Opinion: Queer dating apps are removing harmful ethnicity filters but leave behind a dehumanising culture

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, queer dating apps are removing their ethnicity filters but still failing to address the core problems of this feature.


Popular queer dating apps, such as Grindr and Scruff, are removing ethnicity filters on their sites following renewed backlash amid global Black Lives Matter protests. However, these token signs of solidarity reveal an alarming failure in addressing the core issue behind this feature. 

GBT+ dating app, Grindr, came under fire over their ethnicity filter after the company shared a message of solidarity for BLM protestors on Twitter. The original statement was deleted and followed with an announcement that they would remove this feature from the app’s next release.

In the released statement, Grindr said, “We will not be silent, and we will not be inactive. We will continue to fight racism on Grindr, both through dialogue with our community and a zero-tolerance policy for racism and hate speech on our platform.”

At the very end of the statement, Grindr weakened the backlash aimed at them by tilting it as “feedback” and declared the app would be removing the ethnicity filter. However, there was no recognition given towards the fact that to take advantage of this feature, users had to pay for unlimited services, meaning that the company has profited off providing people with the tools to engage in ethnicity filtering. 

In 2018, a Cornell Tech research coordinator, Jessie Taft, and his team downloaded the 25 most popular dating apps at the time, including OKCupid, Grindr, Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune about the usage of an ethnicity filter, he said, “When somebody gets to filter out a whole class of people because they happen to check the box that says (they’re) some race, that completely eliminates that you even see them as potential matches. You just see them as a hindrance to be filtered out, and we want to make sure that everybody gets seen as a person rather than as an obstacle.”

Taft further highlighted, “When what most users want is to dehumanize a small group of users, then the answer to that issue is not to rely on what most users want. … Listen to that small group of individuals who are being discriminated against, and try to think of a way to help them use the platform in a way that ensures that they get equal access to all of the benefits that intimate life entails.”

Following Grindr’s release, Hornet called for action against institutionalised racism on their social media accounts. Senior health innovation strategist in the company, Alex Garner told the Jakarta Post, “Dismantling structural racism is an enormous undertaking but as a community working together, we can make meaningful strides.”

On Tuesday, June 2, Scruff announced they are taking action towards ensuring ethnicity is no longer a searchable feature. They state, “We recognise awareness is not a substitute for action and so we call on our community to do what it does best: organise, fight oppression, and create change.”

Queer dating apps showing solidarity for Black Lives Matter protests helps amplify awareness around these key issues, however the act in and of itself cannot be praised when it overlooks the inherit problems. These businesses should not be striving for the bare minimum when their own system has helped foster a culture of isolating members of the LGBT+ community by providing the means to label them as ‘unwanted’. 

Acknowledgement and a sense of awareness about social justice are sorely lacking in these statements. Among the many queer dating apps, there was no explanation given on the reasoning behind implementing an ethnicity feature in the first place. 

With 5.5 million users, HER, a free dating app for LBT+ women, has claimed to never apply ethnicity filters based on its potential for inciting incidents of discrimination. Chief executive, Robyn Exton told the Jakarta Post, “From day one we’ve had a no hate speech or discrimination policy that we hold very seriously.”

In certain cases, hiding the ethnicity filter behind a paywall speaks volumes of intent. Simply removing this feature does not erase the years of damage it has caused with cultivating and enabling a hurtful filter culture. 

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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