Popular media reporting of health and wellbeing issues can shape public opinion. Media narratives also influence research, policy and practice in relation to health services, health education and health promotion. Consequently, the Safety, Risk and Wellbeing on Dating Apps project team undertook an analysis of media reports relating to dating and hookup apps, in order to better understand the ways apps and app use are currently debated and discussed in public spaces.

The use of apps such as Tinder and Grindr have drawn significant popular media attention. News reportage often focuses on the negative aspects of apps, often associating them with sexual abuse, rape, extortion, harassment, sexually transmissible infections (STIs), and poor mental health. In contrast, emerging ‘social news’ platforms and entertainment-focused news genres adopt a less risk-focused approach.

This report adopts an analytical approach grounded in the disciplines of media and communication and cultural studies. It maps key themes, but does not seek to confirm nor challenge the factual accuracy of news media claims about dating and hookup apps.

Based on a one-year snapshot of news media coverage from Australia, UK, and the USA, we identified three key categories of news articles relating to dating and hookup apps: Risk, Wellbeing, and Safety and Play.

We further unpacked key articles from each theme to illustrate the range of media conversations we found. When foregrounding risk, many articles report on crimes associated with app use. Others highlight harassment, and the misuse of personal data and privacy violation. Health and wellbeing are also widely canvassed, often drawing direct connections between STI transmission and app use.

Based on our findings, we make the following recommendations for professionals developing health campaigns, resources or interventions relating to the use of dating and hookup apps:

  • Be aware of individual and organisational levels of ‘digital media literacy’ – including knowledge and skills relating to news genres and social media.
  • Seek professional development and capacity building opportunities in order to better understand and respond to digital dating and relationship practices among the communities you work with.
  • Understand how popular media discussions of dating and hookup app use may conflate app use with STI transmission and other ‘health risks’ without evidence.
  • Draw on existing popular media genres when developing content for health campaigns, programs and resources that relate to digital cultures of sex and dating.
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