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It's Time To Rethink Online Gay Social Networks

  Screenshot 2014-12-11 14.20.17

The Interplay is a special biweekly series exploring the intersections of sex, pop culture, and current events.

BY CHARLES PULLIAM-MOORE

The writing is on the wall: we’ve (unsurprisingly) hit peak mobile application. In the early days of powerful mobile computing the idea of there being “an app for that” was radical. Creating virtual communities unbound by space, time, and economic circumstance was game changing for gay men across the world.

As the years have gone on, however, gay social networks that live on servers have flooded the market with variations of the same guy-on-a-grid experience. If Grindr, for example, is for everyone, then Scruff is for everyone with a little bit more body hair. Growlr’s the same, but for bears, and Daddyhunt’s focused primary on connecting strapping men of a certain age. Beneath slightly different coats of paint all of these applications are derivative of one another. It’s time that we demand more of them.

Last week Scruff’s Chief Product Officer Jason Marchant published an op-ed in the Huffington Post describing the steps Scruff has taken to work against the cultural stigma attached to being HIV-positive. Scruff, like an increasing number of mobile networking apps, is emphasizing the use of categorical filters to help its users find the kinds of guys they’re looking for without risk of being ostracized.    

“For "Poz" guys uncomfortable disclosing status in their profile, "HIV Status" presents a fraught choice: to answer "Negative" would be dishonest, but any other answer -- including no answer -- is often interpreted by other users as a tacit disclosure. It's also a problem for HIV negative guys searching for the same. Seeing "Negative" presented next to other profile "stats" conveys a false sense of permanence.

BluedRecently applications like Scruff have positioned themselves as valuable assets in efforts to curtail the spread of various STIs. As a part of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to eradicate new HIV infections in the state by 2020, New York City began using Grindr and Scruff to inform gay men about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Blued, a popular Chinese gay networking app, actively encourages its users to seek out HIV tests at its parent company’s office free of charge.  

All of these platforms want to be thought of as more than hookup apps, and gradually their platforms are trying to address the gay community’s needs other than sex. Other than public health outreach and offering free advertising space, however, the “social” experience of these networks seems to have plateaued. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Grindr Reveals Best of 2014 Awards, Makes Predictions for 2015

Icon_iOS_GrindrGrindr conducted its annual end of year survey of users in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia to find out what they thought were the biggest hits and misses of 2014 and also to make some predictions for the year ahead. See who app-happy men chose as gay icon of the year (for the second year in a row!) and who they think is the next celebrity to join our annual coming out list, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Chinese Gay Social App Blued Working With Government to Spread HIV/AIDS Awareness

BluedIn 2011 Ma Baoli left his job as a Chinese police officer after it was discovered that he was the creator and administrator of Danlan.org, a popular Chinese social network for gay men. Soon after resigning Baoli created Blued, a geo-location based mobile app similar to Grindr.

In the three years since Baoli launched Blued, the application’s userbase has expanded to over 15 million people. Unlike many of its predecessors, which the Chinese government has been known to proactively shut down, Blued has found an unlikely ally in governmental officials looking to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout the country.

In the early days of HIV/AIDS the virus was widely thought to be a larger problem for China’s rural population. In recent years, however, the rate of new infections is steadily rising within younger populations in more metropolitan areas.

“The proportion of young H.I.V./AIDS sufferers almost doubled between 2008 and 2012, and gay sex is considered a major reason for the increase,” Shang Hong, a researcher at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said to Xinhua.

Reaching out China’s gay male population has proven to be difficult for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Though consensual same-sex interactions were decriminalized in China in 1997, much of the country’s culture is still somewhat resistant to open frank discussions about LGBT public health when it comes to safer sex.

Blued’s parent company Blue City has proven to be an unlikely ally for the Chinese government in its efforts to increase HIV/AIDS awareness and offer HIV blood tests.

“None of our public awareness websites can receive such attention,” said Wu Zunyou, the director of the Chinese CDC, said at AIDS awareness gathering last week. “This is a very important channel to be able to spread information about AIDS prevention among the LGBT community."


Conservative GOP Candidates Running Grindr Banner Ads

Grindr_adGOP frontrunner Tom Cotton (R) is running a tight race with Mark Pryor (D)  for one of Arkansas’s senatorial seats. Recent polls out of the University of Arkansas have Cotton leading Pryor by a margin of 49-36%. His lead is due in no small part to a recent endorsement from the NRA and maybe (just maybe) the set of ads the pro-gun organization ran for him on Grindr.

According to The Daily Beast, the NRA paid for a batch of banner ads featuring Cotton that popped up on the popular gay networking app. While Grindr is no stranger to featuring advertisements for a wide range of social causes, the platform has a policy against running political advertising provided by third-party networks.

“While we do have safeguards in place to monitor for ads on third-party networks, we do serve billions of ads on our network, so there is the occasional chance that ads like this may appear,” a Grindr representative explained to The Daily Beast. “In this instance, we’ve reached out to the third-party networks to have these ads removed.”

As word about the ads spread across the internet, the firm purportedly responsible for placing them and Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai denied any involvement or knowledge of the curious endorsement.

“We have no knowledge of the ad mentioned,” Simkhai told Buzzfeed. “We do not welcome the NRA to advertise with us.”

In related news, LGBT ally Zach Wahls was tipped by a friend this week that Iowa GOP Senate hopeful Joni Ernst was also running ads on the gay app. 


Watercolor Artist Highlights The Humor, Mundanity of Grindr

GrindrMoMA featured Australian artist Adam Seymour is following in the footsteps of Grindr Illustrated, and painting a series of watercolors depicting Grindr profiles. Seymour’s been exploring the digital spaces around him since 2012, when he began painting the G-Force series. Unlike other artists' work in this space, which tend to exaggerate the inherently sexual aspects of Grindr, Seymour's paintings focus on the accidental humor and mundaneness that the platform sometimes creates.

“I began the project as I had become intrigued by the idea of our private worlds being made public through social media,” the artist told Buzzfeed in an interview. “We reveal our most wild, deviant, sexual, fantastical selves to the digital universe, for anyone to see, and yet, for some reason, maintain this subconscious expectation that only our desired audience will see it.”

Check out more of Adam Seymour's Grindr portraits AFTER THE JUMP...

 

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Taylor Swift Applauds Gay Fan's Grindr Promotion of New Album '1989'

GrindrTaylor

Maybe it was a joke, or maybe Taylor Swift's success simply has no bounds. Whatever the case may be, Tumblr user 'ughstory' posted a screenshot (above) of his Grindr conversation-turned-album promotion for the young pop singer (with caption: "Honestly why am I single..."), and Taylor took notice. 

Take 40 reports:

Once Taylor saw this, she reblogged the image and wrote "CANT (sic) STOP LAUGHING. I Will be applauding you for decades to come for this."

This story comes one day after Taylor went to #1 on iTunes in Canada after releasing 8 seconds of white noise.

Is this just the beginning of a new form of advertisement? Will Grindr be overrun with T-Swift fans? Only time will tell...


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