A short rant about sexual harassment on social media

I was checking my direct messages on Twitter yesterday. I have it set up so that anyone can message me, even if I don’t follow them, so that I can be contacted by potential clients, bloggers asking for advice, fans wanting signed photos, that sort of thing.

One message was a photo.

‘That’s weird,’ I thought to myself, ‘is that just a hand?’

I looked again. It was a cupped hand, palm up.

‘What’s he holding?’ I wondered, ‘is that Caesar salad dressing?’

Oh.

(Not salad dressing.)

So my question here is, what the actual hell?? In what world is this is a normal thing to send a woman you have never even spoken to before? What part of someone’s brain tells them that this is okay?

I do get my fair share of messages from men on all my social channels. Instagram is normally just hellos – clearly the sophisticated channel – and Facebook insights tell me that the marriage proposals I receive there are coming primarily from Nigeria. My favourite Facebook message is still the one that read ‘I’ve shown your photo to my son and he agrees that you would make a good mother.’

Well I’m glad that’s all sorted then.

There is something about Twitter though that seems to bring out the nastier side in people.

Like the guy who casually asked last week ‘how about having a sex video together?’ Oh sure, let me think about that…

I’ve had all manner of penis related imagery obviously, or pictures of women at the mercy of several – sometimes these are not even by private message but just as a reply to a tweet, where anyone can see it. Somehow this feels even worse because then suddenly I become responsible for my followers having to see it too. When it’s a direct message I can just ignore it. It’s just spam, I’m sure everyone gets it, it’s fine.

Except it’s really NOT FINE is it??

Every time I receive an offensive message I report it. The message that comes back from Twitter reads like this:

What to do about sexual harassment on Twitter
This doesn’t feel good enough to me. This feels like one of those non-apologies that people make when they’re not really sorry. ‘Oh, I’m sorry you were upset by what I said,’ rather than ‘I’m sorry I said it.’

There is something about the tone that makes me feel like perhaps I’ve overreacted, like I’ve ‘chosen’ to be offended and that maybe I should pipe down.

The minimum age requirement for Twitter is 13 and Twitter says that if they become aware that a child under 13 has provided them with personal information, they take steps to remove such information and terminate the child’s account. However, unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t ask your age when you sign up, so how on Earth they would ever find out is a mystery.

And so there are our children, using Twitter, exposed, quite literally, to images they have not asked for. (And yes, of you can have it so that people you don’t follow can’t message you, but that doesn’t stop you being sent things or seeing things in your main feed.)

AM I overreacting?

Is there really very little Twitter can do or do they, as the provider of the service, have a responsibility to protect their users from this kind of sexual harassment?

29 Comments

  1. 7 December, 2017 / 12:56 pm

    Absolutely not! You are not over reacting. The standard response is impersonal to a very personal complaint. Automated computer reply. I agree with you re the nastiness and inappropriateness of Twitter. I honestly think the minimum age for joining should be 16 years and proof of age required. It’s very sad that you’ve received such a gross DM. I do like the ability to immediately block people. When inappropriateness has happened to me “Can I call my partner Sammie during sex?” I was able to let go of it quicker as I could cut them off quickly.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 11:55 am

      Ergh… why would anyone even SAY that to you?? What do they think you’re going to say? ‘Oh yes please, I’d love that, and I will call mine @BigMan201679g – it has such a sexy ring to it…’

  2. 7 December, 2017 / 1:33 pm

    I had to read this a couple of times before it dawned on me what the Caeser salad dressing actually was. I’ve heard of people getting unsolicited explicit pictures, but never THAT. That really is quite grim.

    This is an issue that causes me some embarrassment as a guy. I get explicit accounts follow me on social media and they are swiftly blocked. never have I received an unsolicited explicit pic from a woman and yet I hear it happening to lots of woman.

    I like to think it’s a small number of guys responsible for this kind of thing. While the social media channels have some responsibility, it is ultimately down to these guys to behave appropriately.

    That said, I am rather jealous no one has sent me a message telling me their daughter thinks I’d make a good father.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 11:54 am

      And this is why you’re a nice guy John :-)

      I often feel like it must be really difficult if you’re just a nice normal bloke to see and hear so many stories like this where it’s so often ‘men’ who are responsible. What are you meant to do? Because obviously it’s not YOUR fault, and yet so much blame is just put at the feet of men as a gender.

  3. Catherine
    7 December, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    You are not overreacting. That is disgusting. Twitter is far worse than Facebook about taking reports seriously. I reported someone to Facebook for stalking me and they removed her. Twitter needs to step up.

    I haven’t had rude messages on Twitter (yet) but plenty on FB, which I always report. Things like ‘I want to fuck you’ to questions about my sexual fantasies and ‘hello’ messages which soon turn sexual. But as I said, FB are quick to remove and warn the culprit.

    Twitter needs to be more responsible about safety. End of.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 11:52 am

      What I don’t get is what these men think is going to happen?? Do they honestly think that a random woman is going to reply and be like ‘Oh I’m so glad you said that as I really want to fuck you too! What a coincidence! Let’s make it happen!’ Weird.

      • Catherine
        8 December, 2017 / 3:24 pm

        I think they like the shock value. I read that men harass women in the street ‘for fun’ ‘to make their friends laugh’ etc.
        They probably expect the woman online to reply with shock and horror, so they can show their mates and have a good laugh at the silly woman. It’s terribly sad that so many men see women as objects that are here just to be used and laughed at by men.
        Best to report to Twitter or Facebook or whoever. Hopefully if Twitter get lots of reports they’ll realise what a big problem it is.
        *hugs*

        • Philipa
          17 December, 2017 / 11:48 pm

          I believe your mistake was trying to guess what these men think – you’re assuming thought takes place.

          • Jo Middleton
            Author
            18 December, 2017 / 11:27 am

            Ahhh! That will be it then :-)

          • Philipa
            18 December, 2017 / 11:46 am

            Perhaps I’m wrong, maybe they do think. I just can’t contemplate any intelligence that would think this is acceptable.

          • Catherine
            18 December, 2017 / 11:49 am

            No, it was an article I read where men were asked why they harassed women in the street. They gave the answers- ‘for fun’ and ‘to make my mates laugh’ so they clearly said it themselves.

  4. Vicky
    7 December, 2017 / 6:54 pm

    Definitely not overreacting, that is disgusting & Twitter should do more to stop it. IT is harassment & if you wouldn’t do it in person then you certainly shouldn’t do it from behind a keyboard.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 11:51 am

      That’s the bizarre thing – it’s like the internet gives people this invisibility cloak, and they think they can just go around doing whatever they want and it doesn’t count.

      • Vicky
        8 December, 2017 / 3:46 pm

        I know, it definitely brings out the worst in some people. I so admire the way you deal with it, it would really upset me.

  5. Dawn F
    7 December, 2017 / 10:12 pm

    So vile! It’s not right and it is harassment. I have seen some really graphic pictures on twitter that have scarred me but luckily I have never received that sort of thing personally. I would be livid and nauseous at the same time. I feel like spamming you with loads of cat gifs to clear your poor brain bank.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 11:50 am

      It’s so wrong though isn’t it, that you count yourself as ‘lucky’ even though you HAVE been exposed to graphic images you don’t want to see??

  6. 8 December, 2017 / 11:37 am

    NO! I think it was Stephen Fry who said that social media had so much potential to do good by connecting everybody in ways never seen before but we seem to have turned it into Pandora’s box instead, exposing us all to the nastier side of life. Really sorry to read this. You’re not over-reacting at all, The person sounds mentally all. Ther’s often one nutter on every bus, sadly. Don’t let it deter you from being you.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 11:49 am

      I guess wherever you have such a huge group of people able to connect then the nastier element is always going to float to the top – like the yukky scum on a boiling pan of bones :-)

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 11:49 am

      PS Not sure where that description came form – bit weird wasn’t it??

      • 8 December, 2017 / 12:59 pm

        The “pan of bones”! LOL! Quite apt, I think.|For the vegans, of course, it would be the frothy scum atop a day-long boil of dried pulses…..

  7. A S,Edinburgh
    8 December, 2017 / 11:58 am

    I agree, that official response is insulting. It puts all the emphasis on the person reporting. “We’re sorry that someone posted something inappropriate” would work, but not that.

    Personally, I don’t find that kind of thing distressing or particularly disgusting, but the people sending them aren’t to know that, and however much or little it affects the person receiving it, it’s a violation of consent. It’s sexual abuse.

    I don’t like people who are happy to flout the need for consent to view sexual images having any kind of platform at all. They need an abuser rehabilitation course, not social media access.

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      8 December, 2017 / 12:05 pm

      Exactly – it makes it feel like it’s MY fault for being offended! I think I agree with you in that the image itself didn’t upset me as such, it’s more the fact that they are ALLOWED to do it, that they feel ENTITLED to do it, and that there doesn’t seem to be any way to protect yourself, plus that feeling that they could be sending it to all kinds of people, including children, who would be genuinely distressed.

  8. 19 December, 2017 / 11:29 am

    Urgh shudder. Thankfully Twitter seems ok for me (apart from being followed or RTd by accounts with women in underwear who I block. IG is just men following – used to be lots of arabic written account or similar, but they’ve gone and it now seems to be lots of US military men with selfies of them presumably looking for women who I block. The worse was a comment on Youtube the other day commenting on an old video of N, saying they’d jacked off to it, and then calling me a racial term which didn’t even make sense given I’m white. Luckily I have comment moderation on there, so I could remove it but it made me feel sick. I tried reporting it but most of the options are about content and not comments, then I needed to put in a url of the video but I’d taken it to private and it youtube couldn’t pick up the comment because I’d not approved it. So the reporting system didn’t even work.

    Social media really needs to make it easier to report these people. I obviously block them, but reporting correctly needs to be taken more seriously

  9. Julie
    20 December, 2017 / 8:10 pm

    It happens all the time and I have a locked Twitter account …even been sent a pic of me that they’ve *** all over Always delete block move on but there always seems to be another to take his place

  10. Simon
    17 January, 2018 / 10:08 pm

    I’m sorry that some men are dicks. I often feel embarrassed to be a man when I hear how some men treat the women in their lives, not to mention the ones they don’t know.

    PS. I’m a fan, please can I have a signed photo ;-)

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      22 January, 2018 / 10:49 am

      Should I get some kind of glam headshot done that I can sit in a bookshop with a stack of? I mean obviously I’d need to write a book, or the bookshop would be weird…

      • Simon
        22 January, 2018 / 11:04 am

        Perhaps an Internet cafe (do they still exist?) would be more appropriate for a blogger extraordinaire?

        • Jo Middleton
          Author
          22 January, 2018 / 2:27 pm

          If I go somewhere suitably hipster I expect I could find some kind of retro launderette/internet cafe combo?

  11. Martin
    17 January, 2018 / 10:14 pm

    Personally I would like to know how they would like their mother to see what they were posting. Mine would have given me a thick ear and a lecture on where the hell had my brains gone.
    It’s disgusting behavior.
    I have no issue with naked people studying life drawing when i can but sending someone a picture of your genitals uninvited is just wrong and belongs to the same ilk as the classic flasher with a dirty raincoat

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