I swear I’ve never downloaded Tinder before. I know the mechanics of how it works, but as a timid dating novice, the urge to press “install” has yet to arise. But as a college student on a campus of healthy young adults, I couldn’t help but be curious about what it’s like to meet other people through mobile dating apps. So I asked a couple of my BC friends who are active on Tinder about what their experiences are like, and I got a lot of positive feedback—well, at least for some.
One Asian male said, “It’s harder to be a minority. You get swipes like one third of the time.” And while who you match with depends on “who you have in mind,” he commented that there are “mostly white people on Tinder” who aren’t interested in people of color, and “very little Asians [or other minorities],” further limiting the pool of matches.
This isn’t the first time that Tinder has come under fire for the casual racism that many of its users have encountered. Since its launch in 2012, Tinder has been criticized for being a proponent of the insidious nature of “hookup culture” while excluding the impact of race in developing its dating platform for millennials. OkCupid and Match, Tinder’s sibling dating sites, have seen similar racial issues occur between their users; a 2014 study proved that 82 percent of nonblack males on OKCupid felt negative bias against black females.
To resolve this culture of racial bias in online dating, a market of niche dating apps targeting minority groups have begun to emerge in recent years. One of the most popular apps, Bae (Before Anyone Else), is a mobile dating app that provides a safe space for black singles to date. 20 percent of Bae users are nonblack, allowing for black users to have exposure to potential matches from different backgrounds while still being reassured by the fact that most people on the app are looking for black men or women. Other niche dating apps include JSwipe (targeting Jewish folks), MiCrush (targeting Latinos), and Color Dating.
Business-wise, these niche dating apps have seen great success with rapid growth in both user downloads and matches. Within months of its launch, MiCrush gained 350,000 users and 1.5 million matches, surging through the market as a prominent player in North America and Latin America. Coffee Meets Bagel, a San Francisco start-up popular among the Asian crowd and singles looking for quality dates, rejected Shark Tank’s $30 million offer to strive against the odds in the $2 billion online dating industry; their justification lied in the belief that their app was more valuable than the offer, especially with mass-market competitors like Tinder valued at $1.6 billion in 2015.
So what is it about niche dating apps that are attracting different ethnic groups and generating growth for the industry? According to Sonya Kreizman, co-founder of JCrush, online daters begin to show preference towards dating those of similar cultures as they gear towards long-term relationships. Personally, I’ve seen this sentiment ring true as I’ve observed people in my life (and sometimes even myself) feel more at ease forming relationships with people that are similar to them; this doesn’t necessarily apply to only romance but can also include friendships, living arrangements, and work colleagues. Apps like JCrush and MiCrush allow users to filter through their potential matches by specifying characteristics that are important to the user.
What also appeals about niche dating apps is the authenticity of their founders. Because the minority groups targeted by these apps face dating issues specific to their background, they would want the creator of the apps to be of the same culture to fully empathize with the struggles they face. So while it might not make sense why two Jewish woman would start a Latino-centric dating app, it makes complete sense when the co-founder of their parent organization is Latino and can easily communicate what users want.
At this point, it sounds like I’ve been heaping loads of praise on the niche online dating industry. However, there are flaws to almost everything, especially when it’s in the social media realm where someone out there is working to create a better version of something everyday.
A French study in 2015 examined the notion that niche dating apps are actually counterintuitive towards the fundamental beliefs behind social media. Social media platforms have become the optimal spaces for people to exercise their first amendment without fear of exclusivity. Researchers view niche dating apps as contradictory with how they’ve allowed users to filter through matches that are reflections of themselves. Not only that, they’re limiting the dating pool for people who want to diversify their scope of potential matches.
A prime example would be Color Dating, an app that lets users emphasize what sex and ethnicity they’re looking for in matches during registration. Critics argued that it defeats the entire purpose of the app to fight against racial discrimination when it judges people based on race. Racial bias is further perpetuated in DateHookup’s 2014 data on user ratings of people from different races. Despite DateHookup’s popularity among blacks and Latinos, some races, particularly blacks, are still seen as less attractive compared to others.
At the end of the day, I can’t say that niche dating apps are the answer to online racial discrimination. Regardless of the type of app, people will always have their own biases that will eventually tailor to the kind of person they choose to meet online. Although, I do appreciate the fact that the creators behind these apps had the genuine intention of facilitating a better environment for likeminded people to not feel excluded from their chance at romance. With the popular nature of mobile apps in general, I don’t expect the market for niche dating apps to stop growing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if finding love on your mobile device becomes more popular than finding love in real life one day. As Meld founder Ayeni says, “you find love where you find love,” and no one can stop you if who you like is similar to you.