In the past, it was common enough to connect to queer community through works of art. The coded phrase “do you listen to girl in red” became a way of asking about someone’s sexuality without asking for Gen Z teens struggling to find a safe space to explore their Sapphic identity, and it’s far from the only signifier of queerness that cautious baby queers have used to find out if they’re in safe, accepting company.
That said, you have to find the work first: unless, of course, it finds you.
According to BBC journalist Ellie House, Netflix might just be using AI to predict the queer sexualities of users before they themselves have any idea of their orientation. Part of what made the Netflix algorithm work so well is that it used user engagement in current shows to predict what might appeal to them in the future. And in House’s case, that had dramatic real-world consequences.
A decades-old letter from Barack Obama to a former girlfriend reveals the president may have been more than just an ally to the queer community.
Six months before House even thought about questioning her presumed heterosexuality, Netflix started showing her queer content. Did the company know something she didn’t, or did her interest in engaging with queer media help to hasten along her inevitable coming out?
Netflix wasn’t the only culprit: House was recommended queer content by TikTok as well. That might come as less of a surprise, knowing that Gen Z’s hyper-visual learners are far more likely to hit up TikTok than Google for answers to life’s tough questions. But can TikTok tell if someone is queer just by keeping an eye on the content they’re liking?
Netflix probably can. House explains that before she came out as bisexual, Netflix recommended she check out the show “You Me Her,” a Canadian show about a queer group of polyamorous individuals balancing life and love. A few months later, she came out as bisexual.
“It’s not like Netflix ‘turned’ me gay — that’s not how it works — but it felt like it knew something I was still figuring out. What was it about me and the way I interacted with the platform that made it suggest this content?”