Migrant online dating: seeking the perfect matchSpringing up in the mid-noughties, ethnic dating websites have flourished on the web, while the market for so-called general dating sites has become saturated. Designed primarily to foster marriages, these platforms are a veritable mine of information on the issues of identity and discrimination.
Based on the ethnicity of a community – that is, the set of traits on the basis of which a group recognises itself and through which its members make themselves known, these sites play on differences in skin colour, religion or geographical origin to attract a “niche market”. The way in which this ethnicity is presented, however, differs greatly from one site to another. Thus, the study carried out by Dana Diminescu, entitled “Migrant online dating” (“Le web matrimonial des migrants”), presents three distinct models of dating site. The first, represented by the company Cupid Media, brings together a multitude of dating sites, each aimed at a particular ethnicity, the denomination of which (African, Asian and European, Australian, Christian, Arabic) is indicated only in the name of the website. The various criteria used to define the profile of each member are exactly the same from one site to another, which offers a kind of standardisation of the various ethnicities.
By contrast, the Shaadi website, which is aimed at the higher castes in Indian society, requires its members to fill in a highly detailed profile made up of around forty criteria – as compared with around ten on the other “traditional” websites. This level of precision has proven to be an extremely sophisticated tool used by marriage services, which are an institution in themselves in India. Where Cupid Media proposes the concealment of cultural differences, specialised sites such as Shaadi reinforce the construction of an “ethnocentric” culture, which distinguishes itself from others.
A third model is used by sites that specialise in selling the e-mail addresses of women from Eastern European countries. Originating from former marriage agencies which have migrated to the Internet, the purpose of these websites is to arrange marriages between partners of unequal financial circumstances. These veritable “love markets”, such as Eurochallenges , set up matches between European men living in Northern and Western Europe and “Eastern girls”. In this context, ethnicity is completely imaginary and is used primarily for advertising purposes, to present attractive values such as the sense of family, beauty or femininity of the candidates.
The same old clichés
Whether it is justified by the importance attached to marriage or by a marketing argument, expressing one’s ethnicity on these websites seems to meet a real need amongst Internet users. Indeed, even before these community websites were created, ethnic preferences were already evident on general dating websites, which indicates the presence of a form of communitarisation. Thus, data extracted from the Cupid Media dating site show that skin colour and religion are considered decisive factors. According to this study, led by American researcher Kevin Lewis, most ethnic minorities living in the United States seek a companion amongst their peers out of a fear that they will be rejected on the basis of discrimination.
The researcher notes, however, that attempts at inter-community contact are always possible, although these rarely go beyond the exchange of a few e-mails. Another study, carried out by American website AYI (Are you interested) confirms that racist clichés are also in force on the Internet. On the sole basis of a photo of the candidate, Internet users were invited to scroll through a large number of profiles and select the one that appealed to them most. It was observed that white men were responded to more positively than black men. It was also noted that Asian women received a great many more positive responses than all other ethnicities, while Asian men received a much lower response rate.
But what about the more community-minded websites, which focus only on ethnic differences? Patterns in this regard appear more complex. Thus, a study of data from the Cupid Media websites shows that men residing in a host country are more inclined to look for a marriage partner outside of their own ethnicity, whereas women in the same situation tend to seek a partner from within their own community. Both in France and in the United States, more than 80% of registered users of the Muslima group of websites described themselves as Muslim. Looking at the example of the Filipanheart website, we find that more than 80% of women using the service are Filipina, while over 80% of male users describe themselves as French or American. These relationships between ethnicities and immigration or emigration countries arise in particular on websites that focus on bringing together people from Northern Europe and those from “Eastern countries”. By emphasising this highly-prized ethnicity, “inter-community” dating websites and in particular those facilitating East-West encounters ultimately encourage their users to transcend ethnic barriers.