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Twitter, Tinder, and the problem of online

14th January 2015

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After getting tired of unsolicited messages from men on social media, one 18-year-old student has taken matters into her own hands - and the results aren't pretty.

Gweneth Bateman carried out a social experiment, where instead of ignoring a stranger’s comments, she'd reply with a warmer answer, agreeing "aw I know aha! Thank you!!!" The results were pretty bad. Many guys hurled abuse at her, lecturing her that "being vain won't get you anywhere. It just makes you a bitch."

Like most people, I was pretty shocked to see the abuse hurled at a woman if she replies to a compliment from a male stranger in agreement, as opposed to ignoring it.

This is a problem that many girls and women experience online. It is a pity that society dictates that when a woman does not acknowledge a compliment, whether it on Instagram or twitter, she's considered rude or ignorant - but with the opposite reaction, when it is accepted, she is still viewed the same way.

This forces me to consider whether the only option for a woman who doesn't want to viewed in a negative light is to giggle like a five year old and chime "Thank you so much" at a perfectly feminine octave, lest she viewed a narcissistic twit.

But surely, any man with a decent set of morals would be turned on by a woman who was confident and self-appreciative? In the real world: yes.

This is the problem of online protocol. We know that in real life, how you receive or give out compliments is usually pretty standard. You're not really going to ignore the guy or beam "I KNOW", because it's just not what anyone does - be it male or female. However, the online realm interplays different rules and circumstances, with pretty concerning outcomes. It means that women have that option to ignore unwanted attention, or similarly dish out a bit of confidence that is similarly repressed as negative. What a lot of the men here, and even many women, don't seem to understand is that the problem in question is: How is it appropriate for a woman respond to an online stranger who has given her unwanted attention?  

As witnessed, if a woman dishes out the cold shoulder, rather than take the compliment, the guy is pretty peeved and calls her something along the lines of a female dog. She’s still a female dog if she agrees. Here’s the problem. What is socially acceptable for a woman to say that is both polite AND indicates she isn't interested in further interaction? Is it: "Thanks. That is very sweet of you"? Nope. If she does that, he’ll probably read it as encouraging him to pursue her further. Cue more messages. Ok, so let's say she says, "Thanks. That is very sweet of you. But I’m sorry, I’m not really interested." Surely that’s a polite and honest response? Does that put an end to it? No. The next thing you know, he’s arguing with her, demanding to know why she is making that judgment when she doesn't even know him… and, oh, yep, the female dog insult. Lovely.

Sarcasm aside, the point here is that some men feel entitled to a response because it’s the internet, and there are no social codes in place.  It has instilled a mindset through the adolescent generation that through the keyboard, they can't take no for an answer. They can't take silence for an answer.

This explains the conundrum of online etiquette; creating a sphere whereby any simple response has a good chance of being attacked. Clearly in a real life situation, this wouldn’t happen.

The lack of face to face confrontation that the online world permits means that whatever a woman does, if she isn’t interested in the man who has designed to boldly pay her a compliment, she is branded something mean, as they feel like they were owed a response.

As for Gweneth Bateman, she's still fighting back - as are all the other women who have added their responses to the Tumblr "social experiment" (entitled "agreeing with boys when they compliment you"), set up by Winchester student Claire Boniface.

The experiment has so far had in excess of 270,000 responses, so clearly this issue has struck a chord. So, the next time you receieve an unsolicited message online, we recommend that you do as these students are doing - and simply accept it.

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