HIV/AIDS outreach workers are using Grindr to convince people to get tested for STIs

This week, the Washington Post reported that sex workers are using hookup apps like Tinder and Grindr to find new clients. While pretty much everyone already knew that (and while there’s some debate over whether there are actual sex workers using the app, or if they’re just bots), it’s no secret that both sex workers and non-sex workers alike are having a lot o’ sex through these apps, and when people have a lot o’ (unprotected) sex, they tend to be at risk for a lot o’ STIs as well.

That’s why Bay Area outreach workers are using gay hookup apps to try to persuade people to get tested for STIs. According to local news station KTVU, an HIV/AIDS prevention and outreach group is setting up fake profiles on these apps and messaging users to encourage them to get tested.

In California’s Marin County, “we don’t have a gay bar or well-known public sex environments, it’s hard to find where men get together to meet other men,” Andrew Fyne, the director of prevention and testing for the Marin AIDS project, told KTVU.

So the group has had to resort to less orthodox methods to connect with people at highest risk for contracting the disease. At first, they used Craigslist. Lately, however, they’ve been setting up fake photos and profiles on Grindr and Growlr—”the bottom line is they’re all good-looking people,” Fyne says— and connecting with men through there.

While the Marin AIDS project’s intentions are admirable, this doesn’t exactly sound like the most ethical or straightforward of tactics. (Imagine swiping right on a hot guy and thinking you’re gonna get laid, only to have him interrogate you about the last time a doctor stuck a swab up your penis). But Fyne says the men he contacts don’t object: “Nine out of 10 times, people thank us for the work we’re doing.”

This is not the first time that a hookup app has been used as a platform for public health outreach. A Tumblr called Matches for Men’s Health set up a Tinder profile for a fictional “Nurse Nicole,” who convinced men on the app to get prostate exams. And a few months ago, an Israeli advertising firm founded the Tinder AIDS Project, which used a fake profile on the app to convince users to get tested for HIV. (The campaign was widely criticized as overly puritanical and slut-shamey).

But the question is: Why, exactly, is this kind of initiative necessary? How does finding a sex partner on a hookup app like Tinder or Grindr put you more at risk of contracting STIs than, say, meeting a potential partner at a bar? It’s difficult to say: While a few studies have determined there’s a correlation between using hookup apps and being at higher risk for contracting STIs, apps like Tinder and Grindr haven’t been around long enough for us to determine if there’s a substantive link between the two. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the steps to protect ourselves nonetheless.

H/T KTVU | Photo via Flickr/Highways Agency (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed