Final Project: Racial Exclusion and Exotification on Grindr

Originally posted on Medium.com.

Grindr describes itself as “the largest and most popular all-male location-based social network out there,” functioning as a site of interaction for men seeking sex with men. I seek to understand the interactions that occur on Grindr through a lens of racial analysis, focusing on the ways that race influences self-presentation and messaging on the app.

Intersectionality Online: Readings for the week of Nov. 4

Courtesy of Liene Verzemnieks on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons fair use guidelines.

Courtesy of Liene Verzemnieks on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons fair use guidelines.

Carbado, Crenshaw, Mays, and Tomlinson: “INTERSECTIONALITY: Mapping the Movements of a Theory”

This is a reflective piece about the potential for intersectionality as a “method and a disposition, a heuristic and analytic tool” (Carbado et al. 303). Carbado et al. examine the role of intersectionality, which recognizes/analyzes ways that identities and oppressions intersect, in its variations since its inception. Intersectionality is a work-in-progress. It functions without a set place in academia, due to its transient and transforming qualities. Intersectionality belongs in a transnational context, not limited by U.S. boundaries. Transnationality leaves room for concerns about the continued relevance of Black women within a concept that extends beyond their particular lived realities; this doesn’t invalidate their roles in intersectionality’s conceptual development and exploration. Intersectionality can function in social movement contexts, or perhaps as its own social movement, due to its roots in social change theory. Intersectionality is not bounded by disciplines or nations, engaging specifically with Black women due to its theoretical roots. Intersectionality has potential in its ability to transcend limits, encouraging academics, activists, and all others who engage with it to consider its role in coalition building and linked struggles.

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“No one knows Michael Williams:” Facebook’s Controversy over “Real” Names

During the month of September 2014, Facebook began to suspend the accounts of several drag queens in the San Francisco area. Since its inception, Facebook has operated by requiring users to provide their real names, which has led to problems in the past as well. When Facebook chooses to purge accounts, however, the site has a “long, constantly updated ‘blacklist’ of names that people can’t use,” according to a 2009 USA Today article that details the problems that this policy can cause for individuals with unusual names. This particular policing of online identity created controversy last month as these drag queens publicly confronted Facebook, charging that the social media company was forcing drag performers to change their names on the site or lose their personal Facebook accounts.

Facebook, by MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr. Used under CreativeCommons fair use guidelines.

Facebook, by MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr. Used under CreativeCommons fair use guidelines.

Two of the drag performers, Sister Roma and Lil Miss Hot Mess, have been particularly vocal about the controversy. Sister Roma explains the significance of being able to post and use Facebook authentically: “I do this work as Sister Roma and that is how the Facebook community knows me and who they look for to get news about [LGBTQ] issues and events. If you ask anyone what my name is, in or out of drag, they will tell you it’s Roma. No one knows Michael Williams.”

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Multimedia Project Proposal: Racial “Preferences” on Grindr: Racist, or Nah?

I am interested in researching racial preferences on Grindr, a smartphone app for men seeking sex with men that is based in semi-anonymous profiles that also indicate a user’s proximity to other users. Current research indicates that these preferences exist in very direct ways on Grindr profiles and within Grindr messages, but existing research does not fully explore the implications beyond these direct statements of preference. Does this mean that the men using Grindr are racist (or committing acts of racism) for explicitly stating their racial preference? Do these potentially racist acts of self-presentation on Grindr influence the dynamics of the dating and hook-up realm offline? In other words, are these men likely to articulate the same preferences so directly in physical social spaces, or is the articulation of these racialized preferences limited to the context of the app and the text that it contains?

OkCupid, an online dating site with an app component available for smartphones, has released data regarding response rates to messages and the way that rates are correlated with race. In a fascinating data representation that they’ve released on their blog, a chart illustrates that white gay men are the least likely to respond to messages, but especially when these messages come from non-white males. Black males get fewer responses overall—in fact, black gay men get over twenty percent fewer responses than non-black gay men.

Labels on the top refer to responders, and labels on the left refer to contact-initiators.

OkCupid reply rates by race for gay males. Labels on the left refer to contact-initiators. Labels on the top refer to responders. Numbers within the chart refer to the response-rate percentages.

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Growing Up as a Denizen of the Digital Realm

My relationship with computers, and specifically social media, has deepened throughout my life, resulting in major connections between my identity and my presence/presentation online.

Beginnings

I remember going to the store with my mother as a five-year-old, helping her to pick out our first computer. It was a tan, clunky computer with a large, boxy monitor. After getting a family friend to set up the computer for us, I hopped onto Internet Explorer to visit pbskids.org, where I could play games that would test the limits of our dial-up connection. For the first few years of my computer use, I spent my time at home playing online and CD-ROM games. Some of my time at school was also spent in computer class, learning how to type. I distinctly remember typing my first “paper” on the computer in third grade: after several written drafts based on a few Google searches, I typed up a page about the planet Neptune. My teacher laminated a printed copy, and my mother still has it.

AOL Instant Messenger

Photo courtesy of Flickr user moyix.

My first engagement with social media happened around fifth grade, with the rise of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Instant messenger was the way to have conversations with peers in an informal, seemingly private context. This sense of privacy opened up space for extended conversations after school, and also, for some formative moments in my middle school friendships. It also worked to create some dramatic moments, as I realized that what I typed to friends was saved in chat logs on the AIM application, allowing friends to go back, re-read, and copy-paste things that I had typed to them in the moment, assuming that these in-the-moment thoughts wouldn’t be revisited. Since these experiences, I’ve become a bit more careful about what I say in online spaces—even if it seems to be a casual environment, I want to make sure that I have an understanding of how the things I say will exist beyond my conversations.

Self-Presentation and Interaction

At this point, I’ve shifted to using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram primarily, occasionally chatting with friends using Gchat. Taking into account my presence on each of these sites, I can see noticeable differences in the way that I present myself and the way that I interact with others, all completely dependent upon the form of social media that I’m working with.

For example, on Facebook, I find myself using statuses as an opportunity to make jokes and informally share humorous anecdotes, but also as a chance to present my political ideas by sharing articles and links that I like. Facebook is a chance for me to get validation for my ideas and experiences as well, since many of my posts garner “likes” and comments from friends. It’s interesting to me how I automatically use the number of “likes” on a post as a metric for the general relevancy of that post (and in turn, that particular aspect of my life that I’ve chosen to share on Facebook). The strange thing about Facebook for me is that the popularity of a post is potentially publicly measured through “likes.” In my own use, it seems like the number of “likes” that I receive on a post serve as personal validation at times. However, one journalist tried to play with Facebook’s algorithms (the same algorithms discussed and critiqued in “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson”) by liking everything that came across his newsfeed, and the algorithms responded by pushing up marketing and brands, suggesting that “likes” may not actually be measures of my Facebook friends’ approval.

On Twitter and Tumblr, most of the interactions that I have are retweets or reblogs of what others have posted. I am less-inclined to post my original photos or anecdotes on Twitter or Tumblr because I feel like most of my connections on these platforms are individuals that I don’t know personally. I operate on the assumption that my Facebook friends (who are mostly real-world friends and acquaintances) are much more interested and willing to engage with my experiences and viewpoints than my Twitter/Tumblr followers. The network of semi-anonymous users and looser connections is something that serves as a relief for me, allowing me to feel comfortable in the online space, but there are also concerns of privacy and safety that cross my mind occasionally when using these platforms.

In my real-life interactions, I’ve had several acquaintances comment on things that I share about my life on Facebook. I believe that my identity and my real-life interactions with friends are very much linked to the image that I’ve constructed for myself on Facebook. Learning how to find a balance between sharing and oversharing has been a challenge for me at times, especially as I grow increasingly suspicious of information security online. I worry that what I post will be permanently linked to my real-life identity permanently, or that the personal information that I share with Facebook friends will somehow be accessed by strangers or malicious individuals (like identity thieves or hackers). I’m currently working through the dilemmas of convenience versus security: by using things like Venmo and online banking apps, am I putting myself at greater risk for identity theft or predatory online behaviors from others? It’s unclear to me at the moment, but for now, I’m happy to continue sharing aspects of my life with my real life friends, utilizing Facebook as a means of bridging real-life gaps of space and time.

Works Cited:

Honan, Mat. 11 August 2014. “I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What it Did to Me.” Wired. http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me/

Tufekci, Zeynep. 2014. “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson.” Medium. https://medium.com/message/ferguson-is-also-a-net-neutrality-issue-6d2f3db51eb0