Tech + Health

07.23.14

Grindr and Tinder Help the Holy Land Make Love, Not War

What happens when you tell a potential hookup you’re in Ramallah? Seven twentysomethings tried it and set up PalesTinder to reveal the results: sometimes racist—and sometimes just horny.

War or no war, people still want to get laid.

At least that’s what an English teacher in Ramallah and six of her peers have found in the 36 hours since they created a Tumblr called PalesTinder that collects screenshots of conversations from the hookup apps Tinder and Grindr. The new site’s manifesto is to see how “the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be reflected in dating apps”—and it’s a fascinating examination of Palestinian-Israeli relations, at least on a small scale.

“It started out when my roommate and I were checking out the Tinder scene here in Ramallah one evening on the couch in our apartment,” said Caitlin Kent, a 26-year-old from San Francisco who since the middle of June has been teaching English in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank.

The group joined Grindr and Tinder and began collecting screenshots of the ensuing online conversations to post on PalesTinder. Less than two days later, the site has become a tiny window into the political climate of the region, with conversations that can veer from playful banter into accusations of affiliation with Hamas:

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Yet sometimes differences don’t immediately lead to hostilities:

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“We do not go out of our way to ‘troll’ people or goad them into the responses that we have shared, and we are not intentionally looking for matches that we think will respond a negative way,” Kent said. “We are going through and looking for people that we would honestly ‘swipe right’ for.”

Despite the patterns that have emerged from the conversations, Kent said she has no underlying political goal in showcasing the chats, which remain anonymous.

“We have talked about it as a group and noticed some trends, and we can basically sort the chats into three different groups,” Kent said of the site. “Group A: Just stop talking to us or unmatch once they find out we live in Ramallah. Group B: React negatively to any mention of Ramallah and Palestine. These reactions range from calling us terrorists to extremely long paragraphs (we have one interaction that is over 20 screenshots long) where we are lectured about ‘how stupid we are to believe that there is a place called Palestine.’ And finally Group C: People who are indifferent or claim to be ‘nonpolitical’ and still try to get us into bed.”

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“It makes you stop and think: If this is what happens to a group of Americans, how are Palestinians treated?” Kent said.

Oddly enough, PalesTinder isn’t the first time a hookup app has been linked to the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Early this month, a Tinder user in Israel reported to The Nation that someone was using the app to spread government propaganda. And social media in general has been blamed for making an incendiary situation in the Middle East even more tense.

“I think [PalesTinder] is showing that the racism that is part of the Israeli occupation of Palestine is real,” Kent said of her project. “It sheds light on the pervasiveness of racist sentiments within Israel.”

The violence in Israel and Gaza has continued unabated this week, prompting the FAA to order U.S. air carriers to suspend all flights to Tel Aviv on Tuesday, fearing the potential of a rocket strike.

But even as Kent’s Tumblr may offer a bit of levity in a conflict of horrific violence, she said she doesn’t want it to detract from the events in Gaza.

“It is…disturbing for us to see that we are getting attention for this Tumblr when women, children, and other innocent civilians are being murdered in Gaza,” she said.