OK Cupid vs. Firefox – Equality in the Digital Age

Sam Parish

Sam Parish is a sometimes writer, cartoonist and soon-to-be teacher (God help us all). He has a penchant for pop/geek culture, expensive teas and empty hammocks. He was hoping to end this bio with a joke. He failed. Tell him what you think of him @SamOfAllThings

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It’s 2014. We are elbow-deep in the digital age, and geeks are in. Right?

Take a glance at the business pages and it would certainly seem so. From massive corporate buyouts to…well, more massive corporate buyouts the tech industry is booming.

Which all makes perfect sense, considering just how much of our lives these companies and their products have come to dominate; I don’t have to list examples of course, not when you’re busy reading this on your phone whilst simultaneously shuffling through your iTunes playlist or Angrying up some Birds (maybe even Flappy ones).

Naturally with all this power ready and begging to be exploited it only makes sense that these companies are starting to set some of the social agenda. Now, I know that on paper this is a pretty alarming thought. Big powerful corporations using their far-extending reach to influence popular thought and opinion? The stuff of dystopian nightmare, surely. Soon we’ll all be mindless droogs; locking-step under the watchful eye (or should that be “i”) of our faceless corporate overlords.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to see that in reality more and more giants of the new Silicon Valley are instead singing from a more tolerant hymn sheet.

If geeks are the trend-setters then it would appear that they’re bringing LGBTQ folks up the totem pole with them. In recent years there has been a decidedly accepting slant to some of the largest and most influential companies on the block.

From Microsoft backing gay marriage rights in the US to Google showing solidarity with the plight of Russian LGBTQ folk during the Sochi Games, we are starting to see more and more of the tech sector making a stand and saying that they support us around the globe. It’s exciting times to be sure.

googletextsochi

Now, whilst this kind of support is always appreciated the status quo was given something of a shake-up earlier this week when online dating service OkCupid released this message to anyone attempting to access the site via the Mozilla Firefox web browser. In it OkCupid ask users to either change to a browser run by more LGBTQ-friendly folks or to stop using their service all together.

On the surface this may not appear as that big a deal-just more of the usual fluff designed to show how progressive a big company is, this is actually (shout out to my Tumblr homies) shots fired. This goes beyond the standard, PR-friendly tolerance angle. This is someone getting up from their drink, marching over to the loudmouth at the end of the bar and saying “Hey fucko, we don’t like your type around here”. To see it happening was an immensely gratifying thing. Not only because it is a huge leap forward in the way these companies approach LGBTQ acceptance, but because it didn’t even come from the biggest guy in the room.

Admittedly, OkCupid is far from a rinky-dinky mom and pop organisation, they have 3 million plus users for a reason. However, when compared to online juggernauts such as Facebook and Google they are pretty small fry indeed. But, by taking this stand and nailing it’s colours to the mast of equality this way, they are setting a precedent for similar companies to step up to the plate. I’m not usually one for such prognostication but I believe it would be politic to see this as a potential game-changer for online corporations and how they approach the subject of LGBTQ rights, and equality in general.

Now of course it is still baby steps, I mean OkCupid still lets Firefox users access the site by clicking through the message but the act remains a powerful one. It has grabbed headlines worldwide, gained widespread support from pundits and public alike, and no doubt made the shareholders at Mozilla think very carefully about what kind of opinions are held by those installed in prominent positions.

Of course, if you stop to think about it such a step does make a lot of sense. Technology is by its very nature a progressive force. It seeks to expand our knowledge and ability, breaking down barriers and improving the quality of life for all concerned and lots of other things that sound really impressive on a company masthead.

I mean let’s face it, beyond getting excited over bigger, shinier ways of killing people a different colour to them the more…antagonistic…elements of our society rarely have much of a jones for the latest gizmos and gadgets. You’ll never see a group like The Westboro Baptist Church inventing Google. Well, unless they had some kind of perverse need to actively seek out things that have zero impact upon their lives in order to kick up a fuss over it…

Oh wait.

However, looking past a dating agency reminding us all that this is the 21st Century, even the more cynical can see such actions as smart business. Online business is driven by the younger generations-both as users and developers so of course showing yourself as being open and welcoming to a more progressive mindset means that you’ll be an attractive proposition to generations for years to come. Even companies such as Electronic Arts who have been voted the Worst Company in America two years in a row managed to score positive points by showing themselves to be an active supporter of gay rights across the world.

Of course it also means that these companies are seeing us as an important and viable part of their audience. As loathe as I am to use the phrase “Pink Pound” money talks, and nothing says that a company sees you as important than when they are trying to get your wallet. When they try to woo our “demographic” it actually shows (in that singularly bizarre business way) that they understand our place and value in society. We are here and not to be ignored, it tells them, and they want us on their side.

In the long term, this could all be just another blip on the radar of corporate equality-just another chance for a big company to try and impress a new and exciting audience. But the optimist in me wants to think that this could be something more. 2014 has already brought us same-sex marriage and could become year zero for a new and far more tolerant society. OkCupid saying no to Mozilla’s anti-equality CEO might be the spark that lights a fire under the rest of the tech industry, proving that in the age where the internet is king certain attitudes are decidedly outmoded.

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