Grindr is a problem.
Besides the thousands of anecdotal stories regarding underage users on the app, the numerous sexual assaults and murders (Google Grindr + murder: the number of stories are staggering), catfishing, or the onslaught of racist and discriminatory screeds, the app has voluntarily done nothing to protect users.
The Cornell Daily Sun: We need to talk about Grindr. Its interface, its addictiveness and who is sexy on Grindr. When I first came to Ithaca, I was ecstatic to download the app, the icon garnished with a black background highlighting a yellow mask, suggesting anonymity. I spent hours scrolling. In my small hometown, the nearest person would be up to four miles away. My young, freshman eyes, wide and blue, scrolled for hours and were met with faceless profiles, abdominal and chest photos and love poems of “trade pics?”
He continues: Before I could process the visual overload of body pics, I was inundated with senior boys, football players, theater kids, the hot brunette on my floor, older Ithaca locals, daddies, twinks and otters — all of the camps in which gays could qualify. I knew my heart wanted a connection, but what I got was a series of disappointments and sketchy 3 a.m. walks to Collegetown Terraces or West Campus.
The interface and design of the app is meant to be anonymous, addicting and most of all, exclusionary. Unlike many other dating or hookup apps, you can filter the Grindr grid by race, age, height, body-type, “tribe” and now vaccination status. The filtering invites an exclusionary culture on the app. In fact, the term “no fat, no femmes, and no Asians,” was a popular bio phrase on many profiles in the mid 2010s. This term was so popular that it was sold on a T-shirt for $28.50. This is unsurprising, as a 2007 academic paper by Chong-Suk Han concludes that gay men “are more likely to distinguish between potential partners based on race than heterosexual men.”
The interface of Grindr makes it feel like you’re being marketed bodies, not individuals. Grindr gives users nine different “ethnicities” to choose from in a drop-down menu. Individuals who pay for the premium version of Grindr have the option to filter their matches based on this drop-down category. This quite literally means that people who use Grindr the most can filter out certain races. Already, there is an issue with racism in sexual and romantic spaces within the gay community — Grindr validates and amplifies this racism.
This might be why Louisiana college student Holden White, who was nearly murdered by a guy he met on the app last year, claims he’s using it again.
Insider: But while White seeks justice, he still frequently uses Grindr and other dating apps, he said. “I use all the apps because I don’t blame them 100% for what happened to me,” he said during a video call.
Nowadays, White takes more precautions, he said.
Above: Holden White was hospitalized in June 2020 after he met a man he’d been talking to on Grindr.
“Since the incident, I don’t go to their home anymore,” he said. “I either meet them in public, or they come to my house, because I live in apartments and I have roommates, so it’s safer that way.”
Several experts told Insider that while there are ways that people can use LGBTQ dating apps safely, apps like Grindr could be doing more to help mitigate risk for users.
There are numerous examples of violent attacks involving LGBTQ dating apps.
This week, an Oregon man accused of beating up a man he’d targeted on Grindr was charged with a hate crime, prosecutors said.
Last month, a man in Texas who used Grindr to lure and rob gay men was sentenced to 23 years in prison. A man in Jamaica who’d used a queer dating app to meet someone told the police that the person and two others set him on fire. In the UK, an inquest is investigating how Stephen Port, known as the “Grindr killer,” killed four men he met online.
There is “certainly the potential, risk, and fear” of these sorts of attacks, said Eli Coston, an assistant professor in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. They added that those who are “multiply marginalized” by being trans, a person of color, or working class, for example, were at particular risk.
But Coston said that these apps could also be a “really healthy, very helpful tool” for people to make connections and that the safety risks didn’t warrant a “moral panic.”
Coston said that while people using these apps should “understand the risks involved,” the apps could implement features to improve user safety, such as verifying all users’ identities within the app.
Grindr’s safety and privacy policies say users might be asked to verify their identity with a selfie or official government ID if their account is flagged for impersonation. Coston said that while verification in these instances is important, verifying users routinely would provide more protection.
“I think it’s important to point out that most dating apps don’t do this,” they said. “Even the option to verify your identity and add a badge to your profile so that users would know whether the person they are interacting with is verified or not would be helpful.”
Coston also recommended that dating apps make it easier to let a trusted person know of your whereabouts via a feature that shares your location with that person.
Grindr doesn’t include this feature, but it recommends in its safety tips that users let a “responsible” person know where they’re going.
“While advising users to share their location when meeting someone is important,” Coston said, “there are definitely ways that integration into the app itself would encourage users to be more proactive about doing so.”
Ian Holloway, an assistant professor of social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Insider that he also thought Grindr could be taking further steps to protect users. He said that “stronger staffing” would help it more effectively vet profiles and monitor reports.
“There’s often very little vetting because of the sheer volume of guys using these apps,” he told Insider.
At the start of 2021, Grindr was said to have over 13 million active users worldwide. Grindr said in a blog post in March that it combined “complex software” with over 100 customer-support and content-moderation staffers — roughly one moderator per 130,000 users.
“There is not enough content moderation on these platforms,” Holloway said. “And there’s really nothing that I’ve seen that allows users to escalate a case where they can get to an actual person.”
An October 2020 report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation described allegations from people who’d used Grindr that its features were failing to protect users from sexual predators and harassment.
“Grindr encourages users to be careful when interacting with people they do not know, and to report improper or illegal behavior either within the app or directly via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Users are encouraged to report criminal allegations to local authorities, and in these cases, we work directly with law enforcement as appropriate.”
Coston told Insider they didn’t think that went far enough.
“In my discussions about safety and dating apps with members of the LGBTQ+ community, many people have said that they would like additional safety features built directly into the apps,” they said.
Queries to Waddie G. part of Grindr’s Press Team: “Why haven’t you implemented a secure verification process and made it a requirement? You have the market locked, it’s easy to do and would eliminate the hundreds of assault and worse cases that happen via the app every year?” Went unanswered.
Hunter Simmons at Cornell has an answer though, especially after speaking with a handful of undergraduates: “Grindr preys on vulnerable underclassmen who may be seeking experiences deeper than body-shopping. While some may come with that intent, a larger number of those come to find the love or beauty of queer friendship that they missed out on in middle and high school and often get cornered into a treacherous game. In this game, one learns that you can either play dirty or walk away from the table. Walking away from the table may mirror the feelings of queer teenage years — missing out. Staying, more often than not, sucks you into a cycle in which the cards in your hands are empty or regrettable. With a lack of sufficient options for safe queer spaces, this dark corner with a table full of players is the only place to fill the hole by years passed.”
Above: Hunter Simmons
“Every day we grow the influence of this app by giving it our attention and it is about time that we either have conversations about how to change its hypersexual, racist interface or we abandon the app in the search of healthier queer spaces. It’s time we flip the table and recognize that Grindr is not sexy.”
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.