What and who are we entitled to online?

@SheRatesDogs, humour, and the horrors of online harassment

In mid-December, a new Twitter account called @SheRatesDogs was created, and though the name of the account is reminiscent of another account that rates our canine friends based on cuteness, the “dogs” rated on @SheRatesDogs are of another variety. This new account rates terrible texts, tweets and messages from the exes of the people who’ve submitted them. Most of the interactions shared by @SheRatesDogs are outright cases of harassment. In the month and a bit since the account was created, it has garnered 112,000 followers and has made 461 tweets.

The popularity of this account likely indicates that the experiences shared on it appeal to a large crowd. This appeal could be for a number of reasons, including the ability to relate to the experience of cyber harassment, a fascination with the horror of cyber harassment or – judging by the replies to some of the tweets – a belief that these encounters are humorous. These three reasons can all act together in tandem, as humour and disbelief can be ways of coping with the common but unfortunate experience of cyber harassment.

Though these experiences may seem funny when removed from us online, the feeling of discomfort that comes from reading the exchanges on @SheRatesDogs feels more appropriate. Many of these messages are threats consist with stalking, and most of them explicitly convey the message that the titular “dogs” feel entitled to the attention and time of the person they are messaging. Online dating apps and social media have made us more accessible to each other than ever, but this has led to a belief that, because we are more accessible, others are entitled to access us whenever and however they want.

This belief is dangerous. We are not entitled to someone else just because we can access them online any time. We should not believe that we are, even if we have spent time with them in person or have connected with them sexually or romantically. The hundreds of examples of this belief on @SheRatesDogs are cyber-based manifestations of systemic violence and harassment. No one owes us their time, online or elsewhere, and we should respect the boundaries set by others.

Repeated harassment is not an appropriate display of interest, telling someone to leave us alone online is not rude, and an online culture where harassment is normalized is not acceptable.

@SheRatesDogs is highlighting the ways that online boundaries are not being respected, and the endless stream of examples available on this increasingly popular account should be worrying. We should respect when someone tells us that they are not interested or want us to leave them alone, and hopefully this account will create a community of solidarity where the kinds of messages it receives will become unacceptable in all of our online spaces.

If you encounter cyber harassment or online dating violence, SHARE can advocate for you, help you to understand your rights, and help direct you to the appropriate legal channels. Email share@mta.ca to report any cases of cyber harassment or online dating violence, to discuss any questions you might have around establishing online boundaries, or for tips on dealing with harassment.

Jilane Buryn
Jilane Buryn is a contributor to the Argosy.