Below is an article from the Sunday Times. It's actually about men who reply to womens posts on social media, but there was one particularly descriptive paragraph that made me think of someone here. See if you can spot it too.
I had been on Twitter for four months before a guy I didn’t know started replying to everything I tweeted. Often within minutes. It began with innocuous responses like “ha ha” and “nice!” before muscling into conversations I was having with other people (“sorry to wade in but ...”) He sent me random thoughts, direct messages and suggestions that I should read Nietzsche. I occasionally responded out of politeness, but never properly engaged because I was slightly creeped out. It was the response time that got me. How was he doing it other than staring constantly at my timeline? Spoiler alert: he was staring constantly at my timeline.
He continued to DM me, at least once a week, for three years after I’d stopped responding. While the studenty book recommendations and unanswered replies to my journalism requests didn’t have me dialling 999, it certainly had me gritting my teeth every time I went on Twitter.
There’s a name for these (mostly) men who respond to (mostly) women’s posts with astounding frequency: the Reply Guy. He’s become a bit of a phenomenon, with think pieces, Twitter accounts and podcasts (Reply Guys) springing up to commiserate with thousands of women across the globe. So while he’s having a bit of a cultural moment, let us not forget that this micro-aggressive, draining and decidedly not cool behaviour has become even more relentless.
Reply Guys can live on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, be married or single, older or younger. When I put a call-out on Instagram for tales of reply-guying, I received hundreds of responses from women, and a few men worried that they might be. They were. The results seemed to suggest that, regardless of how it’s dressed up, most Reply Guys fall into two broad categories: A Bit Horny and The Righteous Warrior.
First, let’s look at A Bit Horny. “My RG was an older man who would reply to every Instagram story that was any sort of selfie,” says Lily, a designer from York in her twenties. “Nothing graphic, which in some ways was creepier. It’d be things like ‘simply perfect’ or ‘you don’t need a filter #naturallybeautiful’, and every time he messaged it felt like he’d crept up and whispered these compliments in my ear.” Kyra, from Swindon, in her early thirties, had an RG who sent her memes made from her own Instagram pictures.
On the other hand, The Righteous Warrior wants to educate you. He’s a mansplainer who will deny it vehemently, even when you point out that he never wants to educate other men on Twitter or Facebook (which is where he tends to operate).
A woman who wishes to remain anonymous got in touch about a Righteous Warrior who bombarded her with comments contradicting her experience as a Muslim Pakistani woman — he himself, of course, being a white man. “I shared a video of Riz Ahmed’s speech at parliament about representation and this guy replied straight away.’ He disagreed with the move to increase diversity in film, mocked the concept of her Facebook page as a “safe space” and waged a 500-word comment war about reverse racism against white people. He left 36 comments on that one Facebook status alone.
While not technically trolling — trolls inflict offence only for offence’s sake — Reply Guys are of the same family. An oddly pent-up cousin, say. Anecdotal studies show trolls to be overwhelmingly male, while Charlotte Seager, the Sunday Times engagement editor who deals with reader comments on the site, sees a lot more problematic male commenting behaviour than female: “Male commenters do tend to dominate comment boards and post more often — most of our biggest antagonists in the comments are men.”
The psychotherapist Claire Goodwin-Fee believes RG behaviour is rooted in low self-confidence. “They lack self-esteem and often the social skills to help them connect with people, particularly of the opposite sex,” she explains. “It’s ultimately about a need to feel power within the conversation and over women in order to feel self-worth. Maybe the internet is the only place where he feels this can be played out.” Ultimately, all Reply Guys are working toward the same goal: to get your attention. Regardless of whether you want it or not.
Getting constant comments from strange men isn’t a compliment. It’s exhausting. Many men don’t realise we are also dealing with this in bars, walking to work, being shouted down in meetings and leered at in the gym. Figures show that about 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment, so commenting “sexy babie” (sic) under a picture of me and my tortoise is going to push me over the edge, I’m afraid.
And before anyone starts spluttering about reverse sexism, Reply Girls aren’t the same. I have a few message-happy women I don’t know who reply with emojis or overly friendly comments, but the threat level is overwhelmingly lower. In the UK, one in five women will experience stalking, in comparison with one in 12 men.
It’s these worrying statistics that often prevent us from blocking even the love-heart-emoji enthusiasts. “I’ve thought about [blocking], but panicked it would upset them,” says Laura, a web developer from Kent in her thirties. “There are layers to that — genuinely not wanting to hurt a stranger’s feelings, but also worrying about what they might do.”
Goodwin-Fee warns that, to the RG, the balance “between wanting attention and feeling valued versus wanting to belittle the object of the fantasy (in this case, the woman) can be a heady mix that can easily flip over from over focused attention to venomous sarcasm or spitefulness.” A friend of mine experienced this recently, having to get the police involved after a Reply Guy she’d passed off as harmless began threatening her online. He even harassed her in real life, turning up to events she was doing in order to try to talk to her. When she blocked him, he made new accounts and the messages became increasingly unhinged.
“I felt in real danger that not only was he going to hurt me, but that he would find out where I lived and hurt my loved ones as well,” she says. “I still scan the streets for him in case he’s following me. It’s still a worry that he follows me online but in a different guise.”
As scary or draining as it can feel, we have to take back control. Posting a picture of yourself does not mean you should be made to feel uncomfortable; if you’d block his advances in a bar, block or mute him online. If they create more accounts to talk to you, report them. If a threat is made, it’s police o’clock.
Let’s start building our defences without feeling guilty. You don’t feed the troll, so say goodbye to the Reply Guy. And to any of my RGs reading this: if a woman isn’t responding or has blocked you, back off. Especially if you’re trying to get her to read Nietzsche. Don’t @ me.
Five types of reply guy
● The mansplainer Whatever you do, this guy knows more about it than you. If you make a joke, he points you in the direction of links he’s googled because, while he doesn’t understand jokes, he does understand that women can’t research things.
● The loner His reply speed has you suspecting he has nothing else on. Your timeline is probably his homepage, because he’s the sort of person who still sets a homepage.
● The ‘fan’ Does he actually love your podcast, your talent with an Instagram filter or your bitingly satirical tweets? Because if so, why is he doing this to 12 other women?
● The mist He doesn’t reply, he only likes. His Twitter profile is an egg and he has seven followers. Why does he not speak? Is he a demon from the nether realm?
● The horn While this is the main motivation behind most RG behaviours, this guy acts like he’s been having regular sex with you for years. The filth in your inbox is unacceptable.