In response to a provocative new billboard campaign by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Tinder, one of the mobile applications highlighted in the public service campaign, is demanding that AHF halt the campaign and take down the billboards. Grindr, the gay-focused app mentioned in the campaign, responded by canceling AHF’s paid advertising campaign on Grindr for free STD testing services.
The campaign is intended to draw attention to rising STD rates among users of mobile dating or “hookup” phone apps such as Grindr, Scruff and Tinder. Grindr removed the AHF ads within two hours of the billboard posting in Los Angeles (the only market where the boards are currently posted.) Within 24 hours, Tinder issued a cease and desist letter, claiming AHF’s public service ad “…is responsible for… falsely associating Tinder with the contraction of venereal disease.” AHF has declined Tinder’s demand that it remove references to Tinder in its campaign.
In a press release, AHF said one inspiration for the billboard campaign was a report by the Rhode Island Department of Health, which in May reported that cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV rose sharply between 2013 and 2014 and said that high-risk behaviors such as “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol” have become more common in recent years. According to a study by Beymer et al. (2014), gay men who are meeting on location-based dating apps are at greater risk for gonorrhea and chlamydia than those who meet in-person or on the internet. In May, the Utah Department of Health cited such hookup apps as one reason for a huge increase in STD rates between 2011 and 2014. Gonorrhea infections increased by 700% during that three-year period.
In a press release, AHF also noted a September 2015 Vanity Fair article entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’” that explored the role mobile dating apps are increasingly playing in encouraging casual sex among young adults.
In its press release, AHF noted that “nine out of ten alcohol companies include ‘Please Drink Responsibly’ warnings on their products. Meanwhile, hook up application developers take a ‘Wild West/Anything Goes’ attitude to possible consequences of their apps despite clinical studies showing a correlation between app use and increased STDs.”
“Both Tinder and Grindr’s response to our latest public service ad on STD awareness has been really tone deaf,” said Whitney Engeran-Cordova, AHF’s Public Health Division senior director for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “We expected that these businesses would be concerned about the sexual health of their customers, from whom they make millions. Instead they call lawyers. Their priorities seem clear.”
A Grindr spokesperson responded to the AHF press release with a statement that said “Grindr has always been concerned with the issues of men’s health and keeping our users informed and aware of health issues. As one of the world’s largest gay platforms, we take this issue very seriously. Grindr conducts educational campaigns on disease prevention and testing, support health advocacy organizations, and run in-app PSAs regularly encouraging testing and supporting health causes. Globally, Grindr conducts research with users on issues as broad as access to proper healthcare and issues of mental health facing the gay community, and shares the information with local advocacy groups to help their outreach. Grindr partnered most recently with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on national studies regarding PrEP usage and attitudes. We also devote a section of our website to these topics.”
The AHF billboard features cameo-like black silhouettes of four heads positioned as two couples facing each other set against a colorful purple background. With each couple, one head has the superimposed name of one of the popular hook up apps, such as Tinder, while the facing head lists the name of a sexually transmitted disease, such as Chlamydia. The billboard also includes the URL ‘FreeSTDCheck.org,’ referencing an AHF service. AHF stressed that the billboard does not expressly equate the social apps with STDs, but encourages users to think about whether their use has put them at risk, and gives them information on where to get tested.
Tinder, which is based in West Hollywood, was released in September 2012 on college campuses and is the No. 1 “lifestyle” app in both the iOS and Google Play app stores. AHF cites data from research firm GlobalWebIndex that indicates the app is being used largely in urban locations (76%) like Los Angeles. Launched in 2009, L.A.-based Grindr claims it is the most popular gay male location-based mobile app with over 10 million user downloads and over 2 million daily active users in 192 countries.