In June 2017 we're all too aware of profiles that happily state 'No Fats', 'No Fems', 'No Asians', 'No Blacks!' These apps have proven to be cold, lonely and soul destroying places - whether you're considered one of the above, or not. I've seen horrendous lines like, "I block more Asians than the Great Wall of China". The community, on the surface, used to be respectful to one another. It can often feel like gay dating apps almost invite trolling - there's no vetting, countless faceless profiles with ambiguous names and ultimately, hardly any moderation.
If I were a young man going through the process of coming out in London in 2017, I'd be scared. Grindr, is a scary place.
Coming out is such an important time in a gay man's life, you're impressionable, you crave validation and you're exploring what the gay world has to offer. Downloading an app is far easier than going out and standing at the bar, trying to not look awkward, or alone. But the reality is, these apps make users feel dehumanised, isolated and miserable. The logo for Grindr, the app with 4m+ global users, is literally a mask. Unsolicited dick picks and drug-fuelled 'chem-sex' parties are commonplace. Young men can think this is normal. It's not, and often they discover this too late with drug and sex addictions at dangerously high rates.
From someone that has battled addiction myself, I've worked with '56 Dean Street' to help those in a similar position. My work has shown me that gay dating apps have a detrimental impact on our community. Research has shown that for some, especially those with addictive personalities, the adulation and 'hits' received on these apps is as destructive as any other addiction. Part of rehabilitation now involves removing hook-up apps altogether. People caught in this cycle leave their phones on permanently or overnight, they wake-up to see how many messages they have, it takes over lives.
I recently, conducted a survey, in collaboration with David Stewart and '56 Dean Street', to highlight the dangers of gay dating apps. Up until two years ago, the term 'chems' could be freely used on profiles, there's now a ban on this. Whilst this is progress, an erect penis on a profile is moderated but, talk of drugs still gets through - they're especially present in private chats. Over the course of the survey, I was only online for an hour each day, for three days. I was offered drugs 137 times - those numbers are staggering, it's a drug dealer's paradise!
There are apps out there that are trying to take a different approach. I discovered Chappy recently - all profile pictures must show a face, putting an end to the sea of anonymous users. All profiles must be verified via Facebook - making everyone much more accountable for their actions, behaviour, and conversations. They've seen what I've seen and felt there is a way for gay men to date in the modern world without losing our integrity in the process. They have an option to meet a 'Mr. Right' - someone looking for relationships over a hook-up. There's no unsolicited dick pics and there's an actual moderation system in place. It fills me with hope that there are now options out there. Time will tell if it's an app we'll be proud of as a community.
With apps like Grindr, Hornet and Scruff, you block someone and they pop-up again, having created another profile or, more often than not, they had two or more anyway! There's no guidance, it has brought out the worst in us! It has shaped a generation of gay men that communicate like this - which is nothing more than a false sense of normality.
Ultimately, we must take responsibly, it isn't solely the fault of gay dating apps but we all have a responsibility to protect the community from obvious threats. Collectively, we can highlight potential threats and steer people in the direction of positive, empowering options. We can meet one another and enjoy the scope of the digital world without compromising our dignity.