Staying safe online feels as natural as staying safe after dark. Generic online safety advice is drilled into children's minds from early on at school. There are a plethora of online resources, and many apps or games will give you safety tips such as the classic: "Never tell your password to anyone". Most of us probably like to think we take appropriate actions to stay safe online, but many people don't consider the extra effort members of the LGBTQ+ community have to put in to ensure their safety.
This is a particularly big issue in the world on online dating. A survey conducted in 2019 found that about 65% of same-sex couples met online, with only 39% for heterosexual couples. Originally, apps like Grindr and Scissr offered a way to find partners online without the heteronormative restrictions of apps like Tinder, but as LGBTQ+ issues have become more visible, dating apps have added options to better suit people of all identities. Tinder added more than 37 new gender options in 2016, and now there are more than 50 to choose from. This is a step in the right direction towards everybody being treated equally, but it also unearths some dangers that many of us take for granted.
I spoke to some LGBTQ+ students about their experience using dating apps and what measures they took to stay safe. Unsurprisingly, 'cat fishing' was a recurring topic. One student recounted meeting with a man he met through Tinder who looked far older than his profile picture - he'd already taken appropriate measures to meet in a public place, but gut instinct told him to get out of the encounter. He told me that minors using Grindr are especially at risk of being preyed upon, with older users taking advantage of their vulnerability. We only need to look back as far as April 30th to find a case of somebody being arrested over this kind of behaviour. Whilst cat fishing isn't an LGBTQ+ specific issue, the existence of focused apps such as Grindr gives these predators a platform to more easily prey on their victims.
Another student brought to my attention the existence of third-party apps that can extract precise location information from Grindr users, without their consent. These security issues can expose users to the very real danger of somebody seeking them out to attack them. Even a safety-conscious user doing their due diligence before meeting somebody can't get around this issue if they continue to use the app. This does seem to be an issue unique to Grindr, as the news would spread fast if Tinder had this problem - whilst Grindr has almost 4 million daily users, Tinder has over 50 million.
It seems that, despite once offering only male-female matches, Tinder has grown to be much more inclusive than it once was. Despite this, Tinder has been known to ban transgender users, with a vague reason about being in violation of the Terms of Service. The only common factor in these bans are that the users are transgender. Whilst Tinder has made great strides in improving safety and inclusivity, and even provides the option to write in your own gender if you don't identify with any from their list, we still have a long way to go. Many of these banned users noted that the bans came swiftly after changing their profile gender to be listed as transgender, indicating just how prevalent the discrimination still is.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are almost three times more likely to experience abuse or harassment online than heterosexual and cisgender people, and so it's important to be aware of your options for protecting your privacy and reducing online abuse. For example, blocking users can be helpful in maintaining good mental health, whether it's reducing unwanted sexual advances or hateful language. Blocking often gets a bad reputation for being rude, but if you wouldn't tolerate the abuse in real life, you shouldn't tolerate it online. Similarly, Grindr offers a discreet app icon to help protect the privacy of users who may not have come out yet, and Tinder now allows you to make an account without linking to your Facebook account. All of these options are provided for a reason, so don't be afraid to use them.
The internet can be a great place to connect with like-minded people, and sites like Instagram have become rampant with online activism. Activists such as Munroe Bergdorf, Jacob Tobia, Travis Alabanza, and Florence Given have created platforms that address LGBTQ+ issues, uniting communities and creating a powerful space online that is both welcoming and empowering. The internet it seems can be a double-edged sword for many, but a lot of positivity exists, and a lot has been done in the way of providing important platforms for those who speak out about these issues. Many resources exist online to help support LGBTQ+ people, and some of these will be linked below.
I know that many users of these apps and websites are acutely aware of the extra dangers that are present as a result of one's sexuality or gender, but they shouldn't have to look out for themselves all the time. People who are only just discovering themselves may not be aware just how much extra care they need to take. Nobody should live in fear, a sentiment which is important now more than ever.