Why do lesbians find themselves swiping profiles of straight men on Tinder?

This year, Tinder celebrates its tenth anniversary, and this is an opportunity to see how much the dating app has changed the way we meet. If the Tinder baby stories are legionit is a little more complicated for those who come out of the heterosexual model : the low number of places for lesbian sociability (in Paris, these bars can be counted on the fingers of one hand) and two years of pandemic have pushed many women to take a look at dating applications, the most known, Tinder. Especially since there are (very) few specialized applications for queer women. The only ones that stand out, like Zoe or Her, are American, and have few members in France.

It is an unpleasant experience for those who sign up on Tinder : women looking for women on the dating app often find themselves swiping profiles of couples, heterosexual women… but also heterosexual men. A bug in the matrix for many of them, but which sometimes repeats itself every four or five profiles. Indeed, in a survey conducted by the Liberation newspaper in July 2021, we learn that “up to one out of four profiles proposed to a lesbian profile would in fact be that of a heterosexual man”. What rule the track of a simple grain of sand in the machine.

Fake profiles, unicorn-seeking couples and straight profiles

Among the inconveniences that can be encountered by those who swipe in search of the love of their life (or of a night), the false profiles which seek to obtain naked photos, the people having made a mistake in the information of their gender or their sexual orientation, or even more irritating, the profiles of couples looking for a “unicorn”, that is to say a woman for a threesome. “Tinder in lesbian mode is a horror, there are 3 tons of straight couples looking for a girl” testifies a user on Twitter. Beyond couples, many app users have reported coming across profiles heterosexual men : nonsense for those who feel that their preferences are not respected by the application.

Asked about this, Tinder France told us that the algorithm of its application worked according to a tree system: by registering on the application, each user will choose their gender identity, sexual orientation as well as the “typology” of people you want to meet. Namely “men”, “women” or “everyone”. In fact, heterosexual men who have chosen to see “everyone” will have access to profiles of women, regardless of their sexual orientation. “It’s going to confront users with other gender identities and other sexual orientations, because we want to leave the choice to meet people that I wouldn’t be able to meet otherwise, regardless of sexual orientation. Because we also take into account bisexual people or people who are questioning their sexual orientation,” explains Tinder. Regarding the omnipresence of profiles of heterosexual men in the choice of profiles offered to lesbian, bisexual or pansexual women, Tinder claims to be “aware” of this problem, and to work to “try to change the tree structure”. “It’s not perfect but it can be improved” assures the application.

Algorithms favor some age and gender… But not sexual orientation

For sociologist and researcher specializing in dating application algorithms Jessica Pidoux, it should not be forgotten that the main purpose of dating applications like Tinder is that users “keep browsing profiles to spend as much time as possible on the application”, even if it means proposing profiles that go beyond the conditions set by the users. For her, this arborescence system is far from being neutral, and creates a gender asymmetry between the preferences established by men and women. “My preference depends on the criteria of the other: we end up with unidirectional preferences and conditions, such as age or sex, to be made visible or not” she develops. Clearly, the algorithm needs a classification to work, and gives greater weight to certain criteria (age or gender) rather than others, such as sexual orientation. “In fact, the choices are more open, and there are more profiles to see” concludes Jessica Pidoux.

Believing that algorithms are neutral, that they are cold machines that have no impact on our real lives is a decoy, according to Jessica Pidoux. “Tinder sees itself as a facilitator, an intermediary, whereas no, the application has a responsibility,” she explains. By prioritizing certain criteria, Tinder and other dating applications encourage its users to stay online, and possibly to acquire certain paid options. But above all, Jessica Pidoux fears that the exposure of queer people to heterosexual profiles has the effect of endangering certain people who are not yet out with those around them. “All these parameters do not make it possible to secure these communities,” she concludes. For women looking for women, it will still be necessary to swipe a few heterosexual profiles to hope to find love.

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