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Feminism

How To Not Be Creepy on Twitter

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.

doing2much-on-twitter

Image from InterruptMag’s version of this post.

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.

Additional note:

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!

– SW

Update:

Interruptmag reposted this piece on their site and they also added some great illustrations, for example:

doing2much-on-twitter

and also:

looking-good-creep

Still my response…. (by @jemyoshioka)

sarah-nope

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About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

Discussion

13 thoughts on “How To Not Be Creepy on Twitter

  1. Hmm, I’d add a caveat on number 11. Especially if it’s about sexism, I don’t always want to be fighting the battles. It’s good to have guys speak up and say to other guys, “no, seriously, that’s not okay.” They won’t get the same pushback, and it’s not such a personal issue for them so shouldn’t be as emotionally draining.

    I get the objection if it’s some totally arbitrary topic, though. I don’t need someone jumping in to defend me just because I’m a white(*) woman. Which is a pretty good general guideline: would you say this to a guy? Maaaybe you shouldn’t be saying it to a woman.

    (*Am aware that this is racialised and not all women are stereotypically considered ‘worthy’ of ‘rescue’.)

    Disclaimer: allowances for nuance, etc etc. Not valid in all fifty states. Not redeemable for cash.

    Posted by verbscape | December 11, 2013, 8:30 am
  2. Re number 4, I actually did that the other day, in response to someone complaining about a service that my employers are involved in providing. In hindsight, probably not a good idea. Ironically, if you inadvertantly creep, it’s difficult to apologise without compounding.

    Posted by Stephen Judd (@saniac) | December 12, 2013, 1:18 am
  3. It’s tough for me sometimes, because I think I’m friends with someone due to the large amount of snapchats they send me, but they no longer interact with me on Twitter. I’ve since realised the snapchats are just bulk messages to everyone on their list, so I’m thinking of stepping away now.

    Posted by katinedinburgh | December 13, 2013, 12:23 pm
  4. There’s this weird thing where certain actions are really quite subjective, in that if you’re attracted to the person doing them, they’re nice, but in all other situations they’re creepy.

    As guys we tend to get to an egotistical point where we assume you’re attracted to us, so you must find what we’re doing sweet, OR, we think by doing these things it’ll make you see us as someone who is attractive (because this is what people you find attractive do), OR, we’ve never had these things be considered creepy because there’s never been a situation where they haven’t worked out in our favour because the guy is either A, super attractive, or more likely B, socially awkward and so has never really attempted contact with females they are attracted to.

    I haven’t worked out exactly what the cause is, but I think a lot of online creepiness stems from guys being oblivious to what they’re actually doing vs what they think they’re doing, probably because media has a bad habit of painting borderline stalker behavior as sweet or charming (Looking at you, every RomCom I saw growing up).

    Posted by Eddy | December 15, 2013, 8:54 am
  5. Agree. It is nice to have support, as long as one is not steamrolled.

    Posted by Rin | January 7, 2014, 10:19 pm
  6. I’m wondering if you realize how insulting you’re being towards women, or if it’s unintentional. Women aren’t so dull as to suddenly enjoy being harassed when someone with a pretty face is doing it.

    And knock it off with the “we”… I’m a guy and I don’t feel entitled to women’s attention. Stick to describing yourself.

    Posted by Tim Chevalier | January 8, 2014, 7:07 am
  7. Lately I am reminded of why I have accounts with androgynous names most places online, including Twitter. I also keep feminine-named ones for those times I want to say something “as a woman”.

    Posted by Evie | January 9, 2014, 3:47 pm
  8. He never said he felt entitled to women’s attention. That was something you made up. And yes, some women will enjoy attention from an attractive male that they would view negatively from an unattractive guy – to say otherwise is absurd. You’re forgetting that every person, regardless of gender, is different.

    Posted by Jackson | January 16, 2014, 8:07 pm
  9. “Inferred” is different from “made up”. And reading what’s implied is different from inferring. Connotations are a thing that exist. While Eddy did not use the literal words “men are entitled to women’s time”, his comment can be read in numerous ways.

    As to the actual point he made, he’s part-right and so is Tim. A lot of actions *are* subjective… but it’s not about “attractiveness” per se and that’s a really tedious argument.

    There are reasons to dislike someone’s behaviour beyond the simple question of whether they meet your personal standards for attractiveness. It is not looks that dictate how I react to someone – especially on twitter where I have no idea what a lot of people look like – but familiarity, emotional attitude, past history, and a whole bunch of other really subjective factors. (In person, then also body language and tone of voice.) For some people physical attractiveness may weigh more strongly, but it is not the only factor. And yes, sometimes attractive people are creepy, too.

    You are right that people are different – but that’s the point, too. Something that the tweeter thinks is okay may not be so well-received by the tweetee. Hence the need for this post.

    Up there, right next to the number “1” and repeated in various forms (in implications! and connotations!) in all the other points, writehandedgirl said: “Before you even send a tweet to someone, consider your relationship with them carefully.”

    Consider. Stop and consider. The entire message of the post is “yes, it’s subjective, so consider this person“. In some cases A, in other cases B. How well do you know this person? Do you know what their preferences are?

    Not “consider whether you are smokin’ hot enough to pull this off”. Consider the actual person you are actually talking to.

    Hence these other quotes from the post:

    “This is not necessarily”
    “It’s usually a good rule of thumb”
    “Even then, ask yourself how they might feel about your reply, and if you do choose to comment”
    “unless it’s someone you know really well”
    “unsolicited…someone you don’t know”
    “without checking if that’s ok”
    “Do they want you to do this? Are you sure?”
    “This is probably going to”
    “if you know them well”
    “that probably means”
    “most of us”
    “caveat”
    “very, very few situations where”
    “you can probably safely assume”
    “in some cases”

    Summed up nicely by:

    “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.”

    We know that every person is different, but this is a post about a general trend and how to avoid being part of that trend.

    Posted by V (verbscape) | January 17, 2014, 5:05 am
  10. You should consider that for a lot of men the word ‘creep’ can be very hurtful. It is a very gender specific taunt that can cause a lot of pain to the recipient. I know a lot of women hate being called, or hate hearing the word ‘crazy’ describing them. With the former you’re utterly dismissing the man in a demeaning way. With the latter you’re attacking her personality/persona in a way which is again demeaning. These two concepts are extremely hateful to both sexes, so I would ask everyone who reads this not to use either under every circumstance exempt the most grossly provocative.

    Posted by myearlobe | March 13, 2014, 1:28 pm
  11. No.

    It’s good that men find the word ‘creep’ hurtful. Acting like a creep should be considered a bad thing. ‘Crazy’ is used against (mostly) women to dismiss them as being not ‘rational’ and their complaints not serious or important. It is an accusation that is designed to undermine, with no regard to the woman’s actual behaviour or state of mind. ‘Creep’ is used to describe (mostly) men who act entitled to (mostly) women’s time and attention, and push for more than the woman wants to give, or make her otherwise uncomfortable based on existing social power structures. It is an accusation that is based on actual behaviour. Further, in most spaces calling a guy a creep will wind up with the woman receiving a flood of comments calling her a harpie, a bitch, man-hating, and telling her to ~lighten up~ – this isn’t some magic word that will suddenly make the world turn against the man who has been accused.

    If you don’t want to be told you’re a creep, don’t act in creepy ways. What do you know, here’s a helpful blog post with some tips!

    Posted by V (verbscape) | March 13, 2014, 10:15 pm

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