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I’m a model who has curated a sizeable social media following. I owe the internet my career, and I am very grateful for it. I am also a woman, and the internet is relentless in reminding me of that. I have lost count of the number of unsolicited dick pics, sexual solicitations, and death/rape threats I’ve received over the years. I do know that only one of those users has been banned by the platform their abuse occurred on. My frequent reports are met with generic responses that inform me that their behaviour does not go against the site’s community standards. Boys will be boys, Instagram subliminally replies. This is the tax you pay for being a woman on the internet.
I was 12 the first time I experienced online sexual harassment. A man on DeviantArt wrote to my account, chock-a-block full of a child’s drawings and point-and-shoot selfies, to ask that I send him a photo "of my pussy." I was a naïve child and incredibly eager to please, so I sent him a photo of my cat, which I sincerely thought was a fulfilment of an odd but innocent request. Incidentally, that was the first time I was ever called a cunt and blocked online. Only in hindsight would I understand that a grown man had requested a photo of my genitals and responded violently when I did not comply.
Since the world locked down in response to COVID-19 I have seen a rapid influx in online abuse. Since mid-March, I have been inundated in angry purple penises and baby-you’re-so-beautiful-send-me-nudes-well-fuck-you-too-you-fat-frigid-bitch love letters. And they say romance is dead.
This abuse is nothing new, but Instagram’s response to it has taken an insidious turn. Every report is now met with this message: "We couldn’t review your report. We have fewer people available to review reports because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, so we’re only able to review content with the most potential for harm." The first report that received this response was for a DM from a user threatening to find me, rape me, and murder me. It would seem "most potential for harm" is subjective.
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