Sorry, Guy: I Won’t Come Work For Buzzfeed

Last week Wired magazine published a feature article on how I hacked the dating website OkCupid and met my fiancée. I subsequently received the following job offer via email from Buzzfeed’s Director of Partnership Development:

I work at BuzzFeed, which if you’re not familiar with writes a ton of fun viral content and also has a great journalism unit that is trying to create a new profitability model for the social era. Part of what I do here is manage a large content network (in the press we call it the BuzzFeed Network) and we track the urls on other websites (e.g. Daily Mail, HuffPost, NyT) and identify when those stories are “going viral.” The algorithm we use for this is focused on acceleration. There’s a large and great data science team at the company. If you ever wanted to move to NY, they would hire you in a second.

Back to this in a moment. Earlier that day I’d had a personal taste of Buzzfeed’s “fun viral content” courtesy of Katie Heaney, one of the staff writers from their “great journalism unit”. Heaney’s article, entitled Sorry, Guy: Math Can’t Get You A Girlfriend, portrays me as a “nerdy white guy” and “weird mathematician-pickup artist-hybrid” that views women as “accessories [I’m] entitled to”. She compares the mathematics I used to dating tactics used by pickup artists and then attempts to rebuff each separately on its own grounds (her mathematical reasoning is skewered by a one-liner in the comments). Heaney concludes that I had failed in my search for a life partner and adeptly brushes off any cognitive dissonance caused by contradicting facts:

Even if McKinlay was able to get more first dates after “hacking” OkCupid, his meticulous creep-bot work does nothing to get him any more second dates — the story informs us that he’s been on over 80 first dates (sometimes, classily, two per day) since starting the project, but notes that only three had follow-ups. (The story notes that McKinlay does eventually meet someone—a woman outside his “A-group” who independently contacts him.) And this is the single greatest flaw in the McKinlay model, the one that reveals most about what he (and people like him) think of women: the fact that eventually, they will have to meet these women. In person. In the inconvenient, independent variable-laden real world.

Correction: an earlier version of this story stated that McKinlay had been on over 20 first dates, not 80, and did not mention that McKinlay had eventually met someone.

I am white, a mathematician, and I did use my knowledge to meet with 88 like-minded women in an efficient way. Most of those dates were wonderful experiences. However I was looking to meet someone to start a committed relationship with, and I was being extremely selective because I could afford to be. My last OkCupid date was with my life partner Christine, who succinctly described Heaney’s perspective in a gender bending tweet:

it’s the same mindset. @KTHeaney is the #pua when it comes to #clickbait #hifive

In other words Katie Heaney objectifies me in order to pick up page-views rather than women.

After the Buzzfeed article came out a friend of mine reached out to Heaney and offered to send her a copy of my book, which discusses methods for meeting like-minded people on OkCupid using the gender-neutral terms “searcher” and “responder”. My analysis of the performative aspects of these roles is very much indebted to queer theorist Judith Butler’s conception of gender performativity which, in addition to its obvious topical relevance, has significant mathematical implications for any analysis of high-dimensional user metadata in a putatively bipartite social graph structure such as OkCupid’s. Heaney glibly declined the offer.

The Katie Heaney approach to “content” characterizes the Buzzfeed business model in general. They have earned their reputation for treating journalism as an accessory that their advertisers are entitled to. I don’t need a penis or a PhD or a Director of Partnership Development to tell me that Buzzfeed’s algorithms are focused on quantity and acceleration rather than countenancing people or ideas, I just need to pay attention.

So thanks but no thanks Buzzfeed. Why don’t you ask Katie Heaney? She seems to know a lot about probability and besides, she’s your perfect match.

Christopher McKinlay is a mathematician and hacktivist. While still a graduate student at UCLA, he used a variety of machine learning techniques to reverse-engineer the dating website OkCupid and become the most popular male profile in Los Angeles. The hack was featured in Wired and was the magazine’s second most popular story in 2014.