by Shaun Haines
I had a Grindr profile. I experienced a situation using this network that I must share with you. Shortly after, I deleted my profile.
Like many, I use social networks to identify, chat with and make connections with people in my geographic region. The result of any given interaction opens the door to many possibilities. Most interactions result in nothing. Simple greetings such as “Hello” are often left unanswered.
Of those that respond the result is often still nothing more than a basic exchange of greetings — the “chit-chat” generally ends with “Hello” and “How are you?” I call these exchanges “chit’s”.
Chatting, to me, implies the conclusion of conversation which has a beginning — a greeting, middle — substantive conversation and ending — a good bye.
Chit’s, as I like to call them often end with one of the two abandoning the conversation before its even really begun. There are, of course, examples of conversations that sprawl well beyond the casual to become more intimate and may eventually lead into a face-to-face meeting. That’s the bright side.
However, there is also a very dark side to social networks that open the door to very serious malicious behavior. Activities like cyber bullying, cyber racism are on the rise. “Cyber bullying or Cyber racism” is deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about or to another person.”
Grindr first launched in 2009, has exploded into the largest and most popular all-male location-based social network out there. With more than 4 million guys in 192 countries around the world — and approximately 10,000 more new users downloading the app every day — “you’ll always find a new date, buddy, or friend on Grindr.”
Grindr is a simple app that uses your mobile device’s location-based services to show you the guys closest to you who are also on Grindr.
I logged onto Grindr and found a 26 year old racist. Or maybe I have uncovered something even more insidious. I’ll explain later in this story.
After offering a standard greeting of “Howdy” to this profile, I got an immediate response, which is rare. I opened the message and was surprised to read the words, “Don’t fuck the niggers”. I received a barrage of vile messages and racial disparagement. It got downright ugly. I try to ignore situations like these because they occur often and are often not worth the time and effort. However, this is a very dismal example of hate that must be shared.
I’ll be honest; my first thought as you can see from the images below was to socially shame this person for this behavior. However, that seemed to only add to this person’s willingness and desire to dig further into his pit of racism and hate. Before thinking the situation out I published snap shots, and even one including a clear face photo and other social network information attached to this profile to FaceBook. I later felt compelled to remove the face photo and social network information.
I grew up in the internet age — times have indeed changed, for the worse. Since the invention of Gindr and other such social networking applications I am less shocked by situations like these. I am less shocked because, as San Francisco native and as a Gay Black American, I experience hate and racism in many forms every day of my life.
As a social political activist I openly discuss these issues. I engage my networks on issues related to gentrification, racism, sexism, and publish my personal commentary on various subjects in networks such as FaceBook and now on my blog.
Although I fight for freedom, equality and justice it is difficult to maintain the battle in every day life and against every single foe without losing touch with other important aspects of life. However, this most recent instance and the resulting 5 shares, 4 friend requests, 4 private messages of condolences and 60 plus comments that I received on FaceBook is the reason why I am writing this story today.
Of the many comments offered, the first waves were similar to my own — shock.
As shock settled into outrage I received 1 suggestion to report the profile and several people suggested that they would visit violence or humiliation upon this person should they run into them in person. This is hate propagation and it is on the rise. I believe hate propagation is the use of hate to infect and manipulate others into to perpetuating hate in one form or another.
There were also several calls for public shaming. Since this person had a clear face photo and his profile contained links to other social media networks such as Instagram and Kick Starter. Readers of my post began to do some investigation on my behalf and we now know virtually everything there is to know about this person, this racist — or do we?
There was one sterling comment to persuade the readers to consider the possibility that this profile, image and content could have perhaps been hijacked.
Activities like content collecting, identify hijacking, are on the rise. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission received 2 million consumer complaints, a historically high number that consisted of more than 360,000 identity theft complaints.
Grindr offers no framework for verifying the identity of its user’s community. All that is required is an e-mail address, a password and you’re allowed on their network. You’re not required to upload any image, face or otherwise. For a comparison another social network called dudes nude offers its users an optional resource for its members to self-identify. Users are instructed to print out a series of digits, hold them up in a photo which includes their faces. This information is then uploaded a network administrator then verifies a match and approves the users authenticity. A visible label proving that this process has been completed is then appended to the profile. In this way, there is a simple guarantee that you are talking to the person depicted in the images.
Social network links were recently added to social networking platforms such as Grindr that allow users an option to give visitors access to public social media data related to the account holder. These links often contain personal and highly sensitive information to the effect that personal privacy or anonymity is virtually impossible. There is no method of authenticating to confirm that these links indeed belong to the person’s profile on which they are displayed. Other social networks organizations which place a higher value on user’s information security include programming that forces to you verify your identity and your right to attach to external resources such as by entering your user name and password before that resource can be added.
Grindr and many other social network platforms in this genre do not offer any of these basic security measures, but they should. These loop holes create an opportunity for identify hijacking as many have reported that their face photos and other information to have been stolen and used maliciously.
These comments, below, made me and others stop and think thing through. What if something even more insidious was going on here? What if as a victim of racism, I have been used to victimize another — a potential victim of identity theft and a potential target of cyber bullying.
“After thinking about ways to ruin this guy I have come to the tentative conclusion that the person that sent you these messages is probably not the person that is seen in the profile. I have a hard time believing that someone that relies on crowd sourcing for his art projects does not understand how permanent anything you say online (even on a gay “hookup app”).”
Verifying this person’s identity and possible connection with these racist sentiments, though not impossible, would be difficult.
“Before doing anything more than this post I would propose posting these pics on imgur.com, emailing him from a throw away email and letting him respond. If he responds with “WTF that was NOT me. I am so sorry.” then delete it all. If he responds (or does not at all) in another way, then post it all over. Including on the Invertigo Kickstarter, their FB page, contacting all the principals listed on the Kickstarter project, and to as many people that pledged to it as possible. “
This is public shaming 101 — and it is a dangerous business. Get it right and a sense of justice is served. Get it wrong and another person’s life, livelihood, and safety can be jeopardized.
“Clearly the person you talked to Shaun, is a SICK FUCK, but is it the person that is shown in the profile or someone that is trying to ruin him?”
The answer is I don’t know…
It would be simple to assume that the person whose face was published on Grindr’s network is the same that offered those incendiary comments. However, this cannot easily be confirmed. Having experienced many such attacks, I can attest that attacks typically come from faceless profiles. In this situation there is a clear face, and social network data that tells us so much about this person. A typical attack of this nature would come from a person smart enough to preserve their anonymity. While not everyone is that intelligent, it is indeed difficult to believe that someone currently working on high profile projects and seeking pubic assistance could be so clueless as to allow their face and personal data to become at risk of public retribution.
That does not seem to fit the physiological profile. People can be very malicious and callous. Social networks offer a separation from reality that enable cowards such as this one to use bold and disgusting language that they would perhaps not use in any public situation.
I do not feel justified in launching an attack of my own, especially not know if my aim is hitting its intended target. Activities like public shaming are on the rise and it is my personal fear that even under the best circumstances pointing the finger of shame can lead to more harm than good. There are numerous cases to cite in which those that have been shamed publicly are subject to public scorn, and depending on the severity of the offense violent attack and suicide.
I felt compelled to share this story with the world for a broader dialog on the issues brought up in this post.
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I look forward to reading your comments.