A gay man’s dangerous experience after being catfished via an online dating app has shined a light on the darker sides of the technology.
Between people hiding behind fake profiles – which can lead to violent incidents – to individuals using dating apps to tap into a potential market where they can sell sex, apps like Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, Bumble and so many others may not be as innocent as they seem.
Lovin Malta had reported on a case where an apparently straight man was using Grindr to meet gay men and solicit €100 in exchange for sexual favours. The case is currently under investigation by the Maltese police.
“He is far from the only one – usually I’ll just leave any chats and report their account as soon as money is brought up with me if I’m chatting to someone, even if we are connecting well,” one Grindr user told Lovin Malta. “But if they get caught and get blocked, they’ll probably just find another way to access a new account. Sometimes, they’ll even get into a relationship and try to use their new partner’s account to solicit.”
Dating apps use algorithms to present people with potential matches.
However, while there are a number of security checks in place to catch anyone that is lying about who they are or using the platforms in any other way than intended, some people can still make it through.
When it comes to Grindr, probably the world’s pre-eminent LGBTIQ dating app, there are additional security concerns to consider for anyone planning on using it.
“Grindr was owned by a Chinese Fintech company,” Clayton Mercieca, community manager at Allied Rainbow Communities (ARC), told Lovin Malta.
“It was fully bought out in 2016 for €93 million, before being sold to San Vicente Acquisition for €608.5 million in 2020 after a US government committee expressed national security concerns over their ownership.”
“This in itself is already a huge red flag,” Mercieca said.
Besides the security issues associated with using the app, there are other, more physical issues to consider as well.
“The problem of catfishing and soliciting for money seems to be across different platforms and not just Grindr,” Mercieca continued. “In the past, I tried setting up an ARC profile on Grindr to serve as an info point for people who wanted to ask about anything, but mostly to direct people in the right direction when it came to sexual health.”
“Within the few days I had set this up, I used to received numerous queries about everything and anything, and made me realise how many people in fact have no idea about the GU Clinic’s presence, LGBTIQ events taking place on the islands outside of Grindr’s underworld, and lack of knowledge in general about use of condoms, PrEP, PEP, and STDs.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, “it only lasted a few days because Grindr’s AI technology banned me from keeping a ‘company’ profile as it broke community guidelines. Yet, fake profiles, underaged users and scammers never seem to be removed. This is obviously very frustrating when trying to do something for the wellbeing of the community, but you’re up against a Goliath such as Grindr.”
Mercieca noted that some LGBTIQ developers have tried to create dating apps that support verified users with a strong focus on connecting people via their interests, and not just dividing by sexual preference.
“Nevertheless, these apps were never as successful and eventually closed down,” he said.
It’s good to note that there definitely have been some real positive connections made via these apps, and Mercieca does not condemn anyone who uses Grindr – ARC have even issued tips to help stay safe while using these apps.
“I find the app problematic in the way it can cause so much hurt, betrayal, and ultimately shapes the way many gay people think of other gay people,” Mercieca said. “Personas on Grindr take a totally different dimension than if you were to meet them in real life and getting to know them.”
Mercieca hoped that people looking to connect with someone would be able to find the courage to head out and meet people, and not focus their efforts solely on their screentime, as anxious as that might make some people.
“I wish the gay community would find it less anxious to turn up at community events and rely less on apps such as Grindr to get to meet others,” he said. “But this is where, oftentimes, drugs and excessive substance use takes over to decrease this social anxieties that only results in a negative impact on our mental health and the trauma it causes to many gay people.”
Have you ever had an experience on Grindr that left you concerned or scared? Contact Lovin Malta in confidence by emailing [email protected] to share your story