Following a six-month investigation, the charging of 68 people took place in Florida in connection with the sale of illegal drugs through the mobile dating apps Grindr, Scruff and Taimi. Gay men are the target of the first two while Taimi caters to the entire LGBTQ+ community. 60 arrests took place while eight people faced warrants.

The arrestees’ ages ranged from 22 to 67. 11 of them received government benefits. The probe commenced in July 2021. It went by the name of “Swipe Left for Meth,” although cannabis was the most common drug found. An investigation arose due to a tip to the local crimestoppers line about drugs being sold on Grindr. More drugs were sold there than on the other two apps.

The gay dating app Grindr was used most for the selling of drugs. Photo: grindr.com

More drugs were sold through Grindr than the other two apps. Photo: grindr.com

The police speak out

Sheriff Grady Judd fronted a press conference on Thursday January 27 2022. He revealed that the drug dealers would employ birthday cake and ice cream cone emojis and such codewords as “party” and “Tina.” This last one stood for “methamphetamine” but was also his administrative assistant’s name. Exasperatedly, he pronounced, “Can you believe that? They were openly advertising that they were selling dope on a dating app.” The internet, he noted, had already been used to prey upon children and for prostitution. People using dating apps to sell drugs, however, was being encountered by police “more and more.” He criticised those who bellyached that the arrestees were “low-level, non-violent” criminals but was unclear as to why.

What the police did

Undercover police established profiles on the dating apps and initiated conversations with the dealers. A police press release described this latter as “relatively easy.” It also stated that the suspects were using dating apps “to sell drugs – not to find a date.” Sheriff Grady mentioned that “No-one hit us up for a date.” Undercover drug purchases were later made.

And the companies?

Grinder gave a statement to CNN featuring Bill Shafton, its vice president of business and legal affairs. He asserted that the sale of drugs was a violation of Grindr’s terms of service, and its moderation team strives every day to ban “bad actors.” Users have previously groused that the company didn’t do enough to limit the sale of illegal drugs.

In another statement to CNN, Yana Andyol, head of communications for Taimi, took much the same approach. She added that Taimi didn’t access users’ messages since this was against their privacy policy, but the company would still undertake an internal investigation to prevent future incidents of this nature. Moderation teams, she insisted, resolve complaints within 20 minutes. Police work centred upon LGBTQ+ apps, with Grindr billing itself as the leading one for gay men. Andyol grieved about this since there is “rising stigma” around these groups “who are already subject to presumptions.”

Scruff didn’t comment to CNN, but their terms of service prohibit use of the app for “any illegal purpose.”

The consequences

This affair led to 159 felony and 72 misdemeanour charges. One person found themselves charged with assaulting a police officer. The suspects had 453 prior felonies and 455 misdemeanours. There were searches of three properties. Police happened upon 14 firearms, two of them stolen.

The operation led to the seizure of 23 ounces of cannabis, 10 ounces of methamphetamine, 4 ounces of ecstasy, an ounce of shrooms, 0.1 ounces of coke, 0.05 ounces of the opiate Fentanyl and 0.03 ounces of LSD.

Judd commented, “Suspects are getting more creative, but so are our detectives.” He warned, ““my detectives, who are the very best in the business, are gonna swipe left … and we’re gonna swipe you up and put you in the county jail.” The police will continue to monitor dating apps and asked the public to continue sending in tips.

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