Grindr removes ethnicity filter to combat racism

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 8, 2020
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The NiceAF Campaign is soliciting videos about the stigma people have faced on LGBTQ dating apps, such as Grindr, as part of a competition to highlight the importance of online civility. Photo: Screengrab via BHOC
The NiceAF Campaign is soliciting videos about the stigma people have faced on LGBTQ dating apps, such as Grindr, as part of a competition to highlight the importance of online civility. Photo: Screengrab via BHOC

Grindr, the largest hookup app for gay men, has dispensed with its ethnicity filter as it and other GBTQ dating platforms have joined together with a public health consortium to produce the NiceAF campaign, with the stated goal of encouraging people to be kinder to one another on the apps, and to fight the stigmas that people encounter on them.

One of the ways they have been doing so is by having a video competition accessible through the apps. A winner will be announced July 17.

"We will reward the most voted videos with a cash prize of $300 and will have $100 for the two runners-up," Tony Taylor, a queer man who is a project manager with the local consortium Building Healthy Online Communities, said in a phone call with the Bay Area Reporter June 24. "The contestants decide what to speak about based on personal experience: race; but HIV and body stigma as well."

People have been invited to participate through in-app advertisements donated by Adam4Adam, Daddyhunt, Grindr, POZ Personals, Scruff, and Jack'd. People can view the videos on the NiceAF campaign website. The deadline for submissions for the cash prizes was July 2, but as of July 7 people are still invited to submit videos and testimonials, Taylor said.

Taylor's associate Jen Hecht, a queer woman who is the director of the BHOC, was on the same phone call with the B.A.R.

Hecht said that one person who has already submitted a video focused on unsolicited nude photos and belligerent behavior, "which is a unique take as to how niceness looks online," she added.

"Incorporation of humor and creativity are encouraged, but not a requirement of winning," Hecht said.

Grindr removes ethnicity filter

Both Hecht and Taylor said that they were happy that Grindr — the largest social networking app for GBTQ people — announced last month in the midst of the national uproar over race following the police killing of George Floyd that it would be removing its ethnicity filter. In the wake of Grindr's announcement, Scruff and Jack'd also announced they were doing away with their filters.

The filter has been controversial for years as a means to discriminate between potential sexual partners on the basis of their ethnic/racial backgrounds.

"[Grindr is] committed to doing it for the next release," Hecht said last month.

A spokesperson for Grindr stated to the B.A.R. after the initial interview with Hecht and Taylor that the elimination of the ethnicity filter had been delayed due to a recent change in Grindr ownership, but that changes began at the end of June.

For the last four years, Grindr had been owned by a Chinese company but it sold its 98% stake in March to U.S.-based San Vicente Acquisition Partners.

"We have now completed all the changes to our apps and service needed to remove the ethnicity filters, and the [quality assurance] review on the updates is complete," the spokesperson, who declined to have his name published, stated.

The changes began June 30, following a review period from both Google and Apple on app updates, the spokesperson said.

Hecht stated in a July 1 email to the B.A.R. that Grindr has done away with the filter. A cursory look at the latest edition of the app July 7 confirmed this.

"Many men of color have asked for this and we applaud Grindr for taking this step," Hecht said, adding that there are "several negative consequences that we anticipate" such as increased negative messages to minorities from those "who previously saw only white users in their cascade," increases in racialized language in users' profiles, and less of an ability for minority groups to find each other.

"We look forward to working with Grindr on addressing these issues so we can build online communities that are healthy for everyone," Hecht stated.

Hecht said last month that she hoped the change will be accompanied by "a thoughtful roll-out."

Part of that may involve adding an "additional moderating process for language that occurs on the site," Hecht said.

"If an individual makes comments within their profile, or the way they treat other people, that's what the NiceAF campaign is about," Hecht added.

Grindr did not respond to multiple requests for comment about potential moderation.

Of 15 Grindr users messaged by this reporter to inquire as to the thoughts of app users on the end of the ethnicity filter, only one responded as of press time.

"Overall, I'd say it's a good thing! Grindr should be helping to foster a positive community between people based on more than simply physical attributes," a user who identified himself as Russell wrote. "It's not a perfect solution to the hypersexual lens of LGBTQ+ culture, but it's a step in a better direction."

As to whether people will become nicer, Russell isn't so sure.

"Whether it makes things more civil remains TBD ... There are a lot of people who simply don't know how to have a respectful conversation about race, culture, or ethnicity. I suspect there will be a learning curve for some," Russell added.

Other apps embrace campaign

Carl Sandler, the founder and CEO of the Daddyhunt app, stated in an email to the B.A.R. on July 7 that participating in the NiceAF campaign was "a logical step for us."

"Since the creation of Daddyhunt, we have encouraged people to treat each other with mutual respect on our platform and not to discriminate based on race or HIV status. Having worked with BHOC in the past, participating in the NiceAF campaign was a logical step for us," Sandler stated. "With all that is happening in the world, we believe that this campaign educates people about certain stigmas and will encourage people to change their behavior."

An unidentified spokesperson for Daddyhunt stated that the platform is not planning on removing its ethnicity filter.

"Yes, we have allow [sic] members to filter by ethnicity. We respect that other platforms have made the decision to remove this filter, but on Daddyhunt, we have not experienced the same issues that other apps have," the spokesperson stated. "Our members treat each other with mutual respect and don't discriminate based on ethnicity, HIV status, age or any other factor. In short, it is a welcome platform for all, which is a central part of the Daddyhunt code, which people can agree to adhere to when they join."

Adam4Adam, POZ Personals, Scruff, and Jack'd did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Since the widespread proliferation of LGBTQ dating apps in the past decade, experts have been calling attention to the negative effects on mental health faced by individuals who feel stigmatized or rejected, and/or who become addicted to acceptance they may find on them. A 2018 Vox article compared Grindr, for example, to "a slot machine that rewards you with an orgasm at unpredictable intervals."

Hecht said that the response to the NiceAF campaign so far has been "overwhelmingly positive, though we have some folks who were not happy to see what we were doing."

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