For gay men in Nigeria, Grindr’s screenshot deactivation is double-edged
Sharing screenshots of profiles we find suspicious are some of the ways queer men in Nigeria can ensure their safety.
This essay discusses queerphobic violence
by Nelson C.J
On the surface, taking screenshots on Grindr can serve a few trivial purposes. To capture that absolutely weird or witty bio on an interesting profile, to keep evidence of a chat you and your friends might laugh over when you show them, or to save the picture of someone who you’re not sure about, but who your friends can give you authoritative advice on whether to go ahead with or not.
These privileges are fun, although sharing other people’s information off the app with third parties is against Grindr’s usage guidelines, they spice up the dating culture for many queer men but with the screenshot function now deactivated, these privileges really won’t be missed.
When I discovered this deactivation, I too was trying to screenshot an offensive text I’d just received. I’d intended to simply share it with my people, laugh about it too maybe, but because I live in Nigeria, I easily could have been taking a screenshot of a profile that tried to kito me.
Kito is a local slang common within the Nigerian queer circle. It was built off the long-running culture of homophobes encroaching on strictly queer spaces where they pose as queer men, in a bid to find unsuspecting users to invite over, assault, extort, kidnap and in some cases, kill. So to be kitoed means to have fallen prey to that sort of, awfully common, scheme.
This toxic trend is kept alive by the zero repercussions homophobia receives in Nigeria. A country where there are anti-LGBT laws that bans any social queer gatherings, which means that the possibility of meeting anyone in a physical space designed for queer people is slim, enables all sorts of violence against queer bodies and one where the police would rather arrest a violated queer person than bring their perpetrators to book.
I was alarmed by this deactivation mainly because sharing screenshots of profiles we find suspicious are some of the ways queer men in Nigeria can ensure their safety.
In December last year, Grindr, which is one of the most popular dating platform for queer men in Nigeria, released a ’Holistic Security Guide’ to help users in homophobic environments navigate activities on the app while staying safe.
The screenshot deactivation, which came along with the expiring photos and picture blurring feature, tips on personal care and guidelines on how to utilize the app’s updated digital functions to chat/hookup up safely, was put up to offer users a heightened level of privacy. To some extent, that purpose is well-served.
For some gay men in Nigeria who have had their Grindr chats and pictures—shared with confidence on the app—used to blackmail them, having the opportunity to text other men without their chats or pictures getting easily or immediately documented provides some sense of safety.
However, for other users like myself, what this means is that we won’t be able to run a suspicious profile by some of the directories we know that compiles the identities of confirmed perpetrators.
It means that, after one manages to escape a kito scheme, it would be impossible for them to notify other queer men to be aware of the profile whose trap they had just fallen into.
Most importantly, it means that these perpetrators would continue to do as they please. They would continue to invade queer spaces, create false identities and carry out their harmful intents, protected by the understanding that a function designed to ensure that the activities of queer men on the app cannot be stored or traced, has made their own malicious activities equally untraceable.
A large number of gay men I spoke to about this development also find it to be a problem. An inconvenience to maintaining some of the pivotal safety measures we have in place, and a double-edged sword that might provide safety for some but keeps others like myself, having been through a Kito situation before, anxious and unsure, knowing that a perpetrator could get away with whatever they do, because they have been enabled by both social and digital structures.
But there is another point that has to be made. You see, beyond trying to point out the possible flaws of an app whose only intent is to try to guarantee the safety of its users, the bigger, more devastating conversation here is the loopholes queer people in Nigeria have to go through just to exist, just to live with the impression of peace.
The discrimination and violence many member of the LGBT community in Nigeria face based on our sexuality and gender identity might sound like old news, but the terror and unease, the fear and the injustice that comes with it, arrives with fresh fire every day.
According to The Initiative For Human Rights’ (Tiers) recent Human Rights Violation Reports, there were 397 violation cases in 2019. These violations were said to have been carried out ”Based On Real Or Perceived Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity in Nigeria.” And these were only reported cases. In one such case this year, on the 7th of March at Nanka, Anambra state, south eastern Nigeria, a gay man was killed when he met up with the man who had agreed to hookup with him.
Queer people in Nigeria are also still highly likely to lose their jobs at the slightest exposure of their sexualities. These realities; all absurd, all saddening might make the inability to verify screenshots of a profile seem like a glitch, but it does go a long way.
I have had instances where other people sharing and calling out the profiles of the people who’d kitoed them helped me avoid those profiles when I met them online. Inconsistent perhaps, but this is how we have learnt to fight.
In June 2018, foremost Nigerian queer publication KitoDiaries created a directory, where the names, pictures and other identifying materials of homophobes who have extorted and or assaulted the queer men they baited off online spaces. The feasibility of putting that directory together, however, has depended heavily on victims being able to take and share screenshots of the profiles, chat histories and identifying patterns of their perpetrators.
Occasionally when I think of the time I tried to meet a guy off Tinder—who, in reality, happened to be a group of boys that tried but, thankfully, failed to ambush me—I think of how I never want another queer man to be in that situation; the way I was chased like an animal who’d left its cage, the splitting fear that I might be outed to my sister, the possibility that I might have been badly beaten or killed, and of course the trauma I live through every day.
Nobody deserves that. And maybe taking screenshots would make me feel safer, taking extra verification measures might also be smart, reassuring, it might make the person on the other side seem more real, authentic, they might follow the queer accounts I know on Twitter or share mutuals with me on Instagram, they might call me and sound nice but at the end of they day, they can also turn out bad. I might even get a screenshot of their profile, it might help others in the ways I have been helped, but that wouldn’t mean much if they will go on to traumatize other queer men who happen not to see my screenshot. They would yet again, tussle up the lives of other innocent men and leave, without a trace.
Nelson C.J is a writer and curator with interests in culture, societal structures, sexuality, identity and other subjects. He has been published in The New York Times, AfroPunk, A Nasty Boy and a few other spaces.