See this billboard?
There are four silhouettes showing two couples leaning in towards each other. The first two are labeled Tinder and Chlamydia, the second two are labeled Grindr and Gonorrhea. The only other information is a URL: freestdcheck.org.
At first glance, the intent is pretty clear: to encourage people who use dating apps like Tinder and Grindr to get checked for STDs. Seems innocent enough. Why not use the popularity of the dating apps to advertise a business that provides STD checks? You might be wondering why The Casual Sex Project is even posting about the billboard—STD checks are a good thing, right?
Tinder had a different reaction. They sent the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF), the company behind the billboards, a cease-and-desist notification claiming that the implications of the billboard were “unprovoked and wholly unsubstantiated accusations are made to irreparably damage Tinder’s reputation in an attempt to encourage others to take an HIV test offered by your organization.”
To them, the billboard may as well have said, “Tinder gives you chlamydia.” And they weren’t having it.
While Grindr wasn’t thrilled about the billboards, the company’s reaction wasn’t so dramatic. Grindr had previously allowed AHF to advertise within their app but halted that association after the billboards went up. The two companies may reach a compromise, though, as a spokesperson for the app told The Guardian, “we’re all on the same page regarding this issue, as health and wellness concerns us all.”
Back to the billboards themselves. Despite the threat of legal action from Tinder, they have remained up around LA and AHF even plans to expand them into other urban areas in the US. AHF believes their association between dating apps and STDs is perfectly legal, citing a study by the Rhode Island Department of Health that attributed the RI’s rising rates of Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and HIV to four factors: “… using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” By including dating apps like Tinder and Grindr in the social media category, AHF sees a clear association, and believes their billboards are doing a public service to dating app users.
So, as Mic put it, “Is the billboard educational or just plain slut-shaming?” That’s what we’re wondering, too. While data suggests it’s not wrong to believe dating apps are a factor, it is unfair to malign them as the sole cause of STDs. For one thing, not every user has the same experience with a dating app. While some people may seek anonymous sex, others may not. And let’s not forget that people who don’t use dating apps can still put themselves at risk for contracting STDs. Individual behaviors such as discussing STD history and practicing safe sex are agnostic to dating apps. Should bars or gyms or other places where people may meet also be seen as the causes of STDs?
So, does the AHF want people to stop using dating apps altogether? LA Weekly reported that ultimately they want “hook-up apps to display the equivalent of ‘drink responsibly’ warnings for those about to get into bed with strangers.”
They might just get their wish. The AHF recently commended popular LGBT SCRUFF for including in-app advertising for non-profit organizations to reach the LGBT community. SCRUFF specifically reached out to AHF to advertise in their app. We’ll see if other apps do the same.
We’ll keep watching this story and want to know your thoughts, too.
What do you think about the billboards and the statements from Tinder and AIDS Health Foundation?
Are dating apps being unfairly targeted since there are several other factors that can lead to the spread of STDs?
Should dating apps include information on practicing safe sex or is it not their responsibility to educate users?