Ever wondered if Grindr - the location-based dating app for gay men - has a social conscience?
I caught up with Joel Simkhai, Grindr founder and CEO, to talk about the role that Grindr is playing in HIV prevention campaigns around the world.
Why have you decided to make HIV prevention a priority?
We've come a long way as a society in terms of HIV awareness, but it's not enough. There are still so many myths circulating about this disease and the only way we're going to eradicate HIV/AIDS is to continue to talk about it and continue to educate people. That's why I participated in an online HIV PSA in support of the Break the Silence campaign. In addition, Grindr collaborates with numerous HIV prevention and awareness organizations in order to keep the message top of mind for our community. We partner with organizations, such as Impulse Group, and each year we sponsor and help raise money for various AIDS Walks, including San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.
You talk about wanting to "revive the battle against HIV and AIDS" - do you feel that some of the momentum has been lost in this long-running health campaign?
As I said, we've made great strides in treatment since the disease first came to the U.S. but there are still a lot of misconceptions. Knowledge is power, so we need to continue to educate people. That's why Grindr strongly encourages our users to engage in safe sex practices, get tested and know their HIV status. The first and most important step in stopping the spread of this disease is educating yourself. As a company, we're committed to promoting safe sex within the community, and we want to be a resource for our users in staying healthy. We have a page on our website called Grindr Health. On that page, users can find effective testing facilities or confidential online testing options to help them know their status before engaging in any sexual activity. We encourage our users to explore this page and browse through the information to learn the best way to protect both themselves and their sexual partners.
As a service that enables gay men to find sexual partners, does Grindr have an obligation to invest in health campaigns such as tackling HIV and AIDS?
I think we're doing our part at Grindr to encourage safe sex within our community and helping to educate users as well. One of our guidelines about profile text displayed within the app is: "No sexually explicit references or text that promotes unsafe sex." We have this policy because we think it's the common-sense thing to do. In addition, we welcome working with NGOs (non-government organizations) to educate and promote safe sex within the community.
Is the 'Grindr for Equality' having an impact in the issues that it tackles?
When it comes to gay equality, Grindr has been at the forefront of the fight for gay rights with Grindr for Equality, a social movement we started to raise awareness for LGBT issues and spur action across the globe. We send geo-targeted messages to our users letting them know about demonstrations, votes and rallies for gay rights in their area. In 2012, Ukraine's legislature was scheduled to vote on Law 8711, which would have made it illegal to "spread homosexuality." Grindr for Equality sent out a broadcast message urging users to sign a petition asking the President of Ukraine to condemn the law. The message was sent the day before the vote was to take place and received more than 24,000 click-throughs. Grindr for Equality and other advocates against the law quickly moved into action across the globe and delivered a petition with more than 120,000 signatures to Ukrainian authorities at the European Union and Council of Europe.
Most recently, we reached out to our 1.5 million users in the U.S. in an effort to generate noticeable change during the 2012 elections. We certainly met that goal and made a difference by sending approximately 135 in-app messages with specific calls to action that garnered more than 40,000 click-throughs.
Do you have any feedback from Grindr users as to whether they like the more social-conscience driven approach of Grindr for Equality, or would they prefer that Grindr focused on fixing its technical issues and continued to help them meet other men who have sex with men?
We think our users want a great product and a company with community involvement. According to a post-election survey conducted by Grindr for Equality, 91 percent of users saw the in-app messages regarding equality issues, and more than a quarter of those users - hundreds of thousands of guys -- were compelled to take some action. Within the company, we have we have a tech team that works on the application itself and a separate team that supports Grindr for Equality. They're two separate entities; one doesn't take away from the other.