Health

Gay sex apps join forces against online insults


Editor’s Note: This article is related to racial and ethnic slurs.

Corey Baker, a gay man in Columbus, Ohio, has seen multiple dating app profiles that include phrases like “Black people – not applicable.” Sometimes when he turns down an invitation, he says, men will attack with insults like “you’re an ugly black man anyway”. And some of his friends have been stoned with the letter N in similar situations.

Many of these events happen “when I don’t think I’m attractive or deserving of love,” he says. And they got some emotions. “If you’re going through a wall of people saying they’re not attracted to you, I think that’s going to affect your mental health,” says Baker, 35, and a school librarian.

The concept of a kinder, more tender refusal on networking sites can sound like an oxymoron. However, sexual health experts – as well as users of gay-meeting apps, like Baker – say the rigors of many online behaviors can exacerbate self-esteem and feelings of depression or anxiety. That toxic combination can also lead to impulsive and potentially unsafe sexual choices.

In response, Building Healthy Online Communs, or BHOC, an organization in the San Francisco Bay Area focused on HIV and STD prevention, launched an effort to increase goodness across designed apps. for men to have sex with men. “People in the LGBTQ community face discrimination outside, but we also have to acknowledge that there is discrimination within the community,” said BHOC Director Jen Hecht.

Through surveys and focus groups, BHOC asked more than 5,000 users of nine gay apps how websites can better support online behavior related to race, physical appearance, HIV status, age, disability, gender identity and other factors. It also seeks advice on technical improvements the app could make, such as giving users more flexibility in performing contact searches.

“If I could filter out people who wrote ‘no fat, no women, no blacks,’ I wouldn’t even have to worry about seeing it,” one respondent quoted in the report. BHOC about data it collects from app users.Representatives from some of the participating apps say they welcome the partnership.David Lesage, Adam4Adam’s director of marketing and social media, said: I’ve had a no-bullying policy since day one.

Of course, average online behavior isn’t limited to men’s apps. When asked last month via email whether meeting websites that cater to the general public should try to solve the problem, Evan Bonnstetter, Tinder’s director of product policy, replied that the company company “cannot participate in this opportunity”. (Bonnstetter has left Tinder.) Bumble, another site popular with heterosexuals, did not respond to a request for comment.

Gay and bisexual men, like other groups that face discrimination, have higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and related mental health problems. But John Pachankis, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health who studies gay health, said his research has identified aggression in the gay community as a big problem. .

“I was quite surprised at first that gay men consistently viewed their treatment of other gay men as a major stressor,” says Pachankis. The app, he added, “is a website that is very likely to get rejected in a short period of time in a way that is particularly anonymous and effective, and can be really detrimental.”

In one study, Pachankis and his colleagues simulated an app environment for gay men, in which some study participants were exposed to negative comments and others approving. comment. (The comments are all computer generated.)

In follow-up questionnaire responses, men exposed to negative comments reported feeling more distressed and expressing more skepticism about the benefits of condoms. They are also more likely to choose riskier options in a card game.

Pachankis thinks the application environment is a source of stress, making sense for the BHOC and other public health organizations to try to influence it.

Several respondents cited in the BHOC report dismissed the initiative as silly or unfounded. One person wrote: “Too bad if someone doesn’t meet user-specified preferences because of ‘fat’, ‘too old’ or incorrect ‘race’.” striving to be PC is insulting and ludicrous.”

But most respondents recognize that apps can better support online behavior and reduce unnecessary pain, Hecht said.

“It’s a society-wide problem and I agree that gay dating apps won’t solve it alone, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play a role. something,” she said. “To the extent that users can control and customize it, that will increase their positive experience on the app and decrease their chances of having these negative experiences.”

One popular suggestion from respondents was to allow all users, not just paying customers, to block anyone they feel is abusing. Another measure is to allow users to restrict who can see record fields with potentially sensitive information, such as HIV status or gender identity. Respondents also believe that apps can help ease the pain of rejection by providing pre-written, neutral messages for users to send, such as “sorry, it’s inappropriate.” .

Grindr, one of the participating apps, doesn’t include standard disclaimers, but is exploring the option to help users on both sides of what is undoubtedly a “high intensity moment,” says Jack Harrison. -Quintana, the company’s director of equity said.

“It is easy to feel rejected because you are being rejected,” says Harrison-Quintana. “People go through a lot of trauma from things being said to them online and that’s what we’re trying to address.”

Jehangeer Ali Syed, an international development consultant in Washington, D.C., said he was disturbed by being seen as a “strange element” in online conversations. Although he is not from the Middle East, some men “see me as an ‘Arab stallion'”, the 36-year-old Pakistani said. “I have been called ‘sand-[N-word],” he added.

Meetings like this “make you doubt yourself, make you feel insecure, and make you question whether I did something wrong,” he said.

BHOC noted in its report that many respondents were unaware of the available app features that can help them customize and control their experience. The report urges apps to expand their educational efforts on these possibilities.

That proposal resonated with Grindr’s Harrison-Quintana. Grindr included some of the options suggested in the report, he said, but it could do a better job of communicating with customers. “It’s not just about implementing features, it’s about being able to let users know those features are available to them,” he said.

This story is produced by KHN, publish California Healthline, an editorially independent service of California Health Care Foundation.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom specializing in the production of in-depth coverage of health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Exploration, KHN is one of the three main activities in KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). The KFF is a nonprofit organization privileged to provide information on health issues to the nation.

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