How Dating Apps Reinforce Racial Discrimination

New research has suggested that dating apps may encourage racial biases in their users.

How Dating Apps Reinforce Racial Discrimination A woman looks at her phone in a restaurant

A study from Cornell University investigated the ways in which dating apps, such as Tinder, Hinge and OKCupid, may contribute to racial biases through various algorithms on the programs themselves.

There is no shortage of racism in the online dating world, with users openly sharing their “racial preferences” on their profiles. OKCupid conducted research in 2014 which found that Asian men and African American women got fewer ‘matches’ compared to white men and Asian women.

Jessica Taft, a research coordinator at Cornell, and one of the study’s authors spoke to The Huffington Post about the findings of her research:

“People may have no idea that a matching algorithm is limiting their matches by something like race since apps are often very vague about how their algorithms work.”

Cornell researchers analysed the algorithms of dating sites and found that the apps are configured to match users with people similar to their previous matches. So, for instance, if a white woman matched with white men in the past, the algorithm is likely to continue to match her with that same demographic, regardless of whether she is interested in a more diverse dating pool.

Taft explained this logic to the newspaper:

“Users who may not have a preference for race or ethnicity in their partner may find their matching results artificially limited by an algorithm that’s calculated to repeat ‘good’ past matches without considering what ‘good’ future matches might be.”

Fellow Cornell researcher Jevan Hutson spoke to the New York Post about how dating apps make racial biases transparent:

“Serendipity is lost when people are able to filter other people out. Dating platforms have the opportunity to disrupt particular social structures but you lose those benefits when you have design features that allow you to remove people who are different than you.”

In a move to tackle racist biases on their app, Grindr launched Kindr, an initiative that prevents users from including their ‘preferences’ in their bios.

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