Yesterday, Boston University clinical journalism instructor and WGBH-Boston reporter Jenifer McKim presented a story on NPR's Morning Edition about Grindr, the gay dating app. NPR's Steve Inskeep introduced the story by saying "the dating app Grindr is a popular site for men seeking other men. It's also used by underage boys, which can put them at risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking."
Between that introduction and the body of the story, I got pretty steamed. This morning I sent the following comment to NPR:
I have serious problems with the way Jenifer McKim presented this story. Principally, despite the quote from Jack Turban that "gay people aren't more likely to be sexual predators than straight people," the story heavily implies the opposite. McKim's bookending the story with quotes from assault victim German Chavez sets it up as a story about abused children, strongly implying that gay dating app Grindr is to blame (and also implying that gay men are to blame). Yet Chavez admitted that he lied about his age to circumvent Grindr's age policy, and Kathryn Macpagal even says "there aren't a lot of spaces for LGBT teens online to make friends." It seems that the problem is a lack of safe spaces for gay teens, not an app explicitly marketed to adults with strictly enforced age policies.
Further, in the graf immediately following that quote from Macpagal, McKim blows all the homophobic dog whistles, saying "over 100 men...includ[ing] police officers, priests and teachers" have "faced charges...related to sexually assaulting or attempting to meet minors for sex on Grindr." This is exactly the language that conservative groups use to vilify gays and dating apps in general.
Of course I am not downplaying the harms of sexual assault and predation on minors. But I think McKim had an obligation to put the incidence of those harms in proper context. Start with the proportion of one hundred men out of millions of Grindr users. Of the 100, how many were "police officers, priests and teachers?" How many were journalists or BU professors? How many were convicted? In how many cases was it determined that the minors in question lied about their ages? Did Grindr cooperate with the investigations? What proportion of the cases were assaults, and what proportion were "attempt[s] to meet minors?" And what proportion of Tinder users, or OKCupid users, or FarmersD users for that matter, were police, priests, or teachers (assuming McKim meant "or" and meant to include the Oxford comma) accused of crimes against children directly related to their use of the app?
I applaud McKim's ongoing efforts to protect children. But the structure, presentation, and tone of her story yesterday did not live up to the standards for accuracy and against sensationalism that I expect from NPR or WGBH-Boston.
I'll post any reply from NPR, WGBH, or McKim that I receive.