I’m fairly active on social media, particularly Twitter, and even some dating sites. I get a lot of messages from people that aren’t always welcome. Sometimes there are criticisms and accusations about the things I’ve said I like, but then there are also advances that get rapidly visually explicit and disturbing even when I try to politely brush them off. It’s hard to keep my cool when people do things like search out bits of my personal information. I realize these people are just lonely and misguided. What’s the best way to handle them without being an asshole?
That’s mighty kind of you, seeking out ways to not be an asshole when people are doing all kinds of asshole things to you.
Now, at the risk of sounding like
things were definitely different when I was younger. My first email account was AOL, and the only person I chatted with was my college boyfriend. I didn’t get Facebook until it had been around for a few years, and I waited even longer for Twitter. (I still don’t have Snapchat). I’ve managed to avoid getting crap on social media for the most part, but I’ve seen a lot of women (and yes, it’s almost always women, and more likely than not women of color) face social media harassment. And they deal with in a variety of ways.
But first, I want to make it clear that you don’t ever owe anyone who has treated you poorly any measure of kindness. It can sometimes make YOUR life easier to be kind in response to nasty shit, but I want you — and everyone reading — to remember that if someone is an asshole to you, you are not obligated to turn the other cheek. You don’t need to be aggressively mean, but you don’t need to be nice. The reality is that asking you to be sweet and kind in the face of harassment is usually a sign that someone is a bit of a sexist (or racist) and just wants you to conform to the gender / racial norms that make them feel the most comfortable.
But back to your question. I’m going to break this into two groups: dating sites, and all other social media. I realize that there are people who met the love of their life after randomly DMing someone on twitter (I mean, there’s this couple), but if you’re in a situation where someone is attempting some sort of romantic-adjacent interaction on Facebook, you can apply my dating site tips.
I met my husband on OK Cupid, and was on other dating sites before that, but I was lucky in that I rarely got any lewd or shitty comments (or uninvited images) from dudes. When I was younger, I’m not sure how I would have responded to that kind of attention; it’s possible I would have just closed my account rather than deal with that.
But no one should have to do that.
Some guys — and yes, I’m keeping this mostly focused on (cis) guys because life experience has shown me that women don’t generally start sending vulva pics when a guy says he’s not interested — are hoping for a quick hook-up, and think that they are owed it. If you fit their criteria, they’ll message you. But if you’re not interested, you’re not interested, and you owe the person who messaged you nothing, really. But if you’re interested in being civil, I suggest saying “No thank you” and then immediately blocking them.
Why not give a guy a chance to plead his case in response to your lack of interest? Because if he couldn’t find the words in his profile to make you think there is the potential here for a good match, then nothing that follows “Hey hottie, wanna fuck?” is likely to change that. And instead of putting yourself in a position to receive more harassment from this person, I suggest cutting him off. No need to be rude about it, no need to give an explanation, just respond to the question politely and then end your interaction for good.
If that feels too harsh, then just end the conversation and never respond again, but don’t block him. If the site has a mute or filter option, then move his profile over there and let him
If this interaction comes on a site not specifically created to foster romantic interactions, then I think a response of “I don’t use Twitter for dating or hooking up. Thanks!” is totally reasonable. If they won’t leave you alone after that (and they probably won’t), then I suggest muting or blocking. Life is short, there are other cool people in the world, so there’s no need to foster relationships with random strangers who won’t respect your boundaries.
I think a lot of harassment these days comes from having an opinion. Nothing is innocuous anymore, and I actually think that’s okay. It’s a good thing that some people see a preview for a new Woody Allen movie and think “No way am I going to see that pedophile’s film.” But it’s up to you how much of that you’re open to hearing, and from whom, and under what circumstances.
Here’s a (fairly innocuous) example. Maybe you tweet about how much you love a bag from a designer. And then someone random pops in to tell you that bag was made in a sweatshop, and then links you to the article exposing it. You can choose to say “thank you for the information” and then move on, you can ignore the message entirely, you can mute the person, you can engage in further discussion, you can think about whether that matters enough for you to stop being interested in that bag.
Same goes for politics. If you say “Hillary sucked in 2016,” or “I miss Hillary,” some people might choose to engage you in conversation. Or some assholes searching keywords might show up and start harassing you. It’s a sad life they’re leading, but you get to choose if you want to engage. Your social media is yours, whether it’s your Facebook wall or your Twitter timeline, and it’s totally fine to delete / block / unfriend / unfollow to your heart’s desire if people are harassing you. In fact, it can be an act of self-care. I think this article by Ijeoma Oluo provides a great analysis of what it means when certain types of people attempt to ‘debate’ issues, and how to take back some control.
At some point, depending on what preferences you share or opinions you state, you might face a pile-on. There are women with a high profile online who find every tweet brings out all manner of asshats trying to harass them; the rest of us might only experience a fraction of that reaction, and only if we jump into certain popular hashtags. In those moments, I think turning on quality filters, blocking all new accounts or accounts with a certain (low) number of followers, or just muting people can help you better enjoy your social media experiences.
Yes, there is occasionally the person who will point out when you’re doing or saying something very, very wrong. And those interactions can be gifts, and help make you a better person. But they are rare, and usually come from people you have interacted with before. The random folks who jump into your mentions? You don’t need to spend your time worrying about them.
Finally, you mentioned keeping your cool when people start trying to find bits of your personal information. That can be so disconcerting. If your real name is associated with your social media accounts, it can be easy for people to try to find your information. I suggest that you regularly Google yourself to see what information is available that might point to your address or phone number, and then contact those sites to get the information removed. But it can suck to have to be very vague about your life, so I suggest that if you find this happening regularly, consider creating a separate, unlinked social media account for things that don’t require your legal name (so Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat) to be your user name.
If someone does start sharing that they’ve found your personal information online, I suggest that you don’t engage them at all. Just report and block them. And not because I believe you should not engage trolls — I think you should operate your social media interactions in whatever way works for you — but because I think that in those instances there is nothing to be gained that will help you feel better about the interaction. Sure, they may be lonely and misguided, but it is not your responsibility to guide them.