Towards the end of last year and the beginning of this, my eyes were rather unceremoniously blinded by the sight of something no one really needs to see. Over various online channels, I began to receive social media messages from people I didn’t know. More specifically, messages from men I don’t know. Now, this isn’t news, it happens to lots of people. Unsolicited messages, tweets and the like are bound to happen when you have a profile in the public domain. However, what was new to me was the content of these messages.
The very graphic content of these messages.
I’ve been fortunate so far to mostly avoid the whole social media dick pics phenomenon. I say phenomenon like it’s something to marvel at, but let’s be honest, no-one marvels at dicks at the best of times, so let’s try to keep it real here. However, I feel that I have been fortunate where others have not.
Lots of women I know (and possibly men too, who knows) who regularly write or tweet online receive unsolicited images of male genitalia on a terrifyingly frequent basis – way more often than many people realise.
And when I say unsolicited, I mean unsolicited. No-one in the history of the internet has ever started, dropped in or finished an Instagram story with the immortal phrase ‘by the way, please send me a picture of your penis after watching this’. Not to the best of my knowledge, anyway.
I really don’t know what goes through the mind of someone who decides to respond to someone’s social media postings with badly-taken shots of their genitalia, but they need a wake-up call. It’s disgusting, honestly. We live in an era of unchecked cyber-flashing, and I’m totally fed up with it. I sit in judgement of it, and I do so loudly and proudly.
It’s not even just the pictures, either. Some of the accompanying messages that come through into my inboxes, filtered or otherwise are just ridiculous. I’ve had such weird requests before the predictable crotch shot lands itself onto my screen. Behold some (thankfully blurred) actual footage from my inbox, stretching from the bizarre:
Am I working? Erm, no pal, I’m not a prostitute. My favourite (not really) part was when he pretended to give a shit about my art purely to get a response, and then a bit later on just boom, have a dick pic.
To the downright ridiculous in the form of a Snapchat from someone I’d never heard of or spoken to before. When I opened it, I kid you not, there was a photo of a naked woman atop a salad counter, doing things with a courgette that made me wince.
Needless to say I deleted Snapchat from my phone soon after that.
Why Do People Do This?
Why though? Why? I do not understand it. It’s almost like a form of weird provocation; surely nobody replies to that kind of message with ‘ooh yes, I’ll have some of that, you hold the cucumber and I’ll grab some salad cream and we can go wild’, do they?
What possesses people to randomly send this sort of shit on social media to others that they don’t know, often without so much as a hello first?
The internet is full of absolute weirdos. Everyone knows that. But how the fuck have we gone from normal human interaction to just freely sending out photographs of genitalia to someone you’ve never even met or spoken to?
Why would anyone do that?
It really angers me, the arrogance of those who send these pictures, and of those who send intrusive messages. Someone recently went to the effort of tracking me down, the real me, and sending me really strange messages about how he liked my appearance. It genuinely freaked me out and since then I’ve put my personal social media on total lockdown.
But I shouldn’t feel like I have to do that. Why are people so unashamedly creepy now? Is it not enough to just talk to someone like a human being without feeling the urge to start coming on strong and then when you get ignored, flash them your ugly dick for a response? It’s ridiculous. It’s also disgusting.
Challenging The New Normal
Is it me or has this phenomenon got much worse in recent years? I worry for the future generations if this kind of behaviour goes unchecked to the point of becoming a silently accepted new normal. I don’t want my daughter to be subject to this kind of thing when she’s old enough to have her own phone etc. So what can we do to prevent things from getting worse?
It’s not enough to just report these messages as they come in. We need to be actively voicing how wrong this is in the hope that a change can be made. This is a form of sexual harassment via social media. It’s indecent exposure. If someone in the street flashed their genitals at you on purpose, they’d be committing a criminal offence – so why is it going unchecked just because it’s online?
According to section 66 of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act:
Section 66 makes it an offence for a person intentionally to expose his genitals where he intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress. It is not necessary for A’s genitals to have been seen by anyone or for anyone to have been alarmed or distressed. For example, if a person exposes his genitals to some passers-by, he may (depending on his state of mind) commit the offence regardless of whether they actually see his genitals or whether they have been alarmed or distressed by seeing them.
[F1(1)A person commits an offence if—
(a)he intentionally exposes his genitals, and
(b)he intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress.
(2)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;
(b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.]
Seems clear enough…or is it? The difficulty here is in proving that the person sending you the picture has intended to cause alarm or distress. I suppose, in some warped way, that a lot of these dick pic senders believe that the recipient somehow wants to see their genitals. Even that they will get some kind of pleasure or enjoyment from it. This is where the legislation becomes fuzzier.
Surely, this clause needs to be reviewed. If the burden of proof rests on a person’s intention to cause distress, then all someone would need to say is that they were trying to send something to make the recipient feel good, or impressed, or aroused?
To me, this isn’t right. There needs to be a review on the legislation. The closest I’ve found to this specific sort of offence is in part under the Malicious Communications Act. This advice from the CPS goes into detail about social media and cyber-based VAWG (violence against women and girls) offences. However, it seems more specifically focused upon acts of control, coercion, violence and harrassment rather than these isolated (no matter how repetitive) incidents of random cyber-flashing.
Again, the intention of the perpetrator appears to play a large part in the offences detailed here. With such a focus on whether or not causing hostility and upset is the main goal of the perpetrator, it’s easy to see how someone could argue their way out of sending a dick pic being classed as doing something criminal.
For Now, Can We Be Decent Online?
There must be more to investigate around this issue. But, in the meantime, we can look at the behaviours we experience online and continue to speak up (loudly) when it happens. So, in the interest of helping to turn the tide, here’s an easy to follow set of rules for how to win friends online:
- Don’t think it’s acceptable to send photos of your genitalia to a stranger.
- Don’t stalk someone’s personal details online to send them messages.
- Think about how you must sound to a complete stranger. Do you sound like a ridiculous pervert? If so, you’re probably being one.
- You have no idea who else has access to that person’s phone/tablet or computer. Your graphic content could be viewed by a child.
- How about just engaging in normal, human conversation?
- If you can’t do these things, I suggest you disconnect your router and stay off the fucking internet, please.
It can’t just be me who finds this stuff upsetting. For me, it’s gone too far.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of this kind of thing? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook or over on Twitter. I’d love to hear about it if you have, we need to try and work together as a social media community to stamp out this kind of behaviour, before it gets even further out of control.
It’s just not OK, at all.
You can read more on this in this update on cyber flashing.