WEHOville

Grindr Finally Takes Steps to Inhibit Illegal Drug Sales

Sun, Oct 23, 2016   By Staff    32 Comments

grindrGrindr has taken steps to inhibit the marketing of illegal drugs by users of its app, which is said to be the most widely used mobile phone hookup app for gay men in the world.

Last month WEHOville called out the West Hollywood-based company for facilitating the sale of drugs such as methamphetamine. That drug, also known as meth, Tina and T, among other terms, is considered the most addictive of all drugs. Meth addiction rates are particularly high among gay men, who make up 40% of West Hollywood’s population, and studies have shown a strong connection between use of meth and infection with HIV.

A two-month study by WEHOville of Grindr and other gay hookup apps such as Scruff, www.growlrapp.com/, MisterX and Surge, a new West Hollywood-based app, found that only Grindr allowed its users to openly include emojis and text in their profiles that indicated they were drug users or sellers. On each night it investigated, WEHOville found an average of three meth dealers among 101 local Grindr profiles during early morning hours. WEHOville negotiated sales with several of them, who quoted prices, offered payment options and offered to deliver.

Joel Simkhai

Joel Simkhai

Grindr also has been called out by gay publications and websites around the world for facilitating illegal drug sales. OutinPerth, an Australian gay website, last year did its own search of drug dealers on Grindr. “It didn’t take us long to find a stack of Grindr uses offering marijuana, methamphetamines and a variety of pills,” it reported. “Profiles with images of smoke, clouds and pills were easy to spot. … In their bio lines one user promoted that a delivery service was available if you placed an order, while another boasted their product was superior to other suppliers.”

In a recent effort to post a profile on Grinder, WEHOville attempted to use the “cloud” emoji, which is a well-known symbol for meth, which is ingested by smoking the drug as well as injection with a needle. An automatic message popped up from Grindr saying the addition to the profile was “censored” and not permitted. Grindr also blocked an effort to include the words such as “meth” and “parTy” (party with T, or Tina) in the profile and blocked “T4$” (Tina for sale). However Grindr’s new screening tool still doesn’t block other profile words such as the word Tina or the acronym PNP, which means “party and play” (use drugs and have sex). Its major gay hookup app competitors do block such terms.

Given Grindr’s claim of four million users in nearly 200 countries, its decision to make illegal drug sales on its app more difficult is likely to have a worldwide impact among gay men. While some have noticed that illegal drugs also can be purchased on Craigslist and elsewhere, critics of Grindr have noted the special confluence between searches for sexual encounters and drug deals that Grindr has offered and its ease of use as a mobile app.

Grindr has refused to respond to requests from WEHOville for comment on its facilitation of meth sales and more recently on its decision to inhibit such sales by screening for meth emoji and text. In a text message on Grindr last night, WEHOville congratulated Joel Simkhai, its founder, for adding that screening. Simkhai did not respond.

Over the past few weeks Mayor Lauren Meister has attempted to arrange a meeting between her and City Manager Paul Arevalo with Simkhai but to date has not been able to. Three members of the city’s Public Safety Commission — Tory Berger, Ben Coleman and Estevan Montemayor — expressed concern about meth sales through Grindr at a recent meeting, with Montemayor saying he had put the issue on the agenda with Councilmember Lindsey Horvath’s blessing.

Otherwise, the City Council, which speaks up at Council meetings and press conferences on other issues involving the worldwide LGBT community, has remained silent on this one. Councilmember John Duran, who said he is a friend of Simkhai, told WEHOville that he would talk with him but would not reveal what was said. Councilmember John D’Amico said he was waiting for the results of Meister’s still unscheduled meeting with Simkhai.

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32 Comments

  1. Henry (Hank) ScottThu, Nov 03, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    I’m sorry to tell you this, but Grindr (was) the only major gay hookup app that didn’t screen profiles for text and emoji that signaled drug sales. Scruff didn’t monitor conversations to stop guys from agreeing to “party.” But in contrast to Grindr it did monitor profiles to prevent promotion of the illegal sale of the most addictive and destructive drug ever. Now that Grindr has come around, it’s going to be a little harder for drug dealers to target the gay market than it was on the most popular gay hookup app in the world. Those who want to destroy gay people will have to find another way to do it.

  2. 77338Thu, Nov 03, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    I’m sorry to tell you this, but gay men were buying and using crystal meth before Grindr and will continue after Grindr. It’s really not good a good idea to single out Grindr or act as the drug police for the gay community. People can and will buy drugs if they choose too. If you want to use your platform best, don’t moralize people’s use of intoxicant’s. Let them decide for themselves. Despite what progress you think you are making, I’m sorry to say, you’re just wasting your time.

  3. Buzz Words (@chicagoblt)Tue, Nov 01, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Zem, you have no “First Amendment rights to free speech” on somebody else’s software. In fact, you are in a TOS (terms of service) violation for advertising drug sales and/or use

  4. C.R.Thu, Oct 27, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Numerous people here are getting off the subject, that being narcotic use, possession and sale are illegal. ANYTHING illegal taking place through an app should be screened out, that is a basic responsibility of business ownership. It has nothing to do with censorship. So you name it, drug use, gun sales, prostitution, child exploitation, murder for hire, WHATEVER…if it’s illegal, the business should not be facilitating it and if they cannot stop such facilitation, they should not be allowed to do business.

  5. seaguy (@seaguy11)Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Well stated Zam!

  6. seaguy (@seaguy11)Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    This is just playing whack a mole. The dealers will find new ways. And in the meantime it censors users who are not even using drugs.

  7. 90069Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Seems like a lot of effort for a “feel good” form of censorship that does not actually get to the root problem of the issue – ADDICTION. Issues like this are better off handled by healthcare providers and the state to address and support recovery methods for addicts. There are also plenty of sex addicts on Grindr – how do we go about censoring or policing that for “public safety”?

  8. RandyWed, Oct 26, 2016 at 11:31 am

    Julius, thank you. And Rw, I’m not imagining a scenario where someone who hasn’t done drugs before inquires about PNP. I’m talking about someone who has recently experimented with the drug, who then finds himself pining for it, and finding Grindr to be a marketplace for finding it. This isn’t about shaming drug users. It is also not about censoring people’s private conversations, who want to PNP. Its about protecting people, and making it just a little more difficult to find meth, instead of just having the attitude that “those that want it will find it.” That argument has about as much weight with me as saying we shouldn’t have any gun control, because “those that want guns will find them,” which is an argument I hear from people over, and over again, who oppose any type of sensible gun control legislation. Yes, *some* who really want things will find them, but not all.

    But I think Zam has convinced me that censorship is not necessarily the answer. I do think policing Grindr is. By the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department. If the city can devote an employee or two to deal with illegal AirBnB activity, I don’t see why the Sheriff’s department cannot run a sting operation, from time to time, to make drug dealers a little more afraid of using Grindr as a platform for drug sales.

  9. SETue, Oct 25, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Julius – you are correct, this article was not shaming drug users or addicts, but much of what is written about what meth addiction looks like creates an extreme version that undermines those struggling from seeking help. And I agree, we cannot only focus on treatment and support – we absolutely have to focus on the source as well. But as someone who works in treatment, I can assure you that the “tweaked out” stereotype we so often mock is the extreme version and not representative of the majority of people struggling with this drug. The more we continue to focus on the extremes – and shame some of the behavior that often accompanies meth use with gay men (e.g. sex benders) – the further we push our gay brothers underground and away from seeking help.

  10. Julius JacksonTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Mr. SE. The article I read didn’t shame drug users or addicts. It shamed Grindr for letting drug dealers sell a really dangerous product to vulnerable gay men. The dealers pocket the money, our friends suffer. We have to offer the users help. But Hank Scott at the gym yesterday told me that focusing only on treatment and support is like making sure you have good hospitals and not worrying about car wrecks and gun shootings. Hey. Long as there is hospital caare, why does it matter how badly you’re injured by that gun, right?

  11. Julius JacksonTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Mr. Neal. that story didn’t talk about censoring people’s posts or text back and forth. it talked about not letting drug dealers say on their profiles that they are selling drugs. Maybe you should go back and read it, slowly. So yeah, guys can text each other and agree to hookup and use drugs. a guy looking for a dealer is gonna have to start a lot of conversations to find one. Think of looking for a barber shop on a street where the stores have no signs.

  12. SETue, Oct 25, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    These recent articles bring attention back to a major ongoing drug issue in our community that we have had a terrible time managing. There are multiple factors that contribute to the problem, but something that I find incredibly sad and disturbing is the ongoing shaming of meth addicts/abusers in articles and comments. We have marginalized users of this drug, described them as dirty, sketchy, weak, disease-ridden sex addicts and then wonder why they’re so difficult to treat. It is also completely misrepresenting the abundance of meth abusers, many of whom are high-functioning professionals who then feel too ashamed to identify themselves because we have created such horrific stereotypes. If we are truly serious about getting rid of the dealers then we need to get on the side of the users, show some compassion, and support them as they seek help…BEFORE they look like the sad, broken people wandering Santa Monica Boulevard talking to themselves.

  13. Rw NealTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Randy, how will censoring Grindr prevent experimenting with drugs? In the current form, if someone mentions PNP, etc. in their post, the “naive” guy is given the opportunity to ask what is PNP. If censored, he now doesn’t fine out until he’s sitting in some dude apartment maybe after a couple of beers. Bottom line, those who want to experiment will. The best approach is education.

  14. YawnTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 11:33 am

    What’s your next article about? How Grindr invented meth?

    Not journalism. Not making a difference. Not winning new readers. Not scoring better advertisers. #bye

  15. Earl EasonTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 10:36 am

    @Zam. This isn’t about the Communications Decency Act and federal regulation. The question is why a gay hookup app run by a gay man in LA lets evil drug dealers sell a deadly drug to gay men on his app. It’s about human decency, not communications decency. Yeah, terms can be interpreted in many ways. But the story notes that Scruff and other apps screen for deadly emojis and words. So why can’t Grindr? Why won’t Grindr?

  16. Earl EasonTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 10:34 am

    @Yawn. C’mon! If you are really Donald Trump, why not admit it? The story I read did include screen shots of drug deals done on Grindr in West Hollywood. No one is asking the police to patrol Grindr. They are asking Grindr to clean up its sh-t and patrol itself. If you care about gay people, why let evil creeps make money by selling them drugs on your app? Unless you care about money more.

  17. YawnTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 10:20 am

    This is a smear piece that singles out Grindr. This is not journalism. A “two month study”? Really? Let’s see the screenshots.

    And we all know this is an ass backwards approach to solving a problem. Policing has done wonders for the drug war, right? But let’s the put the onus of the problem on an app and inflate it’s role in it instead of talking about education.

    Oh, and here’s my favorite part:
    “In a text message on Grindr last night, WEHOville congratulated Joel Simkhai, its founder, for adding that screening. Simkhai did not respond.” What were you expecting honey, a medal of honor for muckraking?

  18. DEARKTue, Oct 25, 2016 at 6:10 am

    Seriously people.Grinder police? People grow at their own pace and are responsible for their health. Why not get the police to stop BigPharma crooks. Prep which is neurotoxic and INCREASES risky behavior! Code on Grinder. I’m negative and on Prep means let’s have unprotected sex. Non stop ads on grinder for a drug that people think means you can have unprotected sex and not face consequences. Not to mention all the other diseases one can contract and new ones to come. Enough with the big govt. nanny state. #wikileaks #cdcwhistleblower

  19. RandyMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    And Rw, there are indeed naive people on Grindr. People experiment with drugs. I did when I was younger. Meth was not nearly as prevalent, or I might have tried it. I’m glad I didn’t, as it is a highly-addictive substance. I’ve seen it ruin so many lives. It can be really hard to shake.

    Though I’m now recognizing Zam’s way of thinking, I do think it is important that we protect our youth, instead of just having that attitude that they “should just not be naive.” The fact is, some don’t know how dangerous or addictive it is. And it is extremely prevalent in our community. I have fairly liberal views about drug use (and laws), but I draw the line here. Our police department should be stepping up on this issue.

  20. WeHoMikeyMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    “…John Duran … told WEHOville that he would talk with but would not reveal what was said…”
    Maybe Simkhai will suggest something involving Duran’s upcoming election and a brown envelope filled with a ‘contribution’? (Or, maybe Duran will suggest a ‘contribution’ could make his troubles go away?)
    If Duran won’t reveal the conversation, how will anyone know whether the deal he makes benefits WeHo’s Citizens or just himself personally?
    (Duran has already taken in over $100,000 in contributions toward his unannounced reelection campaign. I suggest the gentle reader may do their own math on this one.)

  21. RandyMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Wow, Zam, you certainly made me re-think this entire thing. YOU should be meeting with Simkhai, as all of your suggestions make complete sense. The only catch is the amount of manpower that might be needed to police these reports from users. I’m not sure they will invest the manpower needed.

    The only thing I would add to this is that the WeHo Sheriff’s department should be stepping up. They actually *are* the police, and therefore should be policing Grindr. It would be very easy for them to set up a sting operation, and it would be good for our community if they did that from time to time. They don’t have to do it every day, but even randomly every month or so would probably scare some of the drug dealers off this platform. Similar to how DUI checkpoints make some people think twice about drinking and driving.

  22. Rw NealMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Randy, if someone is so naive as to put something into their body that they know nothing about, then they are too naive to be on grindr. It took me a while to figure out what PNP meant because I’m not around anyone who does drugs. However, I’m not stupid enough to take something or smoke something that some stranger hands me.

  23. Zam LoomsteinMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    First and foremost, I’m all for stopping the sale of drugs and other illegal activities on sites like Grindr. But, I don’t like the approach that has been taken.

    Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, online service providers (like Grindr) cannot be liable for the cont posted by third parties (it’s users). By proactively blocking blanket terms without an understanding of context, they are effectively inhibiting our First Amendment rights to free speech and limiting the innocent use of these Emoji and terms which may be used innocently. Users will simply find other ways around it, or simply go elsewhere to get their drugs. I do think there is a better way to deal with this, which I’ll explain below. Let me give some examples of why this type of filter is a bad thing:

    1: Easy Identification (and avoidance) of users looking to play while on drugs: if a user puts PNP or uses other indications of illicit drug use in their profile, I can easily avoid, ignore, & block them.

    2: Innocent use of terms 1: I’m a disabled gay man who wears ankle braces, uses a walker at home & a mobility scooter in public, and takes prescription drugs but still stays in shape and leads an active lifestyle. I want to weed out those who lack the ability to see past the braces (et all), but would rather use positive terms to describe myself. Several of these terms often get mislabeled as referring to ILLICIT drug use such as: “High roller” (as in I literally have wheels), “but still know how to party” (as in go out and have fun), “my (pill Emoji) legal”. Consequently, these automatic blocks are downright albeist.

    3: Innocent use of terms 2: The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes IS legal according to state law. Thus, there is nothing wrong with someone looking to meet other medicinal users. Further, these users may want to avoid an awkward situation by meeting those who aren’t comfortable with that, or worse, may pressure the legal user to ‘share’. Thus users may say 420, clouds, etc. for legitimate (and import) reasons.

    4: Innocent use of terms 3: Anyone may post content which can lead to a false positive. Here are some examples off the top of my head: conveying an optimistic view by saying things like “sunshine on a cloudy day”, “seeing the light above the clouds”, “meeting someone new on a cloudy day”, “wanting to celebrate a birthday”, simply wanting to go out and “party”, etc. Hell, someone could be a big Tina Turner fan.
    5: If certain terms are banned, new ones will take their place. The more terms that get banned, the less freedom legitimate users will have to express themselves.
    6: Selling / buying drugs on Grindr is just plain stupid. The digital fingerprints of these transactions will never go away. This is a drug enforcement officer’s wet dream. In reality, there are safer, easier, and better ways to obtain and sell illicit substances.
    7: Innocent use or terms 4: This is so important to my situation that I wanted to mention this last. Given my aforementioned disability, I don’t use the terms “walk”, “run”, etc. I actually find them offensive, as even though I can kind of walk with my braces on, the term implies struggle, pain, and derision. I automatically replace these terms with the word “roll”. Here are some examples of what I say: I am ROLLING errands, I go for a ROLL, I ROLL down the street, I ROLL towards someone. This is VERY important to my identity. There are a lot of parallels between this situation & the importance of using appropriate pronouns to the trans community. This term triggers MANY of these filters and this action is EXTREMELY offensive, short sited, and ableist.

    I’d prefer a different approach:
    1. First and foremost, the site needs to have a clear explanation of what is (and isn’t) allowed.
    2. I’d even like to see this at the bottom of the update page, as a confirmation dialogue before updating your profile.
    3. There should be an extra warning if flagged content is in a profile before accepting the updates. The warning should include which term can be misunderstood along with the meaning of that term. Here’s an example: “WARNING: your profile uses the term PNP. This term is often taken to mean Party and Play and is used to indicate to others that one is looking to hookup and do drugs together. Please confirm that you would still like to use this phrase in your profile.”
    4. Selling drugs should be a definite NO NO. Beyond the notices above, content should also warn that the user’s profile will be subject to additional scrutiny by the Grindr itself. They should even warn that users may complain about the content, furthering the level of scrutiny. Hell, they should even warn users that this is a public forum and that law enforcement may be monitoring.
    5. Grindr should follow through with extra scrutiny of the accounts of potential drug dealers. Manual reviews, etc. must actually happen. Even message content may be subject to review (and users should be warned of the potential for such a review.
    6. While somewhat controversial, I’d actually argue in favor of allowing users to say that they are on drugs, as this also helps those who don’t use drugs and especially are sober avoid those situations.
    7. Grindr needs a better way of dealing with users who report these bad actors. If a user offers to sell drugs to another, screenshots should be added. If a user shares conversation screen shots, there should be a simple true / false system to verify the veracity of claims. Both sides of the complaint should be informed of the details of the complaint process. The anonymity of the the user posting the complaint should be respected.

    My final argument is this. Grindr has no legal obligation to police it’s content. On the other hand, it has a moral obligation to do something, yet doing so takes us down a slippery slope. Grindr has a difficult balance to maintain between freedom of speech and preventing it’s platform from being taken over by drug users / dealers.
    We, the users, are ultimately responsible for policing our communities, both online and off. If you see something, say something. Report it to Grindr. I personally do it constantly. Grindr is better off putting it’s efforts into making this process more transparent, than banning the use of certain emoji based on the potential that the term is used to something nefarious.

  24. DMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    If anybody thinks this will make any difference, they are delusional.

  25. RandyMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Yes, but RW Neal, users will have to learn what these are. As a non-user, it was pretty evident what a capital T means. Same with a cloud of smoke.

    Yes, these are consenting adults, but some naive people might try something for the first time because of the ease in which someone can have access. I see no problem with Grindr, or other apps, making it all a little more difficult.

  26. Rw NealMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    This is non-sense. By censoring certain words or symbols, people will simply come up with new ones. It’s perfectly okay for the company to have a specific policy to discourage drug use, but at the end of the day, these are consenting adults.

  27. LeeMon, Oct 24, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Damn, just a bunch of parTy poopers 😒

  28. C.R.Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 2:41 am

    More kudos to you Hank for the attention on this and it is good to see Grindr take some action. Hopefully they will continue to clean up this aspect of their app and remain something beneficial for users. I’m all for successful hookups, but anything promoting or facilitating the use of the garbage destructive drug crystal meth should always be opposed.

  29. Manny RodriguezSun, Oct 23, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Hank, thank you for putting the work into getting real concrete info on how Grindr and other apps contribute to the ongoing issue with meth in our community. I hope that partnerships between community leaders, providers and Grindr, Scruff and the likes can be formed in being creative on how to address and solve this. Again, thanks. Manny Rodriguez

  30. Just Fed UpSun, Oct 23, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Good work, Hank!

  31. Leslie KSun, Oct 23, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    What Larry said. Well done Hank!

  32. Larry BlockSun, Oct 23, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Great effort Hank.. you and your publication are more effective than the mayor or the city council in restricting meth sales in the city or the world though Grindr… You found the problem, provided a solution, and saw it through in less time then it takes powers that be to arrange a face to face meeting or get this on the an agenda. Great Work.

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