His group, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has put up billboards and bus ads showing silhouettes of people kissing with the names of dating apps (Tinder and Grindr) and STDs, in the hopes of sending the message that encounters originating online can lead to infections.
Tinder responded with a cease-and-desist order, but settled with the foundation in January 2016 after agreeing to add a health safety section to its website.
And while some of the new cases could be attributed to better testing, officials for the first time said STD rates were rising because of certain high-risk behaviors, including using online dating sites “to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters.” Since then, the trend for several STDs nationwide has only gotten worse: According to a September report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 2 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis reported in the United States in 2016 — the highest cumulative number ever recorded.
“Not only are we at an all-time high,” Gail Bolan, the director of the division of STD prevention at the CDC, told me, “but we’re starting to see increases in all kind of communities.” There are a few reasons cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are on the rise.
“They are hesitant to support sexual health,” said Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and STD researcher at UCLA.
“They realize that their sites could be stigmatized for being associated with STDs.
Health officials in states around the country have linked recent STD outbreaks to the rise in internet dating.
In one study looking at the link between Craigslist personal ads and HIV, researchers at the University of Minnesota identified an increase in HIV cases in 33 states between 19 — and determined that the advent of Craigslist alone contributed to a 16 percent increase in cases.
In 2015, health officials in Rhode Island released data showing a dramatic spike in cases of syphilis (79 percent), gonorrhea (30 percent), and HIV (33 percent) in the previous year.
The uptick, they said, wasn’t an outlier — it was part of a national trend.
In the UK, the National Health Service is pushing major networks like Tinder and Grindr to advertise places that provide free (or affordable) condoms because of the role they’re playing the rise of sexually transmitted diseases among young men who have sex with men.
When it comes to the US, the much bigger sites like Tinder and Grindr — which have some 50 million and 10 million users, respectively — aren’t doing enough, according to health advocates.
In other words, what matters more than the apps themselves may be the behavior of people who use them.