The popular dating app Tinder was miffed by a new campaign promoting free testing for sexually transmitted diseases launched by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The advertisements in question—which an AHF spokesman says appear on more than 20 billboards and 100 bus benches in the L.A. area—depict two pairs of silhouettes: “Tinder” faces “chlamydia,” and “Grindr” looks at “gonorrhea.” On the right-hand side, the ad directs people to freeSTDcheck.org.
“Mobile dating apps are rapidly altering the sexual landscape by making casual sex as easily available as ordering a pizza,” Whitney Engeran-Cordova, senior director of AHF’s public health division, is quoted as saying in the foundation’s press release describing the campaign’s September 18 launch. He continued:
In many ways, location-based mobile dating apps are becoming a digital bathhouse for millennials wherein the next sexual encounter can literally just be a few feet away—as well as the next STD. While these sexual encounters are often intentionally brief or even anonymous, sexually transmitted diseases can have lasting effects on an individual’s personal health and can certainly create epidemics in communities at large. We want to remind sexually active adults—especially young people—how easy it can be to contract an STD and the importance of undergoing regular screenings to protect their sexual health.
According to The Guardian, an attorney for Tinder sent the foundation’s president, Michael Weinstein, a cease and desist letter, the same day the campaign began, saying the billboard was “falsely associating Tinder with the contraction of venereal diseases.”
“These unprovoked and wholly unsubstantiated accusations are made to irreparably damage Tinder’s reputation in an attempt to encourage others to take an HIV test offered by your organization,” wrote Jonathan D. Reichman of the law firm Kenyon & Kenyon LLP. “While Tinder strongly supports such testing, the billboard’s statements are not founded upon any scientific evidence and are incapable of withstanding critical analysis.”
The letter demanded a written response from the foundation assuring the company it would remove all references to Tinder and “cease making any and all false and disparaging statements against Tinder.”
In the response, dated September 23, the foundation declined to remove references to the dating app and said that “AHF has not made any false or disparaging statements against Tinder and therefore has no reason to cease making any such statements,” wrote Laura Boudreau, chief counsel for operations at AHF.
“As part of its mission, [AHF] speaks out on current, important issues that impact the public health,” she added, citing a May report from the Rhode Island Department of Health that said cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV rose sharply from 2013 to 2014 and linked the rise, in part, to the use of social media to arrange casual or anonymous sex. Boudreau also references Vanity Fair’s “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’” story, which provoked a Twitter rant from Tinder.
Grindr, it seems, reacted less harshly to the campaign, although the foundation says Grindr dropped its paid advertisements for free STD testing. “We were surprised at the approach [the foundation] took and paused the campaign in order to speak with them and assess our relationship,” the company told the Los Angeles Times.
But the foundation does not plan to back down. “We have no intention of taking them down,” Weinstein tells Newsweek. “We’re not against these apps, we’re not trying to shut them down, and we’re not trying to stigmatize them. We’re trying to bring the health issue into the mix,” he adds, saying that the foundation would prefer to work with apps like Tinder and Grindr to address public health issues.
“They’re tone-deaf,” Weinstein told The Guardian. “It would have been much wiser for them to say that they’re concerned about their customers and look forward to working with us to help people get the checkups that they need.”