Being openly gay on social media can have serious ramifications in countries where homosexuality is outlawed. That's why hookup app Grindr is trying to ensure its users' safety around the globe. After the Egyptian government arrested six gay men in connection with their Facebook posts, Grindr warned its Egyptian users that undercover police officers may be using the app to locate gay citizens.
Although there's no official law prohibiting same-sex sexual activity in Egypt, being gay is essentially illegal in the county, carrying with it penalties of imprisonment, sometimes with hard labor, for up to 17 years. Most of the charges fall under immorality or inciting debauchery, and gay Egyptians have claimed they're now being targeted through social media.
Last Thursday, Egypt sentenced six gay men to two years in prison with labor on charges of committing debauchery, after they offered the use of their apartment for sex on Facebook. Fearing that Egyptian police may now be scouring social media channels for gay men, Grindr issued a warning to its Egyptian users, advising them to keep their identities secret.
The warning said:
Speak Safely: Egypt is arresting LGBT people, and police may be posing as LGBT on social media to entrap you. Please be careful about arranging meetings with people you don't know, and be careful about posing anything that might reveal your identity.
In another recent, disturbing incident, Egypt put eight men on trial last week for a YouTube video that apparently shows a gay marriage, according to Ahram Online. The men were charged with inciting "debauchery."
Although Grindr is worried about potential ensnaring of their users, it's unclear exactly how the Egyptian government is monitoring Grindr, Facebook and other sites and apps. Egyptian officials told BuzzFeed News earlier in September that authorities are monitoring Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts for LGBT activity for "the protection of Egypt." However, authorities wouldn't elaborate on how they're finding gay men and women through social media targeting — though roughly a dozen Egyptian LGBT Facebook pages are currently under scrutiny.
"We are safeguarding the values that are important to Egyptians and which will keep us safe," an anonymous Egyptian official told BuzzFeed news.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly defended the victims of these anti-gay laws, recently coming out to defend the men put on trial for the alleged gay-wedding video. Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement:
Over the years, Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested, tortured, and detained men suspected of consensual homosexual conduct. These arrests represent another assault on fundamental human rights and reflect the Egyptian government’s growing disdain for the rule of law.
As injustices against gay Egyptians increase, Grindr has been taking a more active role in protecting human rights through its Grindr for Equality initiative. In early September, the social media company decided to hide the locations for all of its Egyptian users to protect their safety and identity. The company wrote on its official blog:
This change means that any user within these countries will not show distance on their profile (e.g. 1 mile away). Your location will not be able to be determined via trilateration or any other method, keeping your position private and secure. This change will not have any other effects on the Grindr experience as a whole: guys nearby will still populate in the correct order, with the first guy in the cascade being the closest to you.
Images: Getty Images (2), Grindr