Navigating the world of social media can sometimes be like traversing through the Wild West. There are no clear cut rules. Yes, reasonable people know that unsolicited explicit pictures/messages are inherently wrong but what about the less obvious etiquette?
After launching The Safe Space we’ve been having various conversations with female colleagues on Twitter around the subjects of DMs and what the etiquette is for them. Of course, there is no easy right or wrong answer, but after lots of discussion there appears to be a general consensus on what is and isn’t OK. What has been interesting is we’ve had the same conversation with a few male colleagues on Twitter (albeit less so) and their general feeling is rather different to the women we have talked to. But that will be discussed later.
A DM or Direct Message for anyone who doesn’t know (seriously who are you?) is a way of talking to someone privately on a social media platform. This blog will be concentrating on primarily Twitter etiquette. However, the same applies to any social media network that groups of teachers are using. DMs can be used for a variety of reasons, from continuing a particular thought from thread of tweets when the public conversation might have gone in a different direction, a small group of teachers choosing to talk to each other privately, clarification and many, many other reasons! The DM space is a decidedly different one. It takes the public, private and in doing so this subtly changes the rules.
I’ve heard this analogy before (if it’s your analogy please let me know so I can credit you, I have a terrible memory). Public Twitter is like being at a conference. You have the option to chat and talk to all of your colleagues. You’re in the same room together and lots of conversations are happening across the conference room. DMs are like chatting to someone in a private room at the conference. Sometimes you need to have a discussion that takes place away from the public sphere but more often than not anything that can be said via DM is something that can be said publically on a Twitter thread. You wouldn’t ask a person that you didn’t know to have a one on one conversation with you in a private room so why would that be acceptable virtually?
My public Twitter is open to all. Anyone can comment/like/retweet. As long as responses are respectful I will always endeavour to respond in some way. My DM Twitter is different. That is my space and I am very careful about who I respond to and why. First and foremost I respond to people I have an established relationship with online. I respond to women who are seeking advice after receiving unsolicited messages/pictures. However, the space belongs to me and it is my space to use as I see fit. What I do not reply to are the random messages from men. Now, I’m not talking about pictures, I’m not talking about explicit messages, I’m talking about the multitudes of random male teachers that I have never had any public interaction with sending me random DMs. I’m not alone.
Over the last few days I’ve talked to numerous female Twitter colleagues and there is a consensus. Weekly, they receive multiple messages from men who feel that they are entitled to have private message conversations with female teachers. These messages are not explicit, but they do come across as creepy and they are unwanted.
This is something that happens predominantly to female educators and I’ve been thinking a lot about why. Yes, both men and women get the random bots and spam messages but I’m talking about real life male teachers DMing female teachers regularly.
Why? I think there is something to be said for the pervading attitudes that exist around men feeling entitled to a woman’s attention. As I mentioned earlier when talking to male Twitter colleagues about this, the majority of them saw no issue with DMing a woman they didn’t know. What if it’s a professional question? What if I was interested in something she said and wanted to talk further? What if I want to expand my PLN? These men are wonderful, supportive allies but there is something to be said when the attitudes of men and women are so different. Women find it creepy. They find it unnecessary. Essentially, women do not like it.
So what can you do?
1. Consider your language. Ask permission via public Twitter. Consent in all of its varieties is extremely important. ‘Hi, I’ve really enjoyed your thoughts on this. Is it OK if I DM you to discuss it further?
2. Think about the nature of the DM. Could this be said in the open forum? Does it have to be via DM? Is the DM a consensual process?
3. Have a clear reason for why you’re DMing. If you do really feel that you need to DM and it’s something that can’t be said publically then state that clearly at the beginning of the message.
4. Remember this is a professional account and not a dating profile. Refrain from using DMs to comment on physical appearance or personality.
5. Remember that if you don’t get a response, that is the recipient’s choice and it should be respected.
6. Finally and most importantly, remember there is a human being with thoughts and feelings at the other end of the screen.