Navigating the world of online dating is always tricky - who knows whether user John116342 is actually 6'2" with a full head of hair, or whether MikeInShiningARMOR is as chivalrous as he claims to be?
While seasoned online daters know to read user profiles with skepticism, it's generally assumed that the people behind the actual websites - OKCupid, for instance - are not deceiving us.
Unfortunately, the algorithms behind OKCupid's matching system - whose sole purpose is to find soulmates - can't be trusted.
In a new blog post, enthusiastically titled "We Experiment On Human Beings!", OKCupid President Christian Rudder revealed that the company has, in fact, experimented on users in the name of research.
One method of experimentation involved overtly lying to users. The site told users they'd found a perfect match, when in fact they were being paired with someone completely incompatible. Meanwhile, users who were actually good matches were told that they had nothing in common.
Despite the widespread outrage following Facebook's social experimentation, Rudder and the team at OKCupid defended their practice of deceiving users to the point of bragging:
"But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work."
The problem with this logic (and unapologetic tone) was quickly addressed by data scientists and commenters in Twittersphere:
Many expressed anger at Rudder's assertion that everyone should just assume they're subjects of social experimentation every time they visit a website.
"Algorithms make crucial decisions every day, companies experiment without telling people, and public is uninformed. This. Needs. Attention." tweeted Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.
Ethical questions aside, the results of the three experiments detailed in Rudder's controversial blog post are interesting. In Experiment 1, "Love Is Blind, Or Should Be," OKCupid temporarily removed photos from users' profiles. Without images, users were forced to rely solely on the text in someone's profile when arranging potential dates.
The results of the blind date experiment showed that "people are exactly as shallow as their technology allows them to be," wrote Rudder. Participants in the blind date experiment reported having an equally good time regardless of whether their partner was attractive.
Another experiment confirmed what we all know: people pretty much only pay attention to the photos on online dating profiles. "Essentially," Rudder wrote, "the text is less than 10% of what people think of you."
The most attention-grabbing experiment, mentioned above, involved pairing completely incompatible users. The results showed that the suggestion of compatibility is almost as powerful as actual compatibility:
"OkCupid definitely works, but that’s not the whole story. And if you have to choose only one or the other, the mere myth of compatibility works just as well as the truth," Rudder said.
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.