Dating Apps and the Stigma Surrounding HIV

By Josh Wilbanks

 

Dating apps are a segment within social media that is only growing as being the convenient way to casually pick and choose individuals in a large pool of profiles while casually moving about your day. It’s becoming even easier than before to efficiently wade through potential “matches” with the consideration of summarized life biographies, front-faced camera selfies, and cheesy pick-up lines. The art of introducing yourself to another person in a public setting has evolved into the process of Direct Messaging, texting, FaceTiming and then setting a date to officially meet each other for the first time. Suddenly the romanticism in “love at first sight” has become “swipe left or swipe right”.
Different communities have added their unique touch to this expanding category in social media by targeting groups related to their interests such the app Grindr, which is predominately used by gay men. By understanding their market, the Grindr team has enabled new and different ways to help gay men communicate in a largely underrepresented environment but has also fueled excessive stereotyping through the use of categorizing, labeling, and feeding the stigma surrounding HIV positive men.
For those of you who have never used Grindr, whenever a person first constructs their profile they have multiple options to dwindle both their personality and looks. There are the casual facts about themselves that a person would usually find on most dating apps (age, height, an awkward paragraph attempting to summarize their life) but Grindr takes it to the extent of categorizing its users in “Tribes” based on lifestyle, looks, and sex appeals; one of which is “poz” or otherwise known as an HIV positive person. While this does favorably allow HIV positive gay men to communicate and relate with other affected men, it usually isn’t such a supportive attribute to the users of the app. Disclosing their HIV status has become an intense process of immense imageonline harassment by people who are afraid of being infected, are not understanding of what it may be like to be infected, and feed the stigma surrounding their lack of knowledge about the subject as shown by messages fed throughout the app of people thinking that “[a user] deserves to have it. Teaches [him] to stop being a slut” (Strudwick). While Grindr has installed a system in which users can disclose this information publicly to raise awareness about being tested for HIV, the app hasn’t truly adapted to eliminate the sense of discrimination as a whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chen, Aria. “Should dating apps have HIV filters?” CNN. Cable News Network, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/15/health/online-dating-app-hiv-std-filter/

Strudwick, Patrick. “These HIV Guys Read Out Hurtful Grindr Messages.” BuzzFeed. N.p., 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
https://www.buzzfeed.com/patrickstrudwick/this-is-what-its-like-using-dating-apps-when-youre-hiv-posit?utm_term=.gf297Dgp3O#.jmXgz741lB

Published by

UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism