INTERVIEW: How the internet changed gay society

Adam Lake March 26, 2008
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Channel 4 News technology correspondent Benjamin Cohen spoke to PinkNews.co.uk about what his report into how the gay dating site Gaydar changed the lives of the gay community.

The report, one of a series of three marking ten years since the dot.com boom for More 4 News, will be broadcast this evening.

Ownership and Control, to be broadcast tomorrow evening, compares the development of the internet to the division of land into enclosed, private areas, controlled by the few to control the masses.

Cohen is joined by web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman and Professor Ian Angell of the London School of Economics in that report.

PinkNews.co.uk: What was the thing that most shocked you while making tonight’s report?

The amount of people who are looking for bareback sex.

I understand that the vast majority of them are HIV positive, but there is a growing risk of a super strain of HIV where someone is infected by two different types of the virus.

That is something that we should be thinking about and it is what I found most shocking.

Do you think that Gaydar changed the gay community for the better?

I wanted to leave it up to the viewer to decide.

I think that it’s good that you don’t have to go out on the scene, but it also means is that it is easier to have promiscuous and possibly risky sex, which is something that we should be concerned about.

It’s not entirely Gaydar, there are a lot of other sites, it’s just that Gaydar was there first.

When you look at the wider community, Gaydar was one of the first successful social networking sites and now everybody is on social networking sites.

Why do you think Gaydar was so successful?

I think it was the right time and the technology was pretty good then.

If you look at the technology now it’s clearly not as good as Facebook, but way back when it started in 1999 it was pretty good technology and it was pretty well run.

It reached such a great critical mass and because of the good use of technology.

It became very hard for someone else to try and break into the market, though lots of other people have tried.

Gaydar is still so phenomenally successful that it is it able to charge users for using its social networking site, which most other sites have stopped doing.

Will the internet be the death of gay bars?

I think that the scene is changing and in many ways it’s declining.

You can blame Gaydar to an extent because if you can have sex and meet people on Gaydar, it means you don’t need to go out to a specifically gay venue.

Some of the people we interviewed said that when they go out with their friends sex isn’t on their mind so they just go to any old place and they won’t necessarily go somewhere because it is gay.

Did you explore anything to do with straight sex?

Gaydar is an example of how the internet changed gay society, but the same argument will probably be said for straight sex in the future.

I end the piece posing the question whether what happened with Gaydar will happen in the wider community and if people may one day stop going to bars.

Across the board the leisure and pub industry has declined over recent years and it would be interesting to see if that correlates to the rise in social networking sites.

Were you worried about criticising the gay community?

I had the option to be very critical but I felt that it would be wrong as someone who is gay to go and completely slam the gay community.

What I hopefully do is a fair piece of journalism.

There are some shocking elements to it and certainly some of the straight people that I talked to in the process of making the series were quite shocked at what people were doing on Gaydar.

It is a really interesting social issue that I think deserves to be seen television.

What was is like talking to the inventor of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee?

He’s a scientist so he’s not I guess one of the most interesting people to talk to but did have a lot of interesting ideas.

For example he believes that censorship is wrong and he thinks it’s wrong that companies are starting to farm out our data.

So do you think that he will be a hero in 100 years time?

He invented one our most crucial platforms for economic development.

As we are potentially heading for a recession I am predicting that the internet will survive it and will outperform the other sectors.

In 100 years time he will definitely be seen as a really important person and I hope that I am seen as a really important person for interviewing him!

Benjamin Cohen is founding editor of PinkNews.co.uk. His report on Gaydar will be broadcast on More 4 News this evening.

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