How Are Mobile Apps Impacting LGBTI Communities Worldwide?

As social networking apps gain traction around the world, the risks and benefits these new technologies offer LGBTI communities worldwide vary greatly.

Image from Brett Soloman on Twitter

Our program coordinator, Hossein Alizadeh, joined his esteemed colleagues at a panel with GrindrEngageMediaInternews and AccessNow at Thought Works to discuss what responsibilities these technologies have in protecting identities and promoting LGBTI activism. The event was organized by the ISC Project (Information Safety and Capacity Project).

As social networking apps gain traction around the world, the risks and benefits these new technologies offer LGBTI communities worldwide vary greatly. Apps like Scruff, Grindr and Her, are modernizing the way LGBTI individuals interact in countries where same-sex relationships are punishable by death. These platforms allow for growth in community organizing and LGBTI activism. In some countries the mere idea of being able to communicate with another LGBT person can be life saving to those who feel hopeless, alone and confused about their identity. Despite the notorious reputation of dating apps, Grindr has launched Grindr For Equality which is a social justice platform that uses geo-targeting software to encourage users to participate in events within the LGBTI community.

While these apps help foster relationships, they are also being used to expose and endanger LGBTI individuals by either the authorities or their families. There have many instances of authorities stealing smartphones and raiding users’ contacts. Many LGBTI individuals are happy to release a lot of information about themselves because they are excited to meet others like them. This abundance of information on the internet leaves them vulnerable and prone to exposure. These people tend to rely on security measures within social media to protect them, but governments can easily hack into such technology and access such information.

However, society has proved to be a larger source of threats against LGBTI people than the government. Heterosexuality and definitions of masculinity are heavily ingrained in countries such as Latin America, Iran, Indonesia and around the world. Deviation from these norms often result in violence, persecution and discrimination that goes undocumented and overlooked. This is especially true when it comes to new technologies, even in the United States policies regarding digital data and use for things like catfishing and revenge porn are limited to old legislation.

As the influence of the Internet spreads around the world, mobile apps will become an even more important tool in furthering LGBTI activism and visibility.

Here's a short list of resources for LGBTIQ activists:

Digital Security Helpline

Tools and Tactics for the LGBTI Community in Sub-Saharan Africa

Information Security and Capacity Building Assistance