Don’t talk to strangers. It’s a basic message we’re taught from a young age. And yet many of us talk to strangers on a daily basis. In fact, it’s commonplace given the proliferation of dating apps and even online sales sites.
From an LGBTQ+ perspective, many people know very little about the world of gay dating apps. Many don’t want to. Those in the know often feel uncomfortable talking about this aspect of their lives. That is understandable. Love life is private.
But with the murders of two men in Sligo, who are believed to have met their killer online, it’s time to discuss this complicated area.
The truth is that the online gay dating scene is often very secretive, and the further you move away from a city where being openly gay is more accepted, the more mysterious it gets. I put “dating” in single quotes because very often it’s about casual contact, not dating.
I’m not here to lecture the moral of this. I guess there are very few gay men or straight men who haven’t had a casual relationship.
But the horrific events in Sligo have raised serious security questions about this secretive world and online dating in general.
In the 1980s, as AIDS swept through the gay community, safety often took a back seat while in strange places, quick rendezvous were arranged by withdrawn men living in disgrace.
While the sands of time have brought real gains for the LGBTQ+ community, the shame of being gay has not gone away for a large portion of the population. Apparently, homophobia hasn’t gone away either.
Outside of a big city, in town or in the country, a quick look at Grindr — the most popular gay dating app — tells its own story.
Empty profiles run through the isolated faces. If not blank, it’s a torso shot or a screenshot of a joke or meme. Sometimes they are just fake profiles, also known as “catfish”.
Very often, people with faceless profiles stimulate conversation but don’t identify themselves.
There are many reasons why people don’t show their faces. Most of the time, the men aren’t out that gay. Sometimes they can just be very private. Some will dip their toe in the water of this world for the first time.
But what if there are more sinister motives? What if the person who doesn’t show their face does so to protect themselves from being caught if they commit a crime?
The murders of two innocent men loved by their community in Sligo have shed light on this darker aspect of meeting people online.
As mentioned earlier, it’s not just closed off men who meet strangers online. They are very often openly gay men.
It must be remembered that homosexuality was not fully decriminalized here until the early 1990s, and so cruising spots have often been the go-to place for natural deliverance in unnatural times.
That meant strangers were taking risks with other strangers. This is happening in the gay community, and with the proliferation of Tinder and other apps aimed at straight people, it’s commonplace.
But when it comes to online gay dating, a culture of shame ingrained in the closed gay scene — an unfortunate byproduct of old Ireland — threatens the safety of all gay men.
The full details of the horrific crimes committed in Sligo are yet to be known. However, it has been reported that the two victims met their killer online, and the relevant point here is that people meet strangers online for a variety of reasons, but there are real dangers in this activity.
How do we protect ourselves from these dangers?
One of them is education and awareness campaigns by gay health clinics or LGBTQ+ groups.
Follow Garda’s advice: if you meet someone in real life that you’ve only met online before, take a face photo first.
Even agree to swap multiple facial images to verify that the person you are dealing with is real.
A video chat is another pre-meeting option. In this way you will find out the motives of your interlocutor.
Another recommendation from the gardaí is that you first meet the person in a public setting, in a place where you can be seen.
Another sensible piece of advice is to let someone else — a friend or relative — know where you’re going if you decide to meet a stranger you’ve only spoken to online.
For many, the above advice is still not being followed.
For this reason, a second measure to improve the regulation of such dating apps and sites should be considered.
For example, if accounts are linked to addresses and passport photos – both of which most online gambling providers require from users – there is better traceability.
It means that people with violent intentions are less likely to exploit vulnerable men or women.
Being proactive as users of such apps to identify the person you are meeting and enacting laws to better protect dating app users is the way to go.
It is hoped that Attorney General Helen McEntee – whose Fine Gael colleague Aidan Moffitt was assassinated – will consider such measures.
Many will still speak to strangers, but with education, deterrence, and traceability measures, fewer lives will be put at risk.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/gay-dating-apps-are-awash-with-blank-pictures-more-must-be-done-to-protect-users-who-may-be-at-risk-41551873.html Gay dating apps are full of blank images – more needs to be done to protect vulnerable users