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Grindr: The dark reality (Part 2)


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I’ve previously argued that Grindr is theoretically unethical and problematic. But some of you may ask: Why does this matter? What is so wrong with Grindr in the real world? What practical problems does it cause and how are we to see these through the eyes of ethics?

The reality is the practical worries blacken Grindr even more than the theoretical ones, as it has the potential to become a hotbed for racism, the pimping of vulnerable teenagers and a platform for the unconsented exposing of hundreds of men.

One emerging trend is for profiles to denote the kind of men users want to contact, using phrases such as “No Asians”, “No Blacks” or “No Over 25s” to become commonplace. Sex-expert Samantha Allen said that:

"If you’re a gay man, phrases like ‘no blacks’ and ‘no Asians’ aren’t just words that you’d find on old signs in a civil rights museum, they are an unavoidable and current feature of your online dating experience. This form of ‘Grindr’ speech has virtually crippled the self-esteem of many of these popular hookup app’s users." (It’s simply sexual racism.)

Grindr’s response to such a worry is that expressions such as “No Asians” denotes a preference, rather than a racist slur, and the app’s creator, Joel Simkhai, said: “It isn’t his job to police such things”.

As one anonymous blogger put in, “if I am gay I openly say I don’t want women, does that make me a misogynist? No.” Such a comment hinges on this ambiguous distinction between racism and preference; it may be someone’s preference not to sleep with Asian men, and evidence shows that some white men are not sexually attracted to Asian or Black men naturally, but in the nature of expressing it as “No Asians” it becomes an attack on a group of people who you ask not to talk to you (which would certainly be considered racist if publically spoken).

If Grindr promotes itself as not simply a sex app, then Asian men could talk to you for friendship and rejecting them would be tantamount to prejudice.

Evidence from a new leading Australian study, which correlated survey results from Grindr with our natural QDI (Quick Discrimination Index), found that:

“Racial discrimination on gay dating apps can be attributed to racist attitudes and not, as so many maintain, to benign aesthetic preferences. Sexual racism, it turns out, is probably just plain old racism disguised in the language of desire.” (Dr Denton Callender)

This seems to show that such expressions, as Allen believes, are fundamentally racist: they pretend to have a different agenda but are really the racism of the 1950s and 1960s re-introduced.

I think it would be a tad extreme to claim it is always intended racism (the QDI can work on impulse), but it is racism nonetheless that apps like Grindr are promoting (such phrases are hardly ever, if ever, seen on Tinder).

So it seems the bigger problem is Grindr’s bad policing of the language used on the app, which seems to be outside its responsibilities. If the app creators do not see the difference between expressing preference and racism, then neither will its users. This is simply negligent of the app’s developers.

The same follows through with ignoring people who are over the age of 25, which seems equal to some form of ageism. This ageism, however, might be slightly more understandable and permissible as it aims to prevent a more worrying rising trend in Grindr soliciting.

It has become common for older men to solicit sex from younger men in two ways: firstly by playing on the ‘daddy complex’, and secondly by offering them money. The latter is seemingly similar to prostitution and the former exploiting the ‘age differential effect’, by which many young men have the sexual desire for older men. Naturally, some younger men do authentically want older men and this is not necessarily problematic. In 2013 the MET dealt with 32 separate cases of so-called ‘sextortion’ off Grindr, which has risen rapidly to 135 separate cases in 2015 (most involving grooming). Gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell said that this a “worrying trend that seems likely to continue”.

Statistics also suggest that many of these older men are part of the 18% of Grindr profiles – over 2 million users – who are still in the closet, and perhaps ‘straight’ married men. The fact many young boys are also closeted or using the app secretly means they would also be less likely to report the abuse. When asked about their reaction and solution, Grindr simply ‘failed to comment’.

Grindr has become a hotbed for older men to take advantage of young gay men who – perhaps new to the scene – think that sleeping with older men, or even receiving money for it, is part of the ‘norm’ of gay sex. Young vulnerable teenagers (including those under and over 16) can become the victim of groomers without realising it before it’s too late. Even for those that do realise, they have to put up with constant demands to ‘suck my dick’ for £200. This is simply an indefensible culture.

This is then made even worse by the common exchange of nude pics on Grindr as men, without your permission, send pictures of their dick, ass or full body. What exactly this use of imagery amounts to is hard to determine. It most certainly is pornography, but then that’s not necessarily immoral (see my argument here). It is also an obscenity seemingly equal to public indecency, which is illegal.

But I would argue it goes even further and becomes a form of sexual harassment (though extending its atypical definition). By logging on to Pornhub or Redtube, you are signing a contract agreeing to observing indecent imagery. And so, pop-up porn aside, all is consensual between the provider and the viewer. Yet man do not sign up to Grindr under this consent – indeed its regulations do not permit exchanging such images. While most in the Grindr community accept it as standard, many say that they only seek ‘relationships’, ‘chats’, ‘friends’ or ‘networking’ on their profiles, specifically removing the ‘right now’ option indicating they up for a quick no-strings-attached sexual encounter. But still, unauthorised and without asking, men will send these users naked selfies of their body. As Christos Dallas sums up an ever-too-common Grindr situation:

“Moments of sending you 12 unannounced dick /ass pictures with the cheeks spread all the way open/pictures of them with them inside of things/things inside of them… Can you, like, tell me your name first?”

Furthermore, unless you upgrade to Premium, you can’t even block all the men that insist on continuously sending such pictures (unless you take on the tedious task of writing down all their names to remember not to open their messages).

Take the situation where someone sends a dick pic with no permission, before messaging again when there is no reply. The photo to the left is a situation like this, where a dick pick was then sent (but is removed from this photo). Some providers are better; Hornet specifically ‘locks’ indecent images until one side asks for permission to view them, and the other grants it. This, however, is not enough. Grindr, in its day-to-day working, is promoting what is basically a quasi-accepted form of sexual harassment – that is, unless, you’d be happy for someone to randomly walk up on the street and keep showing you pictures of their dick at different angles/positions without saying anything.

Grindr as an idea, or concept, works well. It provides a basis for gay men to meet other like-minded people and date. In theory, it should be a ‘safe space’; but on theoretical and practical grounds it is actually grossly ethically questionable. It dehumanises gay men, challenges the value of dating, love and the definition of homosexuality, and allows racism, pimping and sexual harassment.

It would be my recommendation, despite its usage as a place to meet gay friends and sexual partners, that Grindr be removed; that is, unless, the apps creators and moderators begin to police it more efficiently and more is done to present it as what it actually is. The question then becomes: would it all be too little, too late? Perhaps Grindr has already established itself as the paradigm of modern sexual immorality.

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