Home Beauty I receive unsolicited dick pics on Instagram all the time, but the app’s new features could be a vital step in the right direction

I receive unsolicited dick pics on Instagram all the time, but the app’s new features could be a vital step in the right direction

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I receive unsolicited dick pics on Instagram all the time, but the app’s new features could be a vital step in the right direction

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I’ve seen so many more penises on Instagram than I wanted to. And to be abundantly clear, the sum total of penises I want to see is zero.

As a gender equality activist, writer and speaker with a large platform, my work and politics tend to attract men indoctrinated into patriarchal thinking and, more specifically, misogynistic attitudes. I believe my work asks questions of them, their past decisions and their masculinity that they are absolutely not ready to recognise, let alone answer and heal from, and for the men with more capacity for harm among them, gender equality work literally disrupts their ability to exercise that power through harm. So, it makes sense that these men often want to let me know they’re still more powerful than me by intimidating me.

Every so often, one of them will decide to do this without words by sending me pictures of their genitals or themselves masturbating. The first time I ever did an Instagram live, I opened my DMs to receive a graphic video of a man ejaculating on his own chest. The fact that it’s happening online might mean the immediate reality of physical danger is not present, but the emotional impact can be the same; you might feel intimidated, fearful, and disgusted, or you might log out and remove yourself from your own online space in a need to put space between you and them.

Instagram contacted me about the platform’s new plans to make women feel safer, which are now being trialled. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but ten minutes later, the team was halfway through explaining these restrictions when I began to tear up. The reason? They said, “This means you won’t ever receive an unsolicited picture on Instagram again,” and that reality hit me for a minute. It’s been a long-ass 10 years on this platform.

The changes work as follows: anyone looking to send DM requests to people who don’t follow them will now face two new restrictions; one is an invite model, which means that rather than being able to send an unlimited number of DM requests to someone who doesn’t follow you, it will now only be possible to send them one message which will act as an invitation – or consent – to keep chatting. This way, you can only continue to send them DMs when they’ve accepted your invitation to chat. This is also only possible every 24 hours, meaning you can’t just DM whomever you want whenever you want. Important to note is that this single invite message can only be text. No camera icon is available, meaning you can only send images, videos or voice notes to someone who doesn’t follow you once they’ve consented to chatting.

“These changes are especially meaningful for creators, women, marginalised people and political figures…”

This means that people will no longer receive unsolicited images, videos or voice notes from people they don’t follow, nor will strangers be able to message them repeatedly.

These changes are especially meaningful for creators, women, marginalised people and political figures and won’t just stop dick pics. I know trans people who have been sent graphic photos in their inbox from transphobes, Black women who have received violent anti-black imagery, and women who get stream-of-consciousness voice notes from men who decide to “argue” with or threaten them (women is me, I am one of said women).

As a creator, I utilise the ‘hidden’ option, and often restrict who can reply to my stories when things seem to be heating up, but I take them off after. Why? Guilt. I always feel like I should be doing better and more, and as an activist, I want to ensure I am accessible, not on a pedestal.

As someone with an abundance of privileges, I can feel like I am not “doing the work” right if I am limiting people’s access to me, and it’s true that I do receive messages, connections and valuable interactions I use for work through requests, but not enough to tolerate the harm I receive in there, too. When abuse was the result of people’s access to me, maybe I should have reconsidered my settings before these changes came into place.

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