How to Not Be Creepy

How to Not Be Creepy

Can we talk briefly about how to not be creepy? This post is explicitly about avoiding creepy behavior on Twitter, but the points apply in any online space and also offline spaces as much as they apply to creepy or uncomfortable messages or behaviors on Twitter.

Getting uncomfortable replies and DMs has become more of a problem since my account has gotten a little bigger, and it’s been contributing to my anxiety lately.

I don’t mean rude—that’s annoying but manageable. I mean creepy without realizing it. 

I could just start indiscriminately blocking people who annoy me or make me uncomfortable in any conceivable way, but this both violates my values of listening to lots of diverse voices and also I believe people should have opportunities to course-correct their behavior. 

This isn’t about any particular post. This is about a slow accumulation of creep anxiety as I passed 5k followers and got more and more messages and comments that make me uncomfortable.

But if your immediate reaction is “oh god does she mean ME?” perhaps this is an internal sign to examine your behavior.

I have sympathy for creepy people because I too can be and have been socially awkward at times and you don’t always know when you’re misstepping. But then patterns become uncomfortable and you cross a line into unacceptable through repetition. Aggregation is bad here. 

So the rules are simple.

Twitter is like any other social function, and it’s a little like a dance. You need to start with an invitation, match the tempo of your partners, and step back for a bit if your invitation is declined without getting upset. 

We’re all on here for different reasons, and the nice thing about Twitter is it’s completely opt in for everyone. If you’re not getting what you’re hoping to somewhere, you can just unfollow or find other people to engage with. 

I never take it personally when someone chooses not to follow me or respond to my messages. There are a million reasons why that might be—anything from “they’re at the limit of what their attention can support” to “they’re super busy” to “they don’t like my vibe” (also fine). 

The way you make friends here is by small interactions at an appropriate level of familiarity to the account you’re interacting with. Just like IRL, there are gradations of acceptability, and you need to match the tempo of your partner. 

Much like it would be inappropriate to respond with a rude dismissal to a good friend’s request to chat unless you were upset with them, assuming a level of familiarity that doesn’t exist between you and another account is uncomfortable. 

If you don’t have a history of interactions, taking an overly familiar tone or joking with someone in a way that might feel like gentle ribbing or playful banter to you may actually be too familiar for comfort.

“Interactions” doesn’t mean you comment on their tweets. 

Twitter is asymmetrical by design and even though you may see someone in your feed all the time and feel like you know them, it’s actually more like watching someone at a party without introducing yourself. You feel like you know them, but to them, you feel like a stranger. 

The way to get past this stranger stage is by commenting on their posts or engaging them in conversation, but if you want to make a friend you need to do so in a way that’s gentle and unassuming.

The classic public gaffes here are teasing people in QTs or uninvited flirting.

You can tease your friends because you have a level of comfort with them and they know it’s all in good fun. You can’t tease a stranger because there’s not a level of familiarity there built on a foundation of good will. It comes across as mean spirited. 

Similarly, flirting is subtle. You need to respect boundaries and pay attention to how your small steps are received or reflected to successfully take larger steps. Taking a large, direct step uninvited comes across as aggressive, desperate, and creepy. 

You need to match their tone and style which requires a level of observation. If you pay attention to how I tweet, I do talk about sex and romance a lot, but it’s about MY sex and romance life. When I flirt with people, it tends to be small, careful, and matching their energy.

If you want to flirt with someone even just to play, you start with a small step: a minor compliment that wouldn’t be out of place if you said it to a friend or coworker. If they respond positively, that’s a green light that you can test more small steps. 

If they ignore your comment altogether, there may be any number of reasons why, but you definitely shouldn’t escalate. I’d probably give the first step three tries at most, spaced out at least a week apart, and then if you get no positive feedback you probably shouldn’t flirt here. 

If you do get positive feedback, great! But again, you need to validate that more is welcome. If you try a few more times with mixed results, they’re probably just being polite. If at some point the flirting cuts off or they stop responding, you’re coming on too strong. 

This is perfectly okay! You can really like someone and just be friends with them. If being flirty isn’t working, stick to talking about other stuff and engage with what they’re tweeting about. If you’re just simping and don’t actually want to engage, well... that’s on you. 

It’s notable that the relationship can change over time, too. Maybe they’ll be more open to flirting once they get to know you better. But you have to be respectful of boundaries without getting upset. When this is working, there will be small escalations on both sides. 

All of this also applies to the teasing scenario I mentioned earlier too. Too much, too fast, and you just look like a jerk. A slow and gentle, mutually fun escalation of teasing can turn into a bit over time, or even create really fun interactions. But if there’s too much one way interaction of any kind, it gets creepy and starts to feel obsessive. If you comment on lots of posts and never get a reply, for example.

Note that this does not apply as much to likes, which are more of a gentle endorsement. 

The really important point is, once again, to have some mutual interaction with someone in comments for a while before you say anything overly familiar that they didn’t bring up or flirt with them in a way you don’t see them inviting. Match topic, match intensity. 

If you really like someone’s posts and never get a response when you comment (after many comments), chances are that you need to be adding more to the conversation than you have been or your tone or vibe is off. Try changing how you engage or find someone else to follow. 

Look at the types of tweets they do engage with and try to think about how your comment was different from those. It doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong. Your styles just might not be compatible, and that’s okay. You can change it up or not as you like. 

Similarly, you can’t get upset if someone doesn’t follow you and you want them to. Full stop. If they want to follow you, they will. This becomes especially exhausting when your account gets a little larger and people want this for what feels like their own validation. 

There’s nothing magic about big numbers. You’re no more or less important because someone with 100k followers clicks “Follow” on your account. The points are made up, you don’t get anything special. If you want accounts you like to follow you, you have to engage with them. 

More importantly, you don’t know what their follower strategy is. Maybe they follow everyone. Maybe they only follow their IRL friends. Don’t take it personally. Give it time, be gentle, be easy, and don’t take it personally (even if you’re sure it’s personal). 

Finally, let’s talk about DMs. DMs are where the maximum creep factor tends to happen because it’s out of the public eye, but it’s really easy to avoid issues by following a few simple guidelines.

First, understand that a DM is a direct conversation with someone, and unless you chat a lot in comments already it probably feels like your first conversation. It’s pulling someone aside at a party with a tap on their shoulder. 

You need to treat it accordingly. Unless you already have an actual relationship or your DM is a continuation of a public conversation you want to take private, you need to start it the same way you’d start any conversation with a stranger. 

It’s good to introduce yourself and explain why you’re DMing or what drew you to their tweets in a non-aggressive, non-invasive, polite way. You do not want your vibe to be “I’ve been watching you” or opening out of nowhere with a come on. 

Also, a DM is an invitation to chat, it’s okay if they decline by not responding, and you should formulate your opening message as an invitation or request. No one owes you a response. Everyone is busy. Everyone has different anxiety levels with internet strangers. 

Once again, you need to practice gentle escalation and mirroring here. You don’t generally want to open with an info dump of your life story or a multi-paragraph explanation of why you’d be the best of friends or lovers.

You’d think I shouldn’t have to say this. Alas. 

If the person seems responsive to your short, gentle request to chat, you can ask your questions or say whatever you wanna say and respond with a similar level of intensity, excitement, and engagement as them. Less than them reads as disinterest. More reads as uncomfortable. 

Also, if they don’t reply to your initial DM, it’s either because they forgot, they didn’t notice it, or they didn’t want to. There are no other possibilities unless they died. If it’s important enough, you can follow up with ONE message a few days later, otherwise let it go. 

There are some things you probably shouldn’t ever do if you want to avoid being creepy. Some of these can be advanced gambits for talented flirters, but if you’re not 100% sure if that’s you, don’t attempt them. 

You generally want to let someone else invite you into their space rather than inviting yourself. You can make an invitation to someone you’re friends with, but it should be for them to come into YOUR space. This is true of physical and digital spaces both. 

Neutral invitations are also fine if you already have a bit of a relationship—“we should have a drink sometime if you’re in my area” or “hey I’m gonna be in your neck of the woods this weekend if you wanna hang out” are non-threatening and fine. 

Not fine: “You should have me over to visit your secret desert base!” from someone I don’t even know. I love making friends and meeting up with people, but you can’t invite yourself over to my house if I haven’t even been on a Skype call with you. 

Also uncomfortable is making any kind of sexual innuendo or suggestion, even if you think you’re being “ironic” or “funny”, in DMs or replies, unless we have a very well established friendship or you’ve participated successfully in a gentle escalation of flirting banter. 

This is especially true and especially uncomfortable/creepy when it’s an uninvited comment of the “joking ...unless?” variety. Everyone can see that you’re not joking. Please don’t do this without an already built crescendo of returned interest or playfulness. 

Don’t message someone to ask why they don’t follow you or why they don’t comment on your posts. This is uncomfortable and desperate. It vibes creepy because of the asymmetric interest and the lack of awareness that it’s uncomfortable. 

Don’t send someone an article or an app or a project and ask them to share it without a strong pre-existing relationship. This feels very much like you’re using them. Ask yourself honestly if you’d care if they shared it or not if they had 1/10th or 1/100th of their follows. 

It’s very different to ask a friend who talks often about something adjacent to your project to help you signal boost if it’s interesting to them, but you’d start by talking about it. It’s rude to put a stranger in the same situation without even talking about it first. 

It’s like grabbing that stranger in the street and demanding they share your masters thesis with all their friends. All you’re going to do is make them mad—especially if it’s bad. They don’t owe you anything (even a response). 

The pattern across all of these are respect, both for another person and for their boundaries. If you don’t want to be creepy, you need to respect those boundaries. Lack of awareness of other peoples signaled boundaries is what being creepy often IS. 

If you approach people gently and respectfully, demand little, and make the interactions fun, you’ll probably make lots of friends. It takes time. Be patient. Don’t get upset.

You’re important and valid whether or not someone you like validates you. 

And remember to be easy. You’ll never forge genuine friendships with people by demanding or pleading your way into them. It’s not how relationships work. Twitter is all relationships, but online.

It’s a big party and most of us are here to have fun. You’ll find your people. If someone doesn’t respond or engage the way you want, you have to let it go and focus on something else. You can always try again later. Or not!

Just don’t take anything too personally and don’t be desperate. That’s the fastest path to creeptown. No one wants to be friends with someone who makes an impression that they won’t respect or can’t read your boundaries. Don’t be that person.

Listen, watch, match tempo, never make demands, be respectful, and stay lighthearted.

You’ll be happier for it.