“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”
Perhaps it’s irony that I would choose to write this post in February, the month of love. After all, Valentine’s Day has just passed, with its pink hearts and Singles Awareness Day jokes. To quote an old Johnny Lee song, a lot of people are looking for love in all the wrong places. Honestly, I’m a little fed up with it. I’m not the only woman who is. Perhaps some of the guys have stories of their own, because the topic of today’s post is not exclusively “men-on-women”. I’m talking about online “creeping”, and it can happen to anyone. However, the focus of this post is toward the most prevalent, men “creeping” on women. I’ll be using Twitter as the prime example, since that’s where I spend the majority of my social media time.
What is “Creeping”?
“Creeping,” it would seem, doesn’t have a solid definition across the board, and it probably has different definitions for different people. Even Urban Dictionary can’t agree. It might be the perusal of the social media accounts of friends and family that you’ve lost track of for a while. It may be a seemingly obsessive interest in the social media accounts of a romantic interest (whether or not the target knows they’re a romantic interest, who’s to say). It may be harassment via direct message or other private form of communication. This certainly is a far less benign form of creeping, especially to the recipient.
So, then, what would be considered Twitter creeping? For some people, it’s not much. There are people who consider the excessive “favoriting” of tweets, or constant responses to every tweet, to be creeping. For others, it may be the type of response to a woman’s tweet, something that sounds like an obvious come-on or is lewd or sexualized. And yet for others, it may be direct messages (DMs) of a persistent nature that makes the user feel uncomfortable. In any event, if someone asks you to stop a type of behavior directed toward them on Twitter, you should stop immediately. Much like in sexual harassment training on the job, it’s not your intent that makes the harassment, it’s how the victim perceives it. It’s never ok to make someone uncomfortable if they’ve made it clear that you’re doing so.
Making the Creepy even Creepier: The Insidiousness of the DM
I don’t think there’s any inherent novelty in being a woman on the internet. However, in certain male-dominated communities, being a female can draw a certain amount of unwelcome attention. The gaming community is a prime example of this. People “hit on” female characters in-game, without any awareness of whether or not it’s actually a female on the other end of the keyboard. Males hear a female voice on Mumble or Ventrilo during a group raid or run, and start whispering the person speaking. And in social media, like Twitter, if you dare make it known you’re a woman, you open yourself up to be creeped on. Especially if you’re so audacious as to feel safe enough to put your photo as your avatar. And why wouldn’t you? After all, plenty of guys do it without negative effect, why shouldn’t you?
In point of fact, 9 times out of 10, most guys you meet on Twitter or in-game won’t ever offer to say or do anything to make you feel uncomfortable, and if they do, most are very responsive to a request to keep things light and casual. But for that 10th, look out. Maybe you’ll get “lucky” and he’ll restrict his remarks to a public setting, where you can rebuke him publicly. It’s only your personal comfort level that tells you when to say when, and when to pull the plug and block the user.
What I find to be the most insidious abuse of social media by a creeper, though, is the use of the DM. These people will play it safe in the public eye. They project an image of themselves as just “being friendly”. They might make a joke or two, perhaps gauging your responses to see if there’s some interest. And then the DMs start. Unwelcome, unbidden, and unwanted. DM’s that, without preamble or warning, ask about your marital status, or make comments on your physical appearance. DMs that range anywhere from uncomfortable to downright obscene. If you’re young, inexperienced, shy, or have been victimized in the past, these DMs can be very damaging. They cause confusion, apprehension, maybe even intimidation, especially if they’re from people you might be interacting with in-game, such as guildies or raid teammates.
I’ll give you some examples. This guy was a gamer that followed me out of nowhere one day. It seemed like some of his followers were people I knew, so I followed him back. I never had a regular interaction with him on Twitter. Maybe two weeks after the follow, the first DM comes in. How’s my day, what do I do, where (vaguely) do I live. I’m not really comfortable with all that, because I’m starting to get the feeling the conversation is leading toward something I might not like. And I wasn’t disappointed.
So, at this point, I realize that this guy isn’t taking no for an answer. I’m naturally a nice person, I hate being rude, and was trying to deflect his “compliments” and advances without being cruel. But he wasn’t taking the hint. Since I didn’t really know him, or have an established rapport with him on Twitter in more public channels, I realized I didn’t have to deal with him, so I blocked him. He didn’t need to be allowed an explanation.
Or this guy. Here, this a WoW guildie. Here is someone I will probably run into in-game at some point. This could obviously be a sticky situation. He seemed rather well-respected by some of the more prominent of my guildmates. He’s got his wife in his avatar picture. He made a couple of jokes publicly about things I tweeted that sounded “dirty”. I’ll admit to a gutter mind, I enjoy dabbling in double entendre. I happened to post a selfie one day. Well, the first DM rolls in. He said he liked my tweets and jokes, they sounded “dirty” to him. I told him that I enjoyed making bad jokes, and that it often caused problems because people take it the wrong way, think that I mean more than I’m saying, that it’s an invitation. Here was his response.
Well, that’s lovely, isn’t it? Here, I had just got finished telling him I just liked to joke, and this was what I got. So, why didn’t he make the “nice rack” comment out in the public, as a response to my selfie tweet? Was he worried about other guildies seeing it? His wife even? There was a reason he decided to go underground with the DM. I didn’t waste any time being nice on this one. That was an insta-block. I’m not looking for that kind of attention on Twitter. But, as you can see, I kept screenshots for myself in case there’s any guild drama resulting from my pre-emptive strike.
These guys are not the only ones. I’ve had several. And I’m not some ultra-sexy “gamer girl” waif who tries to be sexy. I’m just a regular girl. Some of these guys came out of the blue and disappeared as such. Some are more tenured members of the gaming community. Some I’ve blocked. Others, because I’ve valued their friendship and felt it was worth salvaging, I made it very clear that I had no interest in them other than friends. The “keepers” backed off, per my request. I greatly appreciate that, and we’re still friends to this day.
Who’s Really to Blame Here?
So, do I, or other women, bring this upon ourselves with our behavior? I have a dirty mind, I like to make jokes of things that could have a sexual nature. Does that mean I’m inviting being hit on? No. There shouldn’t be any confusion with regard to this. Twitter isn’t eHarmony. Neither is World of Warcraft. No one ever taught these men that what women say, look like, or wear is not an open invitation for flirting. My Twitter avatar is just a picture of my face. There’s no cleavage. I once had someone DM me to tell me that because my Twitter handle was Lilulicious, I was trying to be sexy. Really? Let me tell you, even if I posted a picture of myself in a low-cut cami with a name like LiluXXX, it doesn’t give anyone the right to DM me with insulting come-ons. And some women are treated to far worse in their DMs. If a dick pic is your big lead in, you wouldn’t be the type of guy I’m looking for even if I was looking.
Someone once told me that just by being nice to some guys, that alone was invitation enough. Now, isn’t that pathetic? But I believe that to be true for some. I had an older coworker who once told me that I was so friendly and outgoing that he thought I was “good to go.” I saw an internet meme once that said, “I’m not angry with you for not liking me back, I’m angry at you for not even giving me a chance.” OK, what is that? What makes any man think he is owed a chance to get with me? He’s not. No one is owed anything. If I’m looking, and I’ve spent some time talking with him publicly, and I like what I’ve seen so far, maybe. But neither I nor any other woman owes any man “a chance”, whether she’s single and looking or not.
What Can Be Done?
Ladies, you ultimately have control of who can contact you on social media. If you don’t think you can handle the kind of unwarranted attention being a girl in the gaming world can bring, consider using a game character or other artwork for your avatar. Be cautious how far you let any Twitter follower or in-game friend into your social media network, at least until you get to know the person a little better. Only make contact with people in ways that you can easily block or banish or ignore them. Keep screenshots of any unwelcome behavior. You might want them for the authorities, you might want them to defend yourself against slanderous accusations by a rejected guy who wants to say cruel untruths, or say that you were leading him on. You may want to be able to show your guild leaders should trouble crop up in-game. You don’t have to drag them out to have him publicly flogged, but you also might find other women who are having the same problem with this person, and screenshots can corroborate this. Most importantly, you don’t have to take this kind of behavior. If this is someone who you like as a friend or fellow gamer, then ask them to stop. If they respect that, great. If not, block them. If there’s nothing about this person you want as a friend, block them. You have the power, and provided you haven’t divulged too much information about yourself, they’re not going to find you.
Men, the burden lies upon you to not be creeps. Don’t make advances toward women in-game or via DM. If in doubt, ask a woman if it’s ok to DM her. Don’t read anything into what a woman might say in a public setting. Don’t mistake her kindness for interest in you. Don’t grasp at straws that she may be flirting with you and come at her with guns blazing. What if it was your sister? Your mom? Don’t get angry if you’re asked to stop a certain behavior, even if your intention wasn’t malicious. Respect the wishes of the woman you’ve messaged if she says you’re making her uncomfortable. Don’t continue to approach. Apologize and move on.
The gaming community will be a better, safer, more comfortable place for us all.