As a woman who writes about sex on the internet, I’ve gotten really good at dealing with unwanted advances online. From random friend requests from dudes in countries I’ve never visited to personal insults because of things that I’ve written to guys I’ve never met initiating sexual talk with me online, I’ve received it all. And while my experiences are amplified by my job, I know that my friends who don’t share their personal lives online quite as extensively as I do also get bombarded by unwanted messages online. Unfortunately, this seems to be part of being a woman online in 2015.
Some online harassment is gross and annoying and some is actually dangerous. Luckily, I’ve never been subjected to the death or rape threats that some of my colleagues have faced — but don’t doubt that they happen too. However, just because someone isn’t straight up threatening to violate you doesn’t mean that inappropriate online advances are ever OK.
But it can be hard to know how to respond to these messages. Common wisdom says “don’t feed the trolls,” which means ignore anonymous assholes. Don't read the comments on your articles if you’re a writer; don’t respond to disgusting tweets; don’t engage at all. But sometimes? Sometimes you just can’t take it anymore and you feel like you have to engage. Just like with IRL street harassment, responding to online harassment can be dangerous and there are ways you can do it that keep you safe.
One of my favorite organizations, Hollaback!, recently teamed up with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, and reddit to create extensive social media safety guides for each platform. From what’s allowed on each site to where and how to report harassment to how to arrange your settings in order to best protect yourself, all of the information you could possibly need can be found on their site. Their advice is awesome and comprehensive and should be your first stop from now on when you’re looking for info about online harassment.
In addition to Hollaback!’s awesome guides, however, here are my own six tips on how to deal with specific unwanted advances online.
1. Talking Sexually
A friend recently told me about how, after liking one of my articles about sex on Facebook, a male acquaintance from her past hit her up with some messages that weren’t explicit but were definitely sexual in nature. I told her that the best thing to do was be direct. Say, “Please stop sending me messages like this. They make me uncomfortable.”
In that situation, the guy probably didn’t realize he was being inappropriate. A lot of dudes are floundering around looking for ways to open up the possibility of an intimate relationship with women they’re into. Unfortunately, sometimes they do it in ways that miss the mark — hard. Most of the time when you’re polite but firm, they’ll realize that they messed up and they’ll be so mortified that they’ll never contact you again, sexually or otherwise.
However, there are some people that are just gross. If someone persists in talking sexually to you after you’ve already made it clear that you’re not OK with it, utilize the block button on whatever service they’re using. If it gets really bad? Report them.
2. Unsolicited Dick Pics
Ugh, I really wish this trend would just die. Guys, hard rule here: Don’t send pictures of your dick unless someone explicitly asks for it. And for anyone who receives an unsolicited dick pic, you have one of two options: Block them or send them a mocking message and then block them.
Also, because this seems to happen a lot on dating sites, report them to the site so that they can be penalized for it. OkCupid’s official instructions for their moderators, for example, are “Ladies no nips, guys no dongs.” Pretty clear.
3. Threats To Expose Your Address
This is commonly called doxxing and it’s especially an issue for public figures or activists. Most social media sites have rules against doxxing (check out Hollaback!’s guide for specifics) and will, at least in theory, penalize the would-be doxxer. Unfortunately, most places don’t have specific laws against doxxing, as law enforcement is generally like, a decade behind when it comes to online stuff. However, it’s recommended that you record all threats and report them anyway, so that you have a record of what’s going on in case anything happens. And finally, if this is happening to you, I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have to deal with threats like this.
4. Harassing Messages
I got one of these recently on Facebook. A random dude hit me up because he was mad about an article I wrote about women who run sex tech companies and the sexism they face as they’re trying to revolutionize our sex lives. My response? I sent him a sarcastic message about how I was definitely going to change my whole worldview based on his hurt feelings, ended the message with a kiss emoji, and then blocked him. Oh, and then screenshot his message and posted it on my Facebook wall.
If that sounds harsh to you, I’d like to point out that this guy sent me an incredibly rude, offensive message as the very first communication he ever made with me. Posting messages like these to your friends can be a cathartic way to take away the power that, unfortunately, these kinds of communications always have— even those of us who are slightly inoculated to this kind of communication feel some kind of way when we get messages like this one. I say, if someone is being rude to you? Take care of yourself any way that you see fit.
5. Trolling Tweets
Best advice for dealing with people who send you nasty messages on Twitter? Block, block, block. Also I like to favorite them, because I know that what they want is a response in order to escalate the situation. I passive-aggressively favorite their tweets and then ignore them. Usually they never bother me again but if they do, I block.
6. Disrespectful Messages On Dating Sites
Probably because they’re an online space where the genders meet, online dating sites seem to be rife with disrespectful messages. From rude comments about how people look to “negging” based on info in someone’s profile to the aforementioned dick pics, online dating sites can feel worse than the nastiest dive bar you’ve ever had the displeasure of visiting. If someone is rude to you on an online dating site, don’t feel held back by the social conditioning that tells all of us — but women in particular — that we need to be “nice.” Dish it back out to them and then block them if the site lets you do that. And if they’re violent or overtly sexual? Definitely report them too.
Images: Giphy (5); courtesy of the author; Fotolia