cover image Not My Type: Automating Sexual Racism in Online Dating

Not My Type: Automating Sexual Racism in Online Dating

Apryl Williams. Stanford Univ, $28 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-503-63505-0

Williams, a professor of communications and digital studies at the University of Michigan, debuts with a troubling investigation of structural racism in online dating platforms. Drawing on interviews with users, data and public statements provided by platforms, and studies conducted by herself and others, Williams shows how these platforms’ algorithms, through the ranking and sorting of users, replicate and strengthen the “sexual racism” that has long been rampant in American culture. Since algorithms learn from user preferences, she explains, the preference for white normative beauty standards gets baked into the algorithms, which then reflect this preference back to all users. Other data picked up and learned by the algorithms, such as users’ online social networks, similarly recreate and present back to users their real-life race-based social segregation. Turning to historical research and Black feminist theory, Williams discusses how this algorithm-enforced sexual racism echoes anti-miscegenation laws of the 20th century, while also pointing to worrying new developments, such as the rise in unique forms of digital “racial fetishization” (one white interviewee mentions how online dating makes it easier to “try out all the racial ‘flavors’ ”). Williams’s highly accessible narrative is made extra intriguing by the liberal inclusion of users’ own words sharing their intimate thoughts. Readers who loved Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex will want to check this out. (Feb.)