MIT's Facebook "Gaydar" - Is it Homophobic?

Attention gay males: Even if you'd prefer to remain closeted on Facebook, two MIT students have developed software that can out you anyway.

facebook gaydar

As part of an undergraduate term project, Carter Jernigan and Behram Mistree studied the Facebook friends of more than 1,500 fellow students who indicated their sexual orientation--straight, gay, or bisexual--on their profiles. Homosexual men, they found, "had proportionally more gay friends than straight men." (Groundbreaking, right?) Using this data, they created a program that correctly revealed the sexual orientation of 10 gay male Facebook users, including ones who had chosen to keep it private, based solely on the sexualities of their friends. (Gay females and bisexuals were harder to pin down.) They're calling it "Gaydar." I'm calling it awful. Why?

Earlier today, news broke thet Marti Smye, a former senior client partner for Korn/Ferry International, is suing the executive-placement firm for allegedly firing her because she is gay. Additionally, the WSJ reports:

As part of the suit, Ms. Smye's attorney filed a declaration by Donna McNicol, senior vice president of human resources for Canadian telecommunications company Telus Corp., who says a Korn/Ferry recruiter told her the search firm could "screen out gay and lesbian candidates" for its clients. (A Korn/Ferry spokeswoman called the charges "baseless.")

If nothing else, this incident proves that homophobia still plagues the workplace. And although I'm sure the MIT students had noble intentions--or just really wanted a good grade--their "Gaydar" strikes me as both unnecessary (who cares if gay men have more gay male Facebook friends?) and dangerous (imagine homophobic recruiters screening out gay college students via Facebook, much as they do with hard-partiers).

But maybe--hopefully--I'm blowing this out of proportion. What do you all think?

[via Telegraph]

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3 Comments

  • Benangel

    Quite more than problematic. This could be detrimental to individuals that choose to remain in silence due to family members potentially dis-owning them. This has implications not only in the workplace but individuals that fear for their safety due to limiting beliefs in the community in which they reside. This spells trouble for a lot of people! Shut it down before something really bad happens. It should be at an individuals discretion not public knowledge.

  • Cathy Brooks

    Blowing it out of proportion? No. If anything I'd say that there isn't enough stridency regarding the still problematic situation facing discrimination in the workplace on this subject.

  • Allen Laudenslager

    Once a capability exists, someone will use it. Age, gender, sexual orientation, all become "fair game" for those who thing they matter.