If there’s one thing we’ve always known to be true since the dawn of the digital age, it’s this: people reach a whole new level of bravery from behind a computer screen in the safety of their own homes. Social media is an incredible tool for staying connected. It can be an exceptional tool for companies to foster digital communities and drive business through these interactions. We are living in the age of constant updates, easily accessible information, and obsessive sharing.
Though I was a little late to the Instagram party (having only got an account about a year ago), I’ve come to love it on a number of different levels. For me, Instagram is about curating photos and videos which depict your life and interests to share with individuals around the world who share those interests. Instagram is a place to draw inspiration, learn about the lives of the world’s inhabitants, and appreciate the beauty in even the mundanity of everyday life. It’s a form of storytelling that is accessible, beautiful, and unique to each user. Like I said, big fan. The thing is, I’ve been encountering a specific quality of interaction on Instagram that has been rubbing me the wrong way. Namely, one-sided, non-consensual interactions with no accountability from the actor.
I will begin by saying that I do not have a private profile. The reason for this being that I work in digital media and it’s helpful for my potential clients to view my social media platforms. Also, Instagram is about sharing, and I like the idea of people potentially drawing inspiration from what I post. Though no one needs to justify their reasons for a public or private profile, there you have it. So, let’s get to the details:
Some instances I’ve come upon recently have been people responding to my public posts or stories in a private setting: the good ‘ol DMs. We all know internet trolls exist, and we know this with certainty if we’ve ever scrolled through the comment sections on a Youtube video. The issue with transitioning from public to private interactions is the removal of accountability in the public eye. These private responses have, at times, ranged from sexually suggestive to sexually aggressive. It is then the individual who is receiving these comments who must choose how to proceed with the interaction. Some may say that it is the poster’s fault for what they are putting out there, but I must say, some of these sexual comments have been a stretch. Example: I posted a story of my cat lying on my bed, to which someone responded something along the lines of wanting to roll around in those sheets with me. Did I welcome this interaction by sharing with the world that I have a bed? Or was it the sheets? So it appears that even in the case of G-rated content, or full censorship, we are not safe.
My intention is not to victimize myself, but rather, to start a conversation about these uncomfortable, unwarranted instances and hopefully create a safe space for the sharing of experiences and combative tools. Put simply, Instagram (and all social media for that matter) is a breeding ground for honk-at-hottie equivalent interactions, and we don’t need to pretend we welcomed them because our profile is public, or our content is a certain way. The world is filled with awe-inspiring images and inspirational individuals that I want to learn about and connect with, so it would be a shame if everyone had to hide behind a private profile for fear of unsolicited comments.
On Instagram people hit “follow” to view someone else’s content, this in and of itself being a one-sided interaction (if the profile is public). The individual who has just been followed has then to accept this follow, ask the user to unfollow them, or straight up block them. Isn’t that strange? A casual and perhaps even unintentional “follow” must be followed up with a very intentional, very non-casual response in order to change it. So, the accountability is not on the initial actor, and for me, this is where the problem lies.
When speaking to friends and loved ones about my uneasiness in these circumstances, I’ve been met with some really wonderful, thought provoking discussions, and also, “you don’t have to have Instagram,” “maybe you shouldn’t post photos of yourself,” and “why don’t you make your profile private?” Friends, this sounds WAY too familiar. In fact, it directly reminds me of a time in which a very sexually aggressive individual targeted me at my place of work, and the first thought I had was “I wish I didn’t wear this dress today,” and honestly, I find that initial thought to be positively tragic. So, I’m here to say this:
ANY unwanted sexual comments you receive are not your fault and require no censorship or self-doubt from you in response.
Every interaction should be consensual, accountable on both ends, and safe for all involved. Please, don’t be hasty with the blocking and reporting if someone’s out of line. I wish we didn’t require these tools, but since they are there, let’s use them.