2017: Project SWAG: Identity, Attraction and Trust: How MSM Compose and Assess Location-Aware Dating/Hookup App Profiles in Mumbai

Location-based social applications (LBSAs) make it easy to meet nearby others for a variety of purposes, including anonymous and sometimes risky sex. As smart phones spread globally, moreover, there is evidence that LBSA use by men who have sex with men (MSM) is also spreading. From a scholarly standpoint, a growing stream of research argues that understanding how MSM use and present themselves on LBSAs is important to better understand the interplay between novel technologies, identity, and interactions among LGBTQ individuals.

From a practical standpoint, this understanding is important in improving our capacity to minimize health and safety risks LBSAs may present. As such, we must globally broaden our lens in this area as different countries likely have unique contextual risks and challenges. Recent work in India, for example, shows that MSM use LBSAs, but also reveals challenges such as social stigma, legal or other harassment, and cultural differences around sexual identities and norms. These factors likely impact how MSM present themselves and reveal identifying information on LBSAs, and how they form impressions of and assess the trustworthiness of others. Our understanding of these processes in this context, however, is limited. To close this gap, Dr. Jeremy Birnholtz, School of Communication, Northwestern University partners with the Humsafar Trust proposed an in-depth interview study of LBSA-using MSM in Mumbai.

This studyprimarily focused on how MSM in this context think about 1) the balance between presenting an attractive or desirable identity, risks of revealing too much identifying information, and presenting oneself as trustworthy and unlikely to pose risks, and 2) how these factors play out in forming impressions of and assessing others’ profiles.


Study duration: One year

Current Status: On going

social position

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