It was one of the most widely mocked—and, often, plainly condemned—features on Grindr, the gay dating app: an ability to filter matches by their race.
With widespread protests across America and the country engaging in a painful discussion about race, Grindr now says it will drop the function the next time that it updates its app. It made the announcement on Twitter yesterday—“We will not be silent. Black Lives Mater,” the tweet begins—a message that many on Twitter saw as tone deaf.
But Grindr isn’t the only app with such a function. OkCupid and Hinge, two of the world’s largest dating apps with tens of millions of users each, have similar filters, and both of those companies say they’re keeping theirs.
On OkCupid, a user can search for someone to message and filter by nine ethnicities, including Asian, Hispanic/Latin, White and Black. It works similarly on Hinge, where users set who shows up in their feed by indicating whether ethnicity is a “dealbreaker” to him or her in the Preferences menu. For example, a Hinge user who only wants white people to appear would select “White/Caucasian” and mark this choice a dealbreaker.
Spokespeople for OkCupid and Hinge voiced the same reasoning for keeping these filters: That the companies have heard from minority users who want the filters to find other users like themselves. “The default option is ‘open to any,’ and most of our users do not set a preference,” says Michael Kaye, OkCupid’s global communications manager. “However, from user feedback, we’ve heard that this is a particularly relevant tool for Black users — and what is helpful for even just one of our users benefits our entire community on OkCupid.”
Bumble and Tinder, the two dominant dating apps, do not allow users to sort by race. It may not make any difference, though.
Scholarly research over the past decade has proven that, unsurprisingly, people take their racial biases with them when they log on to swipe right. A 2014 study published in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that 80% of white dating app users only messaged other white users, and only 3% of all messages from white users went to black users. (Black users, meanwhile, were 10 times more likely to contact than a white person was to reach out to a potential match with a black person.) And 2018 Cornell University research into 25 dating app showed race innately entwined in their tech, too: 19 of the apps asked users to identify their ethnicity and 11 worked to identify a user’s preferred ethnicity through their selection habits.
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