An Interview with Grindr’s Alice Hunsberger

Toshali Sengupta / Jul 31, 2023

Toshali Sengupta is a policy analyst at Tremau.

November 18, 2022: A banner on the facade of the New York Stock Exchange celebrating the SPAC of the dating app Grindr in New York. Shutterstock

Alice Hunsberger is Vice President and Global Head of Customer Experience at Grindr, a social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people. Before Grindr, she was at OkCupid for a decade.

Ahead of the release of a new set of Grindr community guidelines, I spoke to Hunsberger about how she thinks about trust and safety, the importance of shifting from a ‘do not’ to a ‘do’ approach in enforcing platform policies, writing readable community guidelines, and putting users front and center to create a safe and trustworthy community experience.

Toshali Sengupta:

As the VP, Global Head of Customer Experience, I imagine your role requires you to really have your finger on the pulse of what Grindr users want. So, what do they want?

Alice Hunsberger:

What many people don’t realize is that Grindr is not just a hook-up and dating app, it is a source of community for users. That means success on Grindr looks very different for different people—it can range anywhere between finding people to chat with online to finding your future spouse.

Toshali Sengupta:

You have been talking to us about your ongoing project of writing new community guidelines – let's start with the basics. In a few words, what are these community guidelines for?

Alice Hunsberger:

The guidelines aim to address the areas of conflict between users that are more nuanced than clear violations – these are the places where moderators are often called in to make decisions. In a nutshell, the guidelines set a standard for what is acceptable behavior on the app.

Toshali Sengupta:

What kind of environment could these guidelines create?

Alice Hunsberger:

The long-term goal is to reduce the number of reports, and ultimately, reduce bad actors on the platform. At the end of the day, building dynamic community guidelines is a continuous learning process for us as well as for our users. There is a lot to learn from each other in the industry.

By making our guidelines more user-centric, we are trying to reduce confusion about what the rules are. If you are trying to sell drugs on the platform, you know you are breaking the rules. The areas that we need to concentrate on are those where there are decent people that are breaking the rules because they are reacting to something badly or are pushing the boundary a little bit and don’t know if they will be caught.

Toshali Sengupta:

So how did you go about the process of putting the guidelines together?

Alice Hunsberger:

We already have existing guidelines out there which are quite good – they feel friendly and outline the basic rules. So, there was no urgent need to rewrite these guidelines. As I spent more time at Grindr, I noticed several areas where users were confused about moderation decisions – so I started keeping a list of these areas where there may have been pushback by users, or uncertainty within the moderation team.

Also, I love community guidelines! Whenever a company puts out a new update, I go in and read the whole thing. So, I also kept track of what different companies were doing and had this growing repository of what the guidelines looked like at different companies. Once my list got pretty big, I began working it into our existing guidelines and bringing everything together into something more substantial.

Toshali Sengupta:

Say a user downloads Grindr for the first time, walk me through how they learn about the community guidelines.

Alice Hunsberger

Alice Hunsberger:

Normally, the guidelines are on the app’s sidebar. With the new guidelines, we want to introduce them to the users through inbox messaging during onboarding and we also don’t want users to forget about them. The plan is to keep reminding people from time to time so that eventually they sink in.

We’ve also been putting out educational content, such as the consent guidelines, and the engagement has been impressive. Around 50,000 people not only read the consent messages but also clicked through to read the entire ‘help’ article. So, we know that our users do want to engage and read these things – but we need to get them in a format that feels friendly and useful, and more than just a list of do nots.

Also, if a user violates a policy and gets suspended or banned, we send them a message recapping the rules/guidelines they broke – so we also use this as an opportunity to educate the user.

Toshali Sengupta:

I imagine that one of the key goals here is to reduce recidivism, that is, reducing users from violating the rules again. For this, do you have defined data points that you consistently follow? Or any other things you track to look at improvements in user behavior?

Alice Hunsberger:

For the communication itself, we target a few different KPIs:

  • Tracking the number of reports as well as their quality and enforceability.
  • Considering ban appeals and expecting fewer zero knowledge appeals.
  • Tracking app reviews since these are public comments about the app.

For recidivism – we have data on how many people are being reported, the number of people moderators are sending warnings to, as well as the number of people getting banned. So, we can track how these indicators change after the launch of the new guidelines.

We also have data on ban appeals which show some really interesting stuff. When people send in ban appeals, it is often not because the moderation team is making mistakes, but rather because the person does not understand the issue or think they can convince the moderators to change their decision and let them back on.

Being banned from Grindr can be a really big deal for the people because it can mean losing touch with their community. Despite our moderation team being quite accurate, they still go through so many appeals -- which is expensive! So, we will be tracking this as well and hoping that the number of warnings, bans, and ban appeals all go down across the board.

Toshali Sengupta:

Thanks so much for sharing this. Now that the guidelines are close to being finished, what has been the most challenging part of this process?

Alice Hunsberger:

Honestly, the biggest challenge is knowing when you’re done. I can make so many little tweaks and changes – sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and immediately need to add it on. None of these are big changes since there are no brand-new rules that are being rolled out. So, the hardest thing for me is drawing that line in the sand and saying stop!

Toshali Sengupta:

That is certainly a relatable challenge. My last question is, are there any tips on this process that you would like to share?

Alice Hunsberger:

The biggest tip I can share is that community guidelines must center the community. Part of this can be achieved by how you present the guidelines – try to have a variety of different sections in different formats that makes the information more digestible. So, you can have a few condensed bullet points that are for the users who will probably only read one thing. And these can break out into larger sections that elaborate on what your platform allows and how your users should act. Then you can have even more resources for those people who really want to deep dive into the content. This will also allow you to see what your users engage with the most, which is a very interesting source of information.

Most community guidelines are written to make the lives of operational teams easier, so that moderators can point to something and easily say that “x and y rules were broken, you were informed of it, now we will enforce the rules”. So normally these become a list of things that you cannot do. But really it should be written to make the lives of users easier.

For anybody out there writing new guidelines, start with a list of where your users are getting confused and where they are breaking rules that seem like they should be no-brainers. When something that should clearly not be broken is violated, it is a signal that perhaps it is not clearly communicated. Figure out how to help your users navigate the rules, think about how you can communicate them in a way that helps users understand rather than giving them a list of penalties. Make the language friendly and accessible!

At the end of the day, people who have a bad experience on the app want to know that you have their back. So, you want to work towards creating fewer bad experiences, which builds trust in your platform, and is just part of doing the right thing. Clear, accessible user guidelines can be a huge part of this.


Toshali Sengupta
Toshali Sengupta is a policy analyst at Tremau, where she helps online platforms evaluate the different regulatory and reputational risks they are exposed to from user generated content. Her expertise lies in tech policy, with a focus on European regulations in the digital space.