opinion

Opinion | 'Grindr removing ethnicity filters could put LGBTQ BIPOC at greater risk of abuse'

Gay dating apps already infamous for a lack of effective moderation must now do more to protect BIPOC users, writes Lerone Clarke-Oliver.

2020-06-05

Grindr, Jack’d and Scruff recently announced they are removing the ethnicity filters from their dating platforms as part of their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. However, many users may find that this move has very serious safety, mental health and community implications.

While the feature, which will disappear as part of Grindr’s next update, has been defended by users in the past for helping them find those they’re “into”, it had, in fact, allowed people to explicitly discriminate based on race.

On the surface, the move seems positive, though it begs the question: why was a tool allowing for entire ethnic groups to be digitally excluded from the user experience - or adversely targeted - designed in the first place?

The reality is, by removing the feature, ethnic minority groups will be exposed to the very people they were maligned by. With the feature, users who do want to engage in the problematic filtering of race can do so without causing offence or harm to others.

The concern is that without the feature, some might feel encouraged to state even more explicitly racist language on their profiles – on platforms already infamous for a lack of effective moderation. The term ‘No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians, No Blacks…’ in its many configurations has long been synonymous with Grindr and other similar platforms.

Conversely, the ethnicity filter was a welcome and useful tool for many LGBTQ+ BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour). “[Grindr is] removing a safety feature that helped me connect with people like me,” one Black user tells. This option will now not be available.

In a statement via Instagram, the company said: “We will continue to fight racism on Grindr both through dialogue with our community and a zero-tolerance policy for racism and hate speech on our platform. As part of this commitment, and based on your feedback, we have decided to remove the ethnicity filter from our next release.⁣”

It is unclear to me how Grindr, the largest player in the digital dating market, plans to “fight racism” and moderate its 4 million daily users. The removal of the filter doesn’t in and of itself address the wider, societal and systemic racism that would make race-based filters an option in the first place.

I’ve had some great experiences on Grindr. However, I also experience ongoing examples of racism on the app - abuse from users I was not engaging with, or called the ‘N’ word - before, during and post meeting them. I’ve been attacked after calling out blatant ‘BBC’ fetishisation and been told I ought to feel lucky to be having a conversation.

Lerone Clarke-Oliver

These experiences had a profound impact on my self-worth. Now, when Grindr users mention my race it’s a red flag - if someone’s problematic on Grindr, they’re probably problematic in real life, too.

As with many brands spouting baseless support for #BlackLivesMatter in a time of collective unrest, the decision appears to be an opportunistic PR move that simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

A study conducted by the Center for Humane Technology found that Grindr topped its list of apps that left users (77%) feeling unhappy after use; and while this is likely for a number of reasons not exclusively related to race, it is symbolic of a platform that has struggled to sufficiently serve a user base broad in innumerable diversities.

In recent years, the app has attempted to directly address the racism on its platform with campaigns including ‘Kindr on Grindr’, which hoped to put an end to profiles which listed ‘no fats, no femmes, no Blacks, no Asians’, but without actually designing an app that could prevent it.

At the end of the day, Grindr and other apps can create as much content as they want, but politely asking people not to be racist on a platform well-known for it is lazy. It’s clear that what is needed is more stringent monitoring of its users actions and language.

 

How dating apps respond to racism and discrimination on their platforms is made particularly pressing in our current climate of political unrest, that much is evident. But studies suggest that racism may be increasing on Grindr, which relies so heavily on its offer of anonymity.

Grindr is perhaps the most globally recognised LGBTQ community brand – and one valued at $608.5 million USD. The question remains exactly how it plans to open its purse and meaningfully invest in combating racism and discrimination on its platform after the protests and calls-to-action die down.

Follow Lerone Clarke-Oliver on Instagram.