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MIT’s Facebook ‘Gaydar’ project
Does experimental software designed to 'out' gay Facebook users reveal a fatal flaw in social networking?
 

Project Gaydar “started as a simple term project for an MIT class on ethics and law on the electronic frontier,” said Carolyn Y. Johnson in The Boston Globe. It’s turned into a way to “out” people on Facebook, thanks to a “striking discovery” by students Carter Jernigan and Behram Mistree: Gay people have larger numbers of gay Facebook “friends.” They turned that insight into “Gaydar,” a program that predicts a Facebook user’s sexual orientation.

That might be really useful, said Ryan Tate in Gawker’s Valleywag, if you’re “quietly stalking someone and too dense to figure out their sexual orientation from Google searches, Flickr party photos, and real-life gossip.” For the rest of us, Gaydar seems a bit superfluous. Has there ever been a group less likely to hide their sexuality than the “young oversharers on Facebook and Twitter”?

This isn’t a joking matter, said Dan Macsai in Fast Company. “Homophobia still plagues the workplace,” and outing a closeted Facebook user can have real-life consequences. It also gives a “dangerous” tool to college admissions officials: What’s to stop a “homophobic recruiter” from screening out gay applicants, like some colleges already do with “hard-partiers”?

I’d agree that Gaydar “raises interesting questions about online privacy, but it doesn’t,” said Brennon Slattery in PC World. Jernigan and Mistree found 10 verified homosexuals, out of 947 Facebook users who didn’t state their orientation, and “that’s what is called research” at MIT these days? Gaydar couldn’t even ID lesbians or bisexuals. So we can relax a bit. “For now, I’d say most secrets are safe.”

 

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