The Bay Area Reporter is providing details of a health department project in San Mateo County that creates fake Grindr profiles in order to chat with gay men about safer sex and STD’s. The profiles use stock images of male models but otherwise include very little information. Gay men have been happily taking the bait.
The fake hotties from the health department do not initiate contact with anyone but wait until they are approached by men on the prowl (who often attach sexually explicit photos as a friendly hello). The health advocates then identify themselves and offer to answer questions or discuss the risk of STD’s. And yes, the advocate is sometimes female.
Rather than immediately shutting off their phones in embarrassment, nearly 80 percent of gay men continue the conversation, according to health department officials. And the program seems to be working. Contacts with gay men increased more than 500 percent during the first year of the program.
Grindr is less excited about the results, citing a policy that prohibits advertising in profiles. That stance hasn’t slowed down the efforts of San Mateo County, however, which insists their advocates are simply answering questions posed by other users.
No one disputes the importance of educating gay men about STD risks. Most Grindr users are sexually active gay men, risks are often taken, and at least 10 percent of Grindr users admit to never having had an HIV test. With so much misunderstood about the myths and facts of the new prevention pill PrEP, for instance, the value of educating gay men “where they are” is considerable.
The ethical issues are murkier. The Grindr program has the odor of entrapment. For their part, San Mateo County officials have asked how ethical it is to ignore apps like Grindr and their potential to reach such an important audience. Officials claim they are just doing what a lot of people do on Grindr: use fake pictures now and come clean later. Health advocates report they are getting positive feedback from Grindr users who appreciate the effort.
Speaking of effort, a lot of Grindr users apparently can’t take “fake” for an answer. Some continue to send explicit pictures and ask to meet up with the men in the photographs even after the charade has been revealed. No word yet on whether any love connections have occurred between Grindr users and health advocates, male or female, but what a story that would make at the engagement party, right?
So, do you appreciate the effort to educate us about STD’s while we’re focused on hooking up, or is it an intrusion on the whole cruising experience?