If you’re a black woman, as I am, or an Asian man, Ok Cupid data shows that you’re likely to receive fewer matches and messages. It became glaringly obvious that I was getting far fewer matches and messages while online dating than my non-black friends.
The people who design and create these sites and tools are working to address this disparity in user experience, but their attempts and failures show just how deeply ingrained racism is in our society.
Did I really want to contribute to businesses that felt they had no choice but to cater to people’s racial biases to stay afloat? I’ve logged off from the handful of sites and apps I had been using.
But I have not lost hope in the online-dating industry.
They complained bitterly, as OKCupid co-founder and president Christian Rudder chronicled in his book, “Dataclysm.” When the profile pictures returned, many conversations and interactions that had budded in the photos’ absence — and which Ok Cupid found to be qualitatively better than usual — fizzled.Newer sites have had similar experiences with racial bias.Dating Ring, the matchmaking company followed in the second season of the “Start Up” podcast, tried to improve the dating experience for minorities, but their users often pushed back.In a chilling account discussed on the podcast, a Dating Ring user, upon receiving the name and phone number of a match, was said to have replied: “I hope that’s a typo, because that name doesn’t sound white to me.” Whenever someone tells me that discussing online dating is a waste of time, I refer to that anecdote and two sad truths about the online dating industry that Dating Ring’s founders discovered: First, giving people the tools to act on racial bias is profitable; and second, it is not fair to users who are discriminated against to be matched with people who are biased against their racial group and, as a result, will dismiss them as potential matches.
So Dating Ring moved away from its original design.
A 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that individuals were more likely to respond to a romantic message sent by someone of a different race than they were to initiate contact with someone of a different race.