Navigating the Shadows: The Alarming Extortion underbelly of Grindr

In an age in which digital connections between men have become a foundation of the queer community, dating apps like Grindr have become essential tools of meeting and connection. But beneath the superficial digital dancing lurks a dark reality: one experienced by anyone unlucky enough to find it out. Gizmodo’s use of a carefully constructed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request tells a story of blackmail and extortion.

The Digital Playground Turns Dark

The Weight of a Single TAP

‘I’m one tap away from posting your nudes to everyone’ is the kind of thing that might make your hair stand on end. Investigations have pointed to a pattern of users being blackmailed to send their personal details and intimate photos to friends, family and the broader public, with the stipulation that this won’t happen if they pay, or otherwise acquiesce to their blackmailer’s demands. It’s a grim and effective use of one tap as a baton to beat the notion of privacy and peace of mind out of its victims.

A Closer Look at the Complaints

What the FTC complaints make abundantly clear is the sheer breadth and danger of the problem, with ‘sextortionists’ blackmailing victims to transfer money in the form of gift cards – leaving them fearful, angry and humiliated. One user wrote: ‘[They] started to tell me they’re going to send my photos to my contacts and tell everyone about my dirty fantasies that we’ve been talking about … sending me these random names of people they’re going to tell … She continued saying that she’s going to go on my social media account and tell those people … not only my social media accounts, but my school, my family, and my job. They’re also going to call me a pervert … pedophile … a thirteen-year-old, a transvestite, a swinger … that I’m a whore … Just trying to scare me into giving them a gift card.’ One user claimed that the extortionist promised to send the incriminating photos only to his mother, but threatened to keep writing about him on sites such as – going through a real-world list of databases and social networks to lend realism and fear to the threat.

Crafting a Safe Harbor

These alarming cases prompted Grindr to share a strong statement explaining that it takes steps to protect its community and has internal moderators and machine learning techniques to detect and remove bad actors, including users engaged in blackmail, scamming and other policy violations. As such, the battle for authenticity and safety is being continually waged on behalf of Grindr users.

Beyond the Panic Button: Strategies for Protection

Mastering Digital Footprint Awareness

Given all the traumatic accounts of the long-lasting effects of these encounters, one lesson would be to consider one’s digital footprint or the carelessness with which one takes and distributes intimate photographs or private information, and the little thought one gives to the potential consequences. Awareness and education about privacy settings, the risks of sharing intimate or potentially embarrassing information, and the protections users have in law in the case of blackmail and extortion are all potential steps in empowering users against threats.

The Role of Community Vigilance

Community vigilance can help strengthen the walls against extortion. We need for users and platforms alike to be in a position where suspicious behaviour is reported and responded to. Grindr is encouraged to continue improving its detection and response mechanisms so that users are supported in reporting incidents without the fear of being outed or reported back.

A Collective Call to Action

Understanding the TAP

Zooming in on tap also, and seeing it in the context of Grindr, this simple interaction is loaded with meaning: it could prompt reciprocal communication; it could be an acknowledgment of potential; or, in this darker scenario, it might serve as a harbinger of assault. Thinking about the move from tap as a mundane gesture towards it being used as a form of extortion shows the interplay between technology and our behaviours. Negotiating what is and what is not acceptable in digital spaces is a common challenge shared between us, and ensuring that a tap is always communication and never coercion is the task at hand.

We have work to do to harness the full potential of this new world, to live within its shadows as well as its sunlight – to ensure sites such as Grindr foster connection, not fear.

Jun 14, 2024
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