Dating apps as public health ‘problems’: cautionary tales and vernacular pedagogies in news media

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Health Sociology Review, 2020
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© 2020, © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. In this paper we examine how popular media reporting positions dating and hookup app use as a ‘social problem’ that impacts on health and wellbeing. The paper adopts a mixed-methods media studies approach to create and analyse a dataset of over 6,000 international news articles published within a 12-month period, drawing on thematic content analysis and inductive and deductive techniques. These analyses are framed in relation to online consultations with Australian sexual health professionals and app users. Applying Briggs and Hallin’s theory of biocommunicability (2007)–which proposes that contemporary health professionals’ scientific framing of public health problems are, in part, shaped by popular media discourses–we identify a significant category of supportive discussions of safer app use within social news and lifestyle reporting. This discursive space features what we have termed ‘vernacular pedagogies’ of app use, revealing app users’ safety strategies, and their experiences of pleasure and playfulness. We argue that an analysis of popular media can provide valuable insights into how everyday experiences of safety, risk and wellbeing are being shaped and contested with dating and hookup app use, and that these insights can be used to develop meaningful health promotion strategies.
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