News & Politics

Grindr Has a Dangerous Problem—Lots of Underage Users

The app isn't doing enough to protect queer kids.

Photo Credit: Michael Spasari

Grindr is the single most popular social app designed for queer men. Millions of daily users frequent the platform, which is reportedly available in 192 countries.

The emergence of Grindr, the first geolocation-based LGBT social app, was a welcome event for queer men who lived in places where meeting other queer individuals was challenging. In many parts of the world, Grindr represents a safe platform for male-identifying members of the LGBT community to meet others without putting themselves at risk where violent discrimination against queer men is a norm.

But Grindr also has a dark side. Hard drugs are traded, unsafe sex is solicited, racism is rampant and bullies can stalk individual users. These aren’t problems unique to Grindr. All social platforms have to deal with various levels of illegal or problematic activity from users.

The issue unique to Grindr is that it’s an explicitly sexual environment and has lots of users who are under the age of consent. Some lie about their age on profiles, but others go so far as to advertise how young they are. Concerned adult users are left scratching their heads about why Grindr isn’t moderating this, especially since it's been a serious problem for years.

Grindr has almost no user vetting. Creating a profile is easy, quick and free. Any user with a smartphone can access the app. Users are required to be at least 18 according to the terms of service, but it's a meaningless requirement, since there's no proof of identity needed to sign up.

While anyone on the app can report underage users, something I’ve done numerous times, relying on users to police the safety of minors is not a responsible corporate decision. Individuals who would victimize underage users aren't going to report themselves.

Many concerned users may not even know they can flag underage accounts for moderators and may choose instead to just block the profile, which does nothing to flag it for review.

AlterNet reached out to ask Grindr what it’s doing to address the issue of underage users. We received two emails from a PR agency suggesting that an official response from Grindr may come in the future. That response did not arrive.

What makes the situation especially baffling is that moderators have to approve every public photo that appears on the site, and moderation for nudity is strict. This means all photos of minors that appear on profiles appear to be manually approved.

A social app designed for sex has a responsibility to ensure it isn’t endangering the welfare of minors. Grindr can’t be expected to outsmart every underage user on the platform. But it can take the first steps toward not being a free-for-all where minors are placed at risk of predatory behavior.

Queer young people face enough risks without being victimized by a mammoth social app that doesn’t make their safety a priority.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Chris Sosa is the former Senior Editor of AlterNet. His work also appears in Mic, Salon, Care2, Huffington Post and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSosa.