annual conference for sociologists by Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid, on his site's sorting and matching algorithms.
  • During the presentation, an audience member asked why they were getting so many "unattractive" people in their match deck, to which Rudder joked, "If you think your matches are ugly, that's probably because you're ugly."

2. How do dating app algorithms reflect and reinforce racial stereotypes and biases?

  • Dating sites use algorithms that attempt to predict attraction and attractiveness, and the sorting and ranking is often racially informed.
  • By matching users with others who look like them, dating platforms both reflect and reinforce racial stereotypes and biases common in American culture, which attribute attractiveness and desirability to certain groups and rank others as less attractive.

3. What are some examples of how dating app users' racial preferences perpetuate racial biases?

  • According to a 2014 study by OkCupid, users rated Asian men and Black women as less attractive than their counterparts.
  • This reflects anti-Blackness and anti-Asian sentiment that stems from deeply rooted historical and contemporary ideas about how we view Asian masculinity and Black femininity.

4. What is the experience of Black women in the online dating world?

  • Black women are the least desired dating demographic, and their experiences in the online dating world are often fraught.
  • They tend to become targets of racism or objects of fetishization, where their desirability is based on their "otherness" or "exoticism."

[02] What can dating platforms do to address these issues?

1. What recommendations does the author have for dating platforms to improve the experience for minority users?

  • Dating platforms should:
    • Expand their safety protocols for monitoring and reporting biases such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism.
    • Be more accountable to users by implementing legitimate feedback mechanisms and making data easily accessible.

2. What is the author's perspective on whether users should "break up" with dating apps?

  • The author says the answer is no, but users should think about what the apps reflect to them and where their personal preferences come from, whether they are neutral or shaped by larger cultural biases.
  • The author acknowledges that the systems often fail users, but it's also important to celebrate the work and community that many find in dating culture, and the fact that sometimes people do find love on the apps, which is why they are worth fixing.
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