A colleague from UMontréal, David Myles, posted these Grindr screencaps in a group for researchers interested in hook-up apps. Turns out Grindr is surveying at least some of its members to find out how they feel about filtering other members by HIV status.
For a long time it has been possible on sites like BarebackRT and Manhunt to search by HIV status — for example, to facilitate serosorting as a way of partially reducing the risk of HIV transmission during unprotected sex, before PrEP came along. Users could also save searches, so if they ticked every box except HIV-positive, they could construct their own de facto anti-HIV filters.
But it is a completely different ballgame for the makers of an app to build in a feature that effectively facilitates digital quarantine of people living with HIV.
It signals that HIV stigma is normal and rational.
Now, it could be said that people who use the filter are effectively isolating themselves from people living with HIV — reducing the likelihood of encounters where stigma is enacted in the form of verbal abuse and discrimination. (Here’s one I prepared earlier.)
But Grindr filters, to the best of my knowledge, only stop matching profiles from appearing on the ‘grid’ — the display cabinet or catalogue of other users.
Would the HIV filter work differently, making that user invisible to others whose HIV status didn’t match their preferences — more like an automatic block function?
If it did, and enough HIV-negative people used it, it really would constitute a form of digital quarantine that leaves people with HIV outcast and invisible.
If it didn’t, it might set the scene for even more stigmatising encounters, fuelled by filter users’ surprise (and probably anger) that someone with HIV had contacted them.
Alternatively, they might assume that everyone who contacted them was HIV-negative, and the problematic implications of that assumption are well-known.
Grindr needs to cut this out. Right now. We are living in an era of effective prevention medication. We should not be reinforcing categories that are used in less effective strategies for prevention.