The Online Dating Conspiracy | Are We Being Manipulated by Algorithms?

algorithm manipulation in dating sites

I love a good conspiracy theory—who doesn’t? Going down the rabbit hole of potential subterfuge and plots is a great way to spend three or four hours—or a complete waste of time and energy, depending on who you ask.

If you ask me (and since I’m the one writing this, so we are playing by my rules), I’m all for digging into things that seem shady, and most people have a conspiracy theory that is a hill they will die on. Mine is that Avril Lavigne, the Canadian-born singer, died in 2003, and they replaced her with a doppelgänger. To each his own!

But we aren’t here to talk about Melissa, Avril’s clone. No, today we are going to have a little chat about the online dating conspiracy and if we are being manipulated by algorithms.

When you use dating sites and find a potentially perfect match, it feels like luck might be at play, right? What if there’s more to it than that, and it’s not all left up to chance? 

Pulling the puppeteer strings behind the swipes, likes, and matches lies a sophisticated system of algorithms designed to influence who we see, who we like, and, ultimately, who we might end up going on a date with. This brings us to my original question: Are we being manipulated by the platforms we sign up for to find love?

Is this a conspiracy that big online dating is hiding from us? Let’s go down this rabbit hole to find out! 


Understanding Business Objectives

Understanding Business Objectives

Okay, so the word “conspiracy” does bring about images of shadowy figures plotting behind closed doors, but the truth is kinda boring, actually—online dating algorithms are less about dastardly schemes and more about business models and the inherent limitations of technology. Booo! It’s about money because, of course, it is.

Online dating platforms are businesses, and their primary goal? Profit! To achieve this, they need to keep users engaged and coming back, encouraging them to use the site more frequently and, in many cases, to spend cash on the premium features and memberships. The economic drive is a big influence on how algorithms are designed and how they work.

  • User Engagement: Algorithms are optimized to keep users active on the platform. This means showing dating profiles that are more likely to result in matches or convos, regardless of whether they lead to meaningful connections.
  • Monetization Strategies: Some would argue that dating sites will intentionally limit your chances of finding a perfect match quickly in order to persuade the use of premium features that promise to increase your visibility or show you more (and more compatible) potential matches.

The Limitations of Algorithms

The Limitations of Algorithms

Of course, algorithms are not perfect–they make predictions based on data, but they can’t fully understand human emotions, attractions, or chemistry. This limitation does sometimes make it feel like there’s a conspiracy at work behind the scenes, especially when matches don’t lead to real connections.

  • Echo Chambers: By relying on your preferences and interactions, algorithms can create a feedback loop, showing you more of what you’ve already liked. This will inadvertently narrow your dating pool, reinforcing existing preferences or biases.
  • Data-Driven Decisions: The criteria algorithms used to suggest matches are based on quantifiable data, not the nuanced and often unpredictable factors that lead to human attraction. This can reek of manipulation if users feel the matches being recommended by the dating site don’t come close to their expectations or wants for a romantic partner.

The Perception of Conspiracy

The Perception of Conspiracy

That ooky feeling that there might be a conspiracy in online dating stems from a combination of these business imperatives, the secretive nature of how algorithms work, and the genuine human desire for connection.

When users don’t fully understand how these systems work or feel they’re not getting to their dating goals, it’s perfectly natural to question the system’s intentions!


Negotiating the System

Negotiating the System

Step one to negotiating this system? Awareness! If you want to have a better experience on dating sites, this is a must-have. If you understand the business logic behind these platforms and recognize the limitations of algorithms, singles can better manage their expectations and use these tools more to serve their dating endgames.

  • Diversify Your Strategies: Don’t rely solely on online dating—look for other ways to meet people, like through hobbies, church and social events, or setups by mutual friends.
  • Use the Platforms in a Smart Way: Adjust your profile, preferences, and behavior on the app based on your understanding of how algorithms work.
  • Keep Perspective: Remember that online dating is only one way to meet new people, and success on these platforms does not define your value or worth as a human being.

How Algorithms Run the Show

Online dating platforms use sophisticated algorithms to sift through user data and suggest potential matches. These algorithms aren’t just random; they’re based on a myriad of factors, including your location, preferences, and even your activity on the app. Sounds helpful, right? On the surface, yes. But let’s dig a little bit deeper.

Programming

The Matching Model: Preferences vs. Programming

When you set up a dating profile, you’re asked to specify your preferences in a potential romantic partner. This includes age, interests, or how far someone lives from you. The promise is that these preferences will guide the algorithm in finding your ideal match. But what’s seldom discussed is how these platforms can prioritize certain profiles over others.

For example, some theories suggest that new users get more visibility to hook them in or that those who are more active (or even spend money on the app) might be more prominently featured. So, are you really seeing the full picture or just what the algorithm wants you to see?

Behavioral Data

The Chemistry Experiment: Behavioral Data and Love

Beyond your stated preferences, online dating services are constantly collecting data on your behavior. Which profiles do you spend time looking at? Who do you message? How do you interact with the app? All this info feeds back into the algorithm, refining its recs for you.

This can be seen as a good thing—after all, the algorithm is adapting to your behavior. But it also raises questions about manipulation. If you consistently get shown a certain “type” based on your past interactions, are you really exploring the full spectrum of potential matches, or are you being pushed toward a particular outcome?

Diversity in the Digital Dating Pool

The Illusion of Choice: Diversity in the Digital Dating Pool

With algorithms controlling the show, there’s concern about the “echo chamber” effect, where users are only exposed to profiles that are similar to those they’ve previously shown interest in. This reduces the diversity of people you come across and potentially perpetuates biases.

Moreover, the algorithm’s definition of a “good match” is based on data, not the nuances of human attraction. Can an algorithm truly understand what makes someone your “type,” or are we being nudged toward matches that meet a data-driven criterion rather than a real connection? It seems suspect to me!


Taking Control Over the Algorithmic Maze

Taking Control Over the Algorithmic Maze

And yet, despite these valid questions and concerns, online dating isn’t going anywhere, and algorithms will continue to play a central part. So, how can you traverse this landscape without feeling like you’re just a pawn in someone else’s chess game?

  • Be mindful of your behavior: The more you understand how your actions on the app can influence what you see, the more you can use it to your advantage.
  • Expand your criteria: Shake up your preferences or which profiles you interact with to avoid getting stuck in an algorithmic bubble.
  • Take breaks: Stepping away from a dating site every once in a while can reset your profile’s visibility and give you a fresh start.
  • Algorithms aren’t human: Sure, algorithms can recommend potential romantic matches, but no matter how advanced they get, they can predict chemistry–no one can do that but you! Trust your own instincts and feelings over any dating site’s suggestions.

Takeaways

While it’s pretty unlikely that there’s a deliberate conspiracy in the world of online dating, the interplay between business models, algorithmic limitations, and user experiences sometimes do create a perception of manipulation. By being aware of these factors and approaching these platforms with a curious mind, users can maneuver around online dating much more effectively, utilizing them as a tool for connection rather than seeing them as a sinister plot to keep you forever single. Oh, and Avril Lavigne is not who she says she is; I told you I’d die on this particular conspiracy theory hill.

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