Playing nice – did the apps actually get kinder?
Both Grindr and Scruff — arguably the biggest gay dating/hookup apps — have made efforts to encourage better user behaviour.
Grindr’s Kindr Grindr campaign, launched in September 2018, tells the stories of users who have been on the receiving end of abuse and discrimination. In the same month, Scruff’s CEO Eric Silverberg wrote an article for The Advocate outlining his commitment to making the app a safe space for everyone.
Nobody who’s ever used a dating app will have to ask why this needed to happen — when RuPaul’s Drag Race is referencing ‘no fats, no fems, no Asians’ on international television, it’s clear there’s something going on.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 8 Finale) | Kim Chi’s ‘Fat, Fem & Asian’ Performance | Logo
A 2015 study conducted in Australia found that 96 per cent of Grindr users surveyed had seen profiles including discrimination on the basis of race. Just over 12 per cent admitted that theirs was one of them. Over half reported that they felt they were victims of racial discrimination. Add to this the many other flavours of online discrimination — body shaming, HIV stigma, transphobia, femmephobia, ableism — and it’s easy to see why companies like Grindr and Scruff have been making changes.
Kindness is our preference
One of the biggest questions being asked (and not really answered) was whether ‘sexual preference’ is discrimination at all. From one perspective, the problem seems like a part of human nature we can’t control. We’re online to meet guys, we’re not going to hook up with someone we’re not attracted to, and we’re all attracted to different things. That’s not something an app can regulate, right?
But from another perspective, most people would be outraged by this exact thing in any other avenue of life — imagine a business with a ‘no black guys’ or ‘we only like Asians’ sign in the window.
It’s also a suspicious coincidence that online ‘sexual discrimination’ affects the same minorities who experience discrimination in everyday life. Around the same time as Grindr and Scruff were doing some soul-searching, a study conducted at Cornell University was also published, which found that allowing users on dating apps to filter their matches by race was actually promoting discrimination.
It’s worth noting as well that, prior to the ‘Kindr’ initiative, Grindr was threatened with a class-action lawsuit by Asian-American men claiming it enabled and encouraged racism.
So, since then, have the apps made good on their respective commitments to change?
Yes and no. There have been a few changes to end user agreements and the way the apps are moderated. Language explicitly excluding or targeting one minority group (language like ‘Not into…’ or ‘Only looking for…’) is flagged for removal, with a warning message to the user. But Grindr still allows users to filter profiles by ethnicity.
Scruff has taken a compromise position (which Silverberg acknowledges is controversial), allowing users to see ethnicity on other profiles only if they display it on their own. So far, so… kind?
One thing both Scruff and Grindr have pushed is the basic principle of maintaining these apps as a safe space. As US comedian Joel Kim Booster says in the Kindr Grindr campaign, “If you don’t put ‘no Asians’ in your profile, that doesn’t mean you have to fuck Asians now. It just means that I don’t have to see it.”
One person stating a preference in a private chat might be something you can shrug off. Dozens of people stating their preferences in a shared online platform makes a very unwelcoming community if you’re one of the non-preferred. It’s about creating a space where everyone can feel welcome, and that means understanding that, sometimes, there are things more important than ‘preferences’.