I’ve been over in New Orleans presenting some preliminary findings from my ‘dating app’ research, conducted with the excellent Kevin Brown of Queen’s University, Belfast, and funded by BILETA.

It’s actually an issue we didn’t much explore in that study that has been at the forefront of my mind recently.  I’ve learnt of some interesting Grindr ‘developments’ and I’m curious to know if these are isolated incidents or form part of a broader range of activity  the App is or has been engaging in.

It’s about bareback.  Namely, a condition in the terms of service of using Grindr (those terms you never read) that users of the App won’t ‘promote’ unsafe/bareback sex.

What, you might reasonably then ask, constitutes ‘promotion’?  A user picture of a needle piercing a condom perhaps?  A banner pronouncing ‘yay for bareback’ maybe?  A variation of the popular ‘no condoms’ images?  Someone pleading “breed me” or “seed me”?  Well, perhaps, perhaps.

The trouble is they don’t define what promote might mean.  In one case, the profile had been reported by a fellow user apparently offended by a mention on the profile that the user was seeking bareback sex.  Is to seek to promote?

grindrIn another case, the user made reference to hosting bareback groups, and this was picked up by site monitors when he changed his profile picture.  The site moderators informed him that they had edited his profile text to remove the bareback reference.

Is to facilitate others to have bareback sex more likely to hit some ‘promote’ threshold?  On neither of these occasions was the user banned from the site although that’s ultimately a sanction open to Grindr if users continue to breach their rules.

So, firstly,  to what extent is Grindr equally applying this rule, and if not, how is it deciding when it does intervene?  Is it restricted as in the two examples above to user complaints and discovery at the point of user-submitted profile review or does it extend to pro-active monitoring by Grindr?

I’m troubled by these moves.  For one thing, it will not stop bareback sex if that is the objective.  It necessitates instead that users negotiate this with others, potentially annoying non-bb site users who are then regularly propositioned for bb sex.  It may also drive some to seek alternative explicitly pro-bb sites, segregating the gay and MSM communities on condom user lines.  It also means that people who engage in riskier sex are harder for other users to identify.  This doesn’t/t stop bareback sex and doesn’t make for safer sex.  If anything, it’s arguably likely to encourage less safe encounters.

Whilst growing number of scholars focus on issues of HIV transmission and safer sex practices, and/or the use of condoms in pornography, the private regulation of bareback sex through Apps is perhaps another front in this war on bareback.

 

 

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