Seth Rait

Student, Coder, Sailor, Musician

Grindr, a popular gay dating and hookup app (with notoriously poor reliability), holds an important place in the gay community. It has 5-6 million monthly active users and 2.4 million daily active users (source) in 196 countries (as of April, 2016). That’s a lot of people, a vast majority of whom are gay men. This large userbase gives Grindr a platform to spread ideas, which it does regularly. Grindr commonly supports urgent and developing causes through pop-up ads on the app’s home screen.

Most of the initiatives Grindr supports are in someway related to LGTBQ rights, though not exclusively. These pop-ups generally link to reputable organizations such as the Red Cross. This would have me believe a cause to which Grindr would be amenable is the destigmatization of those living with HIV. I was surprised to find, however, that this is not the case. Instead, Grindr is aiding in the proliferation of a hurtful and destructive culture that looks down upon those living with HIV.

Grindr’s New Survey

Recently, Grindr has been sending out a survey to some of its active users. I didn’t receive the survey, so I only found out about this secondhand. The survey looks like this (sorry for the low-res): alt text For those who didn’t take the time to read, this survey is asking about whether users would appreciate a new Grindr filter, one predicated on HIV status. The way Grindr filters work is, a user sets a preference, be it for body type, relationship status, or other various features of a potential match, and those for whom this user’s filters don’t correspond are invisible to the user when his filter is applied. For example, if I selected a filter wherein I was only interested in seeing profiles of users under the age of 99, then no user over that age would appear to me on the app. However, a user over that age could still contact me, and as long as I met the characteristics described in his filters, my profile would show up on his feed. So applying this same logic to an HIV filter would mean that a user could choose to see exclusively HIV positive/negative users, but that user could still be contacted and seen by users they cannot see.

This Is Bad

This is not an effective way of dealing with this complex issue. Were this feature implemented, it would only cause an increase in stigmatization of people with a disease that is already very poorly understood by most people. This feature serves to ostracize people with HIV by not only segregating them from the rest of Grindr’s user base, but by doing it poorly.

Here’s what’s likely to happen if this filter is implemented: users who have selected to not be shown those who are HIV positive will assume that everyone who contacts them is HIV negative. thus increasing the likelihood of them participating in unsafe sex with a partner whose HIV status they only assume, but do not know. Users often forget that their filters are not reciprocal, that is, they go only one way. As such, if someone contacts them, they assume that person matches their filters until evidence contrary to that assumption is brought forth. This evidence is usually rather clear in the case of something like a user’s age, but is less clear with HIV status. As it stands currently, Grindr users often ask each other their status before engaging in sexual activity, but with this filter in use, that will not happen nearly as often.

Outing HIV+ Users

Further, this new feature has the potential to out those with HIV who may not previously have desired such, and are now given little choice. Merely through being ommited, they are put further at risk of dehuminization and potential externalities which are not immediately evident. All at once, people could be subject to job loss, familial tension, and social ostricization due to their status. People have the right to shape thier lives without unasked-for input and the indignation which insues.

The Climate

People are afraid of HIV because they don’t understand it. They don’t know what HIV looks like, and hiding it from them only makes it scarier when they’re confronted with it. HIV is now a manageable disease, and people with HIV can often live long and relatively normal lives. HIV prevention is also at an all-time high. With drugs like PrEP available under most health insurance plans, and available free to those without health insurance, as well as the increased rate of condom usage, transmission rates are continuing to drop (although, there are some hiccups.) Even so, because education of HIV is so minimal, it is still treated by many as something to fear, thus these people treat those who have HIV as someone to fear. It is not Grindr’s place to introduce these hardships on its userbase, and the company would do well to ensure that doesn’t happen.

We need to work on increasing access to education and knowledge about preventative measures, and we need to stop trying to hide people away to pretend they don’t exist. The view that those living with HIV are dangerous, unclean, or in anyway lesser because of their disease is shamefull and wrong, and it needs to be ammended. Grindr, a company which really should know better, needs to do its part in this respect and think very hard before releasing a ‘feature’ like this.

Unconscious Bias in Gay Dating Culture - Seth Rait