Instagram facilitates harassment


Graphic by Shirah Lister

It’s a routine enough experience: you give a coworker or a classmate your Instagram handle. He follows you, and starts to like your pictures. He goes back weeks, maybe even a year. Any picture of you in a bikini.

Maybe the first few times this happens, you take note. But after the fifth or sixth time, it becomes just another occupational hazard. Receiving attention this way has become an unspoken norm.

If we were working, and a co-worker left us a note informing us of the times throughout the years they’d felt attracted to us, we’d find it weird. If they walked up to the pictures we had on our desks and said, “this one, this one, that one with you in the red top, the one where you’re at the beach. Yeah. I like how you look there,” it would definitely be considered inappropriate.

Social media has certainly changed the way we interact with people our age in several respects, most of which are small and harmless. But the aspect of our social media lives that remains most affected isn’t the way that Instagram has emboldened anyone with a desire to let you know they’ve found you attractive. It’s the way we’ve become accustomed to it.  

By showing someone you don’t know very well that you’re attracted to them in this way, you are affording yourself power. Working and interacting with someone who has expressed an unrequited interest in you is deeply uncomfortable and makes it nearly impossible for a woman to reach her full potential, particularly if the person taking that action occupies a higher position or has more experience in your field than you.

As social media gains a stronger foothold in our everyday lives, we have to begin to question the nuances of it, as we do with every major development. Posting lukewarm support of women’s civil liberties on their Instagram stories does not stop men from using that same platform to exercise power over women.  

As we prepare to leave high school in a few years, and with several of us already operating in many professional contexts, we need to be able to recognize conscious manipulation when it appears, even if it’s in our notifications. This is not to say that the solution is to stop posting things that could be deemed as “attractive,” because the burden of cessation is not on us, but rather the perpetrators. It might be easy to get comfortable behind a screen, but if you wouldn’t say it to my face while working with me, don’t say it on Instagram.