By Marc Arcas
San Francisco, Oct 22 (EFE).- LGBTQ+ dating apps are far from discrimination-free oases, with people still finding themselves excluded based on their race, physical appearance or on account of their HIV/AIDS status.
And indeed the wounds from those attitudes run particularly deep precisely because they are inflicted by members of one’s own community.
A study involving 5,000 users of popular LGBTQ+ dating apps in the United States such as Grindr, Scruff and Jack’d found that one of the main complaints is the cruelty shown by other internauts and warns that the resulting loss of self-esteem can lead to higher HIV/STD transmission rates.
Negative experiences “can come externally, from outside their community, but also from internally, from within the community,” said Jen Hecht, one of the authors of the study conducted by NiceAF, a team effort of dating apps and sites committed to making online communities more welcoming, in conjunction with Building Healthy Online Communities, a consortium of national and local HIV and STD prevention agencies.
She said Yale University researchers who worked with her team and have studied this phenomenon closely have seen that negative experiences from within one’s community “create more harm and have more negative impacts” that those that come from outside.
Many users hope to find in these apps a refuge from “real-world” discrimination based on their sexual preferences, but they instead are met with disparaging comments such as “you’re too fat,” “you’re too old,” “I don’t want anything to do with blacks” and “I’m looking for ‘clean only’ (people who are HIV/STD negative).”
These comments can trigger a plunge in people’s self-esteem and make them more likely to have sexual relations without a condom or not ask their sexual partners if they have a sexually transmitted disease.
“And that’s actually what led us to focus on this, to really think about how are people treating each other on the apps. How can we think about ways that the apps themselves can make some changes to the environment of how the app is set up” in terms of “what kinds of features are available on the app that reduce this,” Hecht said.
“And we know that users care about this. We know of course on the public-health side we care about this because we care about the wellbeing of our communities. And we know that the app owners care about this because they really want people who are using their app to have a positive experience,” she added.
After reviewing the study results, NiceAF recommended that apps give users more control over their online experience, including providing them with the option to show their profile photo, HIV status and gender identity only to internauts they trust and introducing more filters (such as age and preferred sexual position) to avoid unwanted encounters.
Among other measures that might help make online interactions less toxic, apps could provide default phrases, such as “thank you for your interest, but we don’t connect,” that enable users to reject one another in a more considerate manner.
The goal is to leverage the app’s configurations and default options to make “interactions among users as civilized and pleasant as possible,” Dan Wohlfeiler, another of the study’s authors, told Efe. “We can’t change what people say, but we can try to facilitate a less toxic environment.” EFE