This is my Guide for How To Not Be Creepy on Twitter. It is a response to my own experiences, and includes notes contributed by others. The Guide is mainly aimed at men, but can apply broadly.
I wrote this because, as with most online spaces, Twitter can be a difficult place to feel comfortable and safe. My vulnerability is increased because a) I’m a woman, and b) I share a lot of my personal experiences, both on Twitter and on my blog.
But I don’t want to stop sharing. And I don’t want to feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or abused when I receive what I consider to be a ‘creepy’ response. I make sure I take some responsibility by being as mindful as possible in what I say. However, that need to be mindful is in itself problematic – it hails from the same victim blaming culture as ‘You got raped because you wore a short skirt.’ I’ll give an example later of something I said that did not invite or absolve the response I got.
I also often don’t want to reactively block the people that make me feel uncomfortable, because many just don’t seem to know they’re doing it. And if I just block them with no explanation, that doesn’t give them the opportunity to learn.
Here’s a relevant precis – ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist‘ or ‘A Guy’s Guide to Approaching a Woman Without Getting Maced.’ Basically it outlines how, as women, we are always on our guard.
This is an extreme, and physical example, but it sets the scene for my Guide I think.
Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.
“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”
Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is… My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?
This is a very similar process to the one that happens in my head when somebody I don’t know – usually male – approaches me on Twitter. That may seem extreme, but it’s instinct based on experience. En garde!
How To Not Be Creepy On Twitter.
1. Before you even send a tweet to someone, consider your relationship with them carefully. This is especially important if it’s a DM, which is immediately more private and personal. Have you met IRL? How long have you followed each other? What sort of things do you discuss? Does she/he actively respond in conversation with you? Is he/she in a different position of power to you (for example, you’re an older man she hasn’t met, and she’s a younger woman?). What dynamics are driving the conversation?
2. People will make comments about their own bodies on Twitter. They will use nice pictures of themselves in their avatars. This is not necessarily an invitation for you to comment on their physical appearance.
Example: One day I tweeted: “I wore short shorts today, and anyone who judged my scars [on my thighs, from self-injury] can kiss my ass.”
I got many male responses regarding my ass, and the act of kissing it.
Creepy. Not OK. NOT the point of the tweet.
3. It’s usually a good rule of thumb to avoid commenting on someone’s physical appearance, unless in response to a direct question – ie ‘Is this dress right for this occasion?’ or ‘What do you think of my new haircut?’ Even then, ask yourself how they might feel about your reply, and if you do choose to comment, focus on the question and be polite.
4. Be considerate of your use of endearments, unless it’s someone you know really well. Again, consider the dynamic. Two women who’ve been tweeting each other for a few months using “hun”? cool. Any other sort of unsolicited over familiarity or affection to someone you don’t know? – NO.
5. If the conversation starts in public, don’t move to DM without checking if that’s ok. In fact, any use of DM needs to be considered very carefully. It’s the equivalent of talking to someone at a party, then moving them into an empty room and closing the door. Do they want you to do this? Are you sure?
6. If you publicly offend someone and they call you out on it – publicly apologise.
7. Replying to things that were tweeted several days ago will indicate to people that you’ve been stalking their timeline. This is probably going to make them feel uncomfortable.
8. Don’t ask for personal details like addresses. You can do this only if you know them well, if you request the information publicly and allow them to reply privately, and if you are happy with the request being turned down.
9. DON’T FAV OR REPLY TO EVERY SINGLE TWEET FROM ONE PERSON. Seriously, it’s not cute, it’s creepy.
10. If you constantly reply to a person, and they constantly do not acknowledge you (particularly if they don’t follow you, either) – that probably means they don’t want to interact with you. Let it go.
11. Don’t ‘White Knight’ if you see a woman having an argument with a man. We’re strong women. Most of us are very well rehearsed in these sorts of conversations. We don’t need you to jump in and save us. (Caveat- see comment below regarding extremely abusive behaviour).
12. There are very, very few situations where it’s going to be ok to proposition someone on Twitter, so you can probably safely assume that your situation is one of the Not Ok ones. Don’t do it.
13. If you don’t know what constitutes creepy, you may not know what constitutes harassment or abuse. In some cases it can be a pretty fine line. Again, think before you tweet. You might not just make someone uncomfortable – you might be seriously crossing that line.
(Please let me know in the comments if you have points you feel could be added to this list.)
Recently I asked Twitter if just plain old platonic friendship between men and women – both online and IRL – is actually possible. The answer is yes, of course, but it comes with caveats. I’ve had men tell me that: almost every man I am friends with will think about having sex with me, regardless of if they actually have any intent on trying to follow through with this or not. This makes me highly uncomfortable. It creates anxiety that results in me being easily easily trigger, and easily creeped out, in both Twitter and IRL interactions.
Despite this, I enjoy being friends with men, in both worlds. I combat the anxiety by always trying to be up front about who I am and where my boundaries are. But sometimes the message doesn’t get through, which is another reason I created this Guide. Because I don’t want to tone my personality down. I shouldn’t have to. I’m warm, and I care deeply about people. I don’t want to stop being that way because I’m afraid – if I do, rape culture wins.
I hope that this Guide can save a few of us from situations that can be avoided – men and women alike. I hope it can, at the very least, act as a divining wand to show where the boundary lines are.
I’m aware that this piece is hetero focussed. As I said, I’m mainly writing from my own experience. I’m bisexual but I just tend not to get creeped out by women. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s gender-based behavioural differences, maybe it’s heteronormative cultural assumptions – and maybe it’s just my own history causing my anxiety about male agendas.
Maybe you all might have some ideas…
Over to you!
Interruptmag reposted this piece on their site and they also added some great illustrations, for example:
Still my response…. (by @jemyoshioka)