Digital quarantine? Grindr considers HIV filter

A colleague from UMontréal, David Myles, posted these Grindr screencaps in a group for researchers interested in hook-up apps.  Turns out Grindr is surveying at least some of its members to find out how they feel about filtering other members by HIV status.

For a long time it has been possible on sites like BarebackRT and Manhunt to search by HIV status — for example, to facilitate serosorting as a way of partially reducing the risk of HIV transmission during unprotected sex, before PrEP came along.  Users could also save searches, so if they ticked every box except HIV-positive, they could construct their own de facto anti-HIV filters.

But it is a completely different ballgame for the makers of an app to build in a feature that effectively facilitates digital quarantine of people living with HIV.

It signals that HIV stigma is normal and rational.

Now, it could be said that people who use the filter are effectively isolating themselves from people living with HIV — reducing the likelihood of encounters where stigma is enacted in the form of verbal abuse and discrimination.  (Here’s one I prepared earlier.)

But Grindr filters, to the best of my knowledge, only stop matching profiles from appearing on the ‘grid’ — the display cabinet or catalogue of other users.

Would the HIV filter work differently, making that user invisible to others whose HIV status didn’t match their preferences — more like an automatic block function?

If it did, and enough HIV-negative people used it, it really would constitute a form of digital quarantine that leaves people with HIV outcast and invisible.

If it didn’t, it might set the scene for even more stigmatising encounters, fuelled by filter users’ surprise (and probably anger) that someone with HIV had contacted them.

Alternatively, they might assume that everyone who contacted them was HIV-negative, and the problematic implications of that assumption are well-known.

Grindr needs to cut this out.  Right now.  We are living in an era of effective prevention medication.  We should not be reinforcing categories that are used in less effective strategies for prevention.

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12 thoughts on “Digital quarantine? Grindr considers HIV filter

  1. Regardless of how this is implemented, I’d be perfectly satisfied to have folks who use the filter not see or contact me. In other words, I’d be happy to be invisible to them. Having some negative guys be surprised to receive a message from me as a poz guy would be nothing new, going back to 1996 when I first started cruising via AOL chat rooms.

    As experienced users, many of us who are stigmatized (for serostatus or other reasons) either get out of the kitchen or cultivate a combination of coping mechanisms that include a) developing thick skin, b) refraining from contacting folks and waiting to hear from those who are interested (attraction, not promotion), c) nurturing our sense of humor, and d) talking and laughing about our online experiences with close friends.

    As to surprises, the surprise to the clueless of finding out that someone who listed negative is positive (whether related to non-disclosure or seroconversion) will of course continue to exist.

    I appreciate the post, and I get the philosophical / cultural point.

    Still, in my experience both as a younger and middle-aged US man having lived in a mid-sized US city and regularly visited larger cities, this kind of change won’t make a hill of beans difference.

    • Really great comment, Mark, welcome to the blog and thanks for posting. Part of my concern is that neg guys only learn not to stigmatise via those encounters with poz guys. And it SUCKS for poz guys to have to be educators in that context, I know. But it is probably the most effective thing — in my own experience and the research on ‘personal contact’ strategies for stigma reduction. That’s why it is so completely fucked that Grindr is offering to help make HIV invisible in the lives of negative guys.

  2. In an age where so much is happening in the world, why make targets of Poz guys. I think it’s up to the user, wether he be negative or Poz.
    Some of my friends are Poz, but they also have morals and scruples. Choosing to list ones health status is still based on the honor system. So why even have the user answer the question? People still lie in this day and age.
    How can grinder even think that their system would work? People are fearful of rejection and stereotypes. Do we really need to be seen in that light?
    Myself as a negative gay married man, who is quite happy. I have no need to even use Grinder, but I have friends that do, both Poz and Negative. I think they’d find it absurd as well as ignorant of the company. It’s kinda like an invasion of privacy. Isn’t the whole Grinder thing supposed to be a pleasant experience?
    Having met my Husband on Match.com, I didn’t have to list my health status, and I’m sure I was contacted by some guys who were Poz. Being Poz had no influence on who I chose to date or get to know, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to have to answer a question about my health status. I find it rather bothersome and redundant.
    In today’s society we are asked the question over and over, wether it be for life insurance, health insurance, or giving blood. When will it stop, and leave it up to those who matter. I believe it’s a matter of preference. As well as good moral fiber. Let people make their own decisions and stop being BIG BROTHER, after all, people are people and you can’t stop someone from checking negative if that’s what they choose.

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  5. I feel this does sort of criminalize or to use your word, “quarantine” certain people in a way that could come across in a very judgmental way.
    But here’s my question, what about all “social quarantine” committed by gays against other gays with phrases like “No fats, no femmes”
    “White only” “No Beans” or “No Rice” and so on and so forth?

    Also, this so called filter banks on the assumption that all who are positive are being being honest and self disclosing that information.
    WE ALL KNOW that’s not true.

    So, how is this filter any different than the social filters found in abundance throughout the gay community?

    • I’ve criticised the sexual racism as well, Marc! And I address your question in the post — what makes this problematic is that the makers of the app, people who hold themselves out as leaders in a movement for equality, are signalling that stigma is normal and natural. There’s not much we can do about individual people holding particular beliefs, except try and persuade them to change. But we absolutely shouldn’t go ahead and *validate* them.

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