Romantic intermediaries and algorithmic normativity

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that online dating websites make algorithmic choices that strongly influence influence (and are tailored to) their users’ behaviour. But are they better?

I asked Yagan whether OkCupid might try tailoring its algorithm to surface more statistically successful racial combinations. Such a measure wasn’t out of the question, he said. “Imagine we did a lot of research, and we found that there were certain demographic or psychographic attributes that were predictors of [successful relationships]. Hispanic men and Indian women, say,” Yagan suggested. “If we thought that drove success, we could tweak it so those matches showed up more often. Not because of a social mission, but because if it’s working, there needs to be more of it.” …

Algorithms are made to restrict the amount of information the user sees—that’s their raison d’être. By drawing on data about the world we live in, they end up reinforcing whatever societal values happen to be dominant, without our even noticing. They are normativity made into code—albeit a code that we barely understand, even as it shapes our lives. … We’re not going to stop using algorithms. They’re too useful. But we need to be more aware of the algorithmic perversity that’s creeping into our lives.