Does Tinder have a responsibility to educate young people about STIs?

Iona Bain

Tinder has become the most popular hook-up app in the world, attracting more than a million users in the UK alone. But does it have a social responsibility to educate young users about the risks of unprotected sex?

Since Tinder launched in 2012, the number of new sexually transmitted diseases in the UK has reached half a million, with chlamydia and gonorrhoea rates rising by 46 per cent and 21 per cent in 2012 alone.

Recently, we heard about the spread of  a new STI, “super gonorrhoea”, which is resistant to antibiotic treatment and has spread out from Leeds this year.

No-one can say for certain that there is a direct correlation between the rise of this horrible infection and Tinder. But the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV seems to think that Tinder’s popularity is cause for alarm. It warned about the potential for instant matchmaking apps to fuel unprotected sex among younger users.

Plus, the charity’s comments were echoed in a study published in the BMJ last year which found that Tinder users were far more likely to catch an STI than non-users. That’s very worrying indeed.

It stands to reason that teenagers and 20 somethings are more vulnerable to making rash, uninformed decisions about sex should they have the tool to make it happen more quickly and easily than in the past (unless we have vigorous sex education in schools…not always a guarantee.)

There can no doubt that Tinder has dramatically changed the dating landscape facing my generation. And now a debate is opening up about whether this new landscape features an awful lot more casual, unprotected sex than in years gone by.

One writer in Vanity Fair went as far as to blame Tinder for the end of romance and the subsequent tendency among young people to seek out a greater variety of sexual partners rather than settle down with The One.

But this isn’t just a health or sex issue. What about the corporate implications? After all, Tinder was last headed for a huge IPO (that’s stock market flotation) as part of a wider move for the parent company Interactive Corp, with some analysts speculating that the app could be valued at over $1bn.

So given how much money Tinder could make in future from this new hook-up culture, you would think that senior figures would cotton on to the need to educate young people about responsible usage of the app – not least because it would make good PR.

Sadly, Tinder seems not only apathetic but positively hostile to any attempts to use its app for sex education purposes. There is no mention of sexual health on the app’s Safety page and the app’s only attempt to educate users about STIs – mainly abroad and not in the UK – backfired spectacularly last year.

The app created fake profiles of women, with the following message popping up for male users who swiped right: “You’re probably not her only match. Use a condom”. Figures across American media described the campaign as ‘slut-shaming’ because Tinder did not create similar profiles of men to warn female users.

Tinder has even been accused of sabotaging the Brazilian government’s efforts to reduce risky sexual behaviour during Rio De Janeiro’s hedonistic carnival season, an incident which was largely ignored by the UK media. Brazil’s Ministry of Health created fake profiles (of both men and women) which sent messages to real users warning them to take precautions. These were deleted by Tinder on the grounds that they contravened the app’s advertising rules.

Now, an LA billboard encouraging young people to get tested for STIs could be taken down after Tinder objected to their name being mentioned in the advert. The firm sent off harsh cease-and-desist letters to the AIDs Healthcare Foundation asking it to remove the advert on the grounds that it falsely associated the site with rising STIs. While Tinder said it strongly supported STI testing in the letter, the AIDs Healthcare Foundation believes the company’s response was “tone deaf” and showed that it cared more about shoring up an (arguably false) image rather looking out for the sexual health of their customers.

The burning question is this. Does US parent company Interactive Corp, which also owns Match.com and OK Cupid, contribute to any sexual health programmes or work with family planning charities in the UK (or US for that matter)? AIDs Healthcare Foundation, for its part, has called for the equivalent of a “drink responsibly” warning for Tinder users tempted to jump into bed without protection.

I have found no evidence that Tinder or indeed its parent company has helped towards any sex education drive in the UK – for a company with such huge market share and influence over young people’s lives, I find that truly shocking.

Maybe in time that will be corrected. I can only hope so.

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