A few weeks ago I ran a piece raising concerns about Grindr’s proposal to enable filtering by HIV status on its hookup app for gay and bisexual men. The story got picked up by CNN, Mic.com and the Fairfax newspapers in Australia.
My main concern was that it enables HIV-negative men to enact a kind of ‘digital quarantine’ that they may think will protect them from ever encountering a person living with HIV on the app.
While I was in London, my Grindr app updated and the filter became available. Here’s how it works: guys on the app have always been able to identify as members of different ‘Tribes’, such as Bear, Daddy, Twink and Poz.
Now, Grindr has enabled a ‘My Type’ filter that lets Premium users see only guys:
- with photos
- in a certain age, height, or weight range
- of a certain ethnicity, body type or positional preference (e.g. ‘top’ or ‘bottom’)
- who are single or not, looking for hookups or not
- and who belong to certain Tribes
This is how an HIV-negative guy could enact digital quarantine against Poz guys:
In the first image, I’ve ticked all the Tribes except Poz — this is the ‘digital quarantine’ mode. As an educator who’s done countless hours of online outreach, my prediction is that negative guys who fear HIV will begin to pressure Poz guys to join this tribe.
In the second image, there’s something equally concerning: what we might call ‘HIV Cerebro’, after the technology used in the X-Men movies to visualise all the mutants worldwide.
If there are only 3-4 guys meeting the criteria in my local area, the app will expand the search radius… When I set ‘My Type’ to include only guys in the Poz tribe, it showed me all the guys identifying as Poz in a search radius up to 17,000km away.
Many of those guys were out-‘n-proud Poz activists in London and the States, with profile headlines like [+u] meaning ‘poz, undetectable viral load’ or ‘u=u’ undetectable = uninfectious (this is true).
But there were also a small number of guys in countries where having sex while HIV-positive is illegal even if condoms are used; and where homosexual activity is illegal.
Here’s the kicker. In the interviews I did with different media outlets, I noted that sites like DudesNude and apps like Hornet offer a similar ability to see other Poz members — but only if you join the Poz tribe yourself.
Grindr is unusual in allowing anyone to search the Poz tribe, as long as they have a Premium membership.
A further problem is that when you tick the box to ‘enter’ the Poz tribe… absolutely nothing happens (left image, below).
This is a missed opportunity on Grindr’s part. At a bare minimum, clicking the box should trigger a pop-up with information about the possibility of being identified, and identifying strategies for protecting themselves and local organisations that can provide support.
Most guys won’t need this, and might even feel it’s intrusive — but it needs to be made clear that joining the tribe makes you findable via ‘HIV Cerebro’.
This is important, given the app also allows people to list their Facebook, twitter and Instagram accounts (right image above) — linking people’s identities to their online activities, which might include chats about sexual fantasies they would never enact ‘in real life’. Such chats have been interpreted by courts and researchers alike as evidence.
In case that seems like a long-shot risk, remember that Grindr’s global equality initiative was only created in the aftermath of reports that security officials in post-revolutionary Egypt were using Grindr to identify and arrest men who have sex with men.
Grindr recently issued one-off messages to Egyptian users to warn of a similar crackdown on men who used Facebook to meet other same-sex attracted men.
Were you aware this is how the Poz tribe works? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
You can also join the discussion on the Bad Blood Facebook page.
This post has been updated to reflect a correction made by Mark ‘middle’ Hubbard (comments).