Don't Be A 'Reply Guy'

Photo: Netflix

When I first started writing on the internet (for the now defunct xoJane) my comments sections and Twitter mentions were mostly filled with wonderful, supportive women and non-binary people. There would be the occasional angry man in my inbox, but writing about food for a woman-focused website meant I didn’t deal with men on the internet on a grand scale, as they weren’t reading what I wrote.

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Things are different now. My audience has shifted towards the the cis-, hetero-male side of the spectrum, which isn’t inherently bad, but there has been a noticeable difference in my overall social media experience. Most noticeable is the presence of the reply guy.

In Chloe Bryan’s Mashable article, “The Curse of the Twitter Reply Guy,” Bryan describes reply guys as “overly familiar” men who reply to women’s tweets like it’s their job, adding their own little take, no matter the subject. (One odd type of reply guy I get is one that routinely brings my work to the attention of another, more influential man, publicly asking him for his blessing and/or critique.)

If you are a woman with a Twitter account, you probably have at least one reply guy committed to giving feedback on every tweet you put out into the world, and you probably have a few feelings about it. Bryan goes on to explain the different types of reply guys — there are nine! — and spends some time discussing how to deal with them. She settles on muting or blocking but — in my experience — that can quickly turn into a game of shitty whack-a-mole.

Since this is a problem with the men, the onus should be on the men to stop this quasi-benevolent sexist nonsense. (Of course people who are not men are capable of being shitty on the internet, but even my most interactive female and non-binary followers have never replied with the consistency and constancy of a reply guy.)

Reply guys are not necessarily ill-intentioned, nor are they outright trolls, so it’s reasonable to assume that they would like to interact with women in a way that isn’t annoying, threatening, or downright scary.

How do you know if you’re a reply guy? A quick and easy test is to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling in this moment. Do you feel sympathetic towards the women of the internet and the “feedback” they get on a daily basis? Great, you’re probably not a reply guy. Do you feel hurt, embarrassed, or mildly attacked? You might be a reply guy, but one who probably doesn’t wish to be. Do you feel angry at me, believe this is all part of the job, and have a strong urge to blow up my mentions? Maybe talk it out with an IRL friend (or therapist) and think about why it’s so important to constantly comment, add to, or critique the work women put out into the world, and why you think someone you do not know personally owes you a response.

It’s not about you, dude

A reply guy, in his simplest form, is a man who replies in the hopes of getting attention, usually making the conversation about himself. Rather than consume, appreciate, and (maybe) retweet content, they have to relate it to their life, experiences, and worldview — they have to make little edits, even though they are not part of the editing process.

On a small scale, replying is not bad, and as a Leo and “internet personality,” I too struggle with the impulse to make everything about me, to add my two cents, and to contribute to a conversation no one asked me to be part of. The internet is a great place to share ideas and start discussions, but if you are doing this over and over to one particular, non-male person, know that you are draining them. Like death by a metric fuckton of paper cuts, these tiny micro-criticisms and demands for attention annoy (at best) and intimidate (at worst).

(You shouldn’t do this to anyone, no matter the gender, but the inherent power dynamics of a capitalist, patriarchal society make it much easier for men to dismiss, block, or otherwise deal with other men on the internet without fear of retribution.)

Criticisms may be constructive, helpful, and sent with the best intentions, but they are rarely wanted. If you are critiquing due to some paternalistic desire to “help them improve and succeed,” realise that you are communicating that you think the original work is flawed or subpar in some way. If that’s how you really feel, maybe you should seek out other creators you consider to be more skilled or proficient, or create something yourself.

(Also, if you feel you are “doing them a favour” by reading and/or sharing their content, pause and consider just how patronizing that sounds.)

Why am I even on Twitter?

That’s a great question. Why are any of us on that terrible website? Though I am not contractually obligated to tweet, I do consider it to be a good networking tool, an easy way to keep up on food trends (which I write about), and an important part of organising online media (which I am passionate about).

Some of you may feel that women who are annoyed, fatigued, or vaguely threatened by reply guys are just too sensitive, but sensitivity is good, and steely emotional resistance is not and should not be a requirement for producing content for the internet, which is where most content lives now. Also, I think we should quit pretending that non-men rank the highest when it comes to being sensitive on the internet. (One word: Gillette.)

Things can get tricky because while some people work on the internet, some people use it solely for entertainment, which can create a really weird work environment for the former. Women, like anyone, deserve to use every resource available to promote their work, and the least you can do for the online women whose work you enjoy is make that weird work environment a little less weird.

I didn’t really want to write this

As I near the end of this article, a knot of anxiety is starting to form in my belly. I’m worried about the state of my inbox for the next couple of days, my Twitter mentions, and hurting the feelings of my (mostly great) male followers. Though I like men (a lot!), many unpleasant experiences make me wary, and sometimes downright afraid, of interacting with them, both online and in my real life.

(This is not unique to me, obviously, and it’s the fact that it’s not unique that makes it, as the kids used to say “a thing.”)

Women shouldn’t have to make their worlds smaller so they don’t hurt men’s feelings, and being online is not an invitation to use a woman as a source of emotional labour. Could I mute or block my reply guys, as suggested by Bryan? Yes, but that can get tricky, both inside my brain and out. Even though it is my timeline, and I am free to curate it to my suit my mood, I — like most women — was brought up to be “nice,” and feel guilty about blocking people who haven’t done anything to “deserve it” (like threaten my life or call me a “dumb bitch”). Plus, there’s always the fear that a man scorned will turn vindictive.

Luckily, it’s easy to not be a reply guy — all you have to do is not compulsively reply to one person on Twitter, demand attention, or make someone else’s work all about you. If you find yourself replying to one person multiple times a day, and you do not know them personally, consider dialling it back. If you find yourself typing “not to be that guy...” stop what you are doing, and don’t be that guy.

If you feel neglected or hurt by the fact an internet person hasn’t responded to your compliment, question, or criticism, keep in mind that no one is paying them to tweet, it is not part of their job, they may not have even seen your tweet, and tiny demands for tiny bits of emotional labour are still demands for labour.

Supporting the work of someone you like online is nice, and a simple tweet or re-tweet of an article, piece of art, or link to a project — without expecting praise for doing so or putting your spin on it — is the best kind of support.


Comments

    I haven't read anything so sexist in a long time. Wow

    What an odd article. It seems to oscillate between describing annoying behaviour and "cis males shouldn't be allowed to reply to my public posts."

    Id reply, but obviously you would prefer that men didnt have an opinion.

    As a male, I am feeling the need to comment on this. Thank you for writing this, and thank you for holding a mirror up to this sort of behaviour. I myself have no doubt unwittingly been party to it in the past and I'm grateful for this insight into how it affects people.

    Judging by the other comments, this type of dialogue is entirely necessary and I'm sorry for the crap you're already receiving for it. Thanks again.

    Racial and gender stereotyping? Why not " don't be a reply person"? I believe the reason why these articles get green lit is because racial stereotyping articles gets major traction on twitter. Great life hack: if you cis male don't comment.

    This is such an odd article. Let's start with what a reply guy is.

    "A reply guy, in his simplest form, is a man who replies in the hopes of getting attention, usually making the conversation about himself."

    Congratulations. You've devoted an entire article to your "try guys". You've given them the very attention they want. That's incredibly counter intuitive. But the weird thing is your other point.

    "Rather than consume, appreciate, and (maybe) retweet content, they have to relate it to their life, experiences, and worldview — they have to make little edits, even though they are not part of the editing process."

    Yeah? What? That's how comments sections work. That's the entire reason this article has a comment section, the reason Youtube has a comment section, the reason you can reply on twitter. To comment. A lot of the time that means relating things with their own experiences or criticising--as I'm doing now. That's the Internet. You will get negative comments/replies. I do plenty of times. It is the nature of the beast.

    Now granted, women get creeps. Oh damn do they get creeps. So many creeps. And that's unfortunate. But that doesn't appear to be what you're criticising. It seems to be just constant replies from the same person. Which is odd because that's to be expected when you have an audience. But I want to move onto this:

    "If you feel neglected or hurt by the fact an internet person hasn’t responded to your compliment, question, or criticism, keep in mind that no one is paying them to tweet, it is not part of their job, they may not have even seen your tweet, and tiny demands for tiny bits of emotional labour are still demands for labour."

    That is exactly right. People shouldn't feel neglected or hurt. That is bratty and terrible behavior. But...you don't ever state that as a problem you suffer. You've never said any of your try guys express hurt or whine when they don't get a response. In fact, you've supplied no evidence to any of this. You've mentioned people who have been shitty in general, but never mentioned if that came from having a reply ignored. I'm not saying you don't have shitty people in your audience, I'm certain you do. But your entire point circles around people--well, men--who reply too much. And...that's it. That's the main point. You mention all this terrible stuff:

    "I — like most women — was brought up to be “nice,” and feel guilty about blocking people who haven’t done anything to “deserve it” (like threaten my life or call me a “dumb bitch”). Plus, there’s always the fear that a man scorned will turn vindictive."

    But that's never your main point. It's just guys replying too much. Not men threatening you. Not men harassing you. Your main point is men reply too much, just in general. Which is understandably not going to be received well. You have solid points in there but focus on the wrong things and present your argument in a way that at a glance comes off sexist. I honestly have no idea if you are sexist or just terribly bad at construing your points. If you want to target terrible people, target those terrible people. That means clearly stating what people you're targeting. Instead of being clear and concise, you are vague. This leads to interpretations of the article being inaccurate because no one knows clearly who the bad guy is.

    "Criticisms may be constructive, helpful, and sent with the best intentions, but they are rarely wanted."

    See here. Now you're muddying the pool of suspects. Who is the bad guy? Any man who criticises a woman? Am I suddenly the target here for simply being a man who disagrees with aspects of your article, and for expressing that without malicious intent in the comments section, which is literally what the purpose of a comment section is--to allow me to comment?

    Because if that's the case then yes, you will have men who disagree with you. Simply because disagreeing with you and wanting to express that in a public forum makes them the person you're targeting. I've not harassed you, I've not even replied to you before. I don't know who you are. I'm simply criticising--and when that's considered a bad thing, that's just as bad as sexism. That's anti-criticism, which you've expressed whilst criticising men.

    I'm not saying that was your intent. I am, however, saying you've done a poor job of expressing your views if that was not the intent. Because people who were never your target will now feel targeted.

    I'll just give one final thought. The block feature is there to block people. You have a solution to your problem. It's very hard for people to sympathise when you are vehemently against using the block button, simply because you're scared, and devote an article to people who want attention, all as an attempt to reason with them. The people who call you a bitch. The people who throw slurs around and bully. Those people are unreasonable people. Reasoning with them is a terrible idea. They're trolls. It's Internet common sense to ignore trolls. It's so common that "don't feed the troll" is a phrase. So when you feed the troll and target those men, but then do it in a way that's so vague that it could include me even though I've not harassed any women, then of course you're going to feel a knot of anxiety. What you've done is a waste of time--a rant.

    This article was a rant you got paid for (I think). Basically bad men are bad men and should stop being bad men--which doesn't exactly solve anything. This article won't suddenly make some terrible human being decide to not call you a bitch. It won't save women from abusive comments and replies. It won't spread awareness because of how vague it is---and everybody already knows that assholes are assholes. This article solved nothing.

    I just don't get it.

    P.S. Sorry for any bad formatting or whatever. I'm typing this all on a phone.

    *Edit* Deleted - Overshared.

    Last edited 24/02/19 6:23 am

    The summary I seemed to draw from this was "I post an opinion on an opinion blog, and then get concerned when I get other opinions that differ to mine."
    I know that's grossly oversimplifying the article, but if these are concerns, then:

    1) Recognise that this is not a TED talk. You do not have a controlled audience. As such, expect that responses will vary in cadence and emotional amplitude.

    2) Stop assuming that everyone is of the same mental level and agility of you. Some people just aren't. Some people have afflictions. Others are just crazy. Some are much more intelligent than you. The Block button lives to serve.

    3) Put your own feelings in check. The above article was a good example of this. It has accusation, emotional amplitude, and lack of maturity. By all means, invite discussion, but the moment you contaminate the discussion with emotion, it's a siren call to reactive comments.

    4) You've offered an opinion. This begets opinion. Even experts get questioned and challenged on their dedicated life work by idiots, ignorants and media. Again, you do not have to have a conversation with everyone.

    5) Stop being nice. You don't have to be rude, but no one pays you to consider other peoples feelings. If you get a stalky, vindictive one, see Number 2. The world is full of crazy people.

    6) Put it in perspective. The media loves to hyperventilate over celebrities, who now have to deploy entire security teams to ensure their own protection, just from overenthusiastic fans, let alone the crazy ones. They have to deal with that on a daily basis. You're simply getting blog comments - that can be ignored.

    7) This is a mass audience problem. There are plenty of douche-bag women out there, asserting their unassailable authority over all things. You just not getting those crazies.

    8) Move away from emotive click bait articles like this, and write quality work. You'll still get those who obsess over every small detail, but in a far less concentration.
    You may even get invited to speak at a TED talk.

    Clare, normally your articles are ok-ish. They are about as capable as we would see from any year 12 student. But they are too full of typical American bullshit to be enjoyable.

    America isn't the centre of the universe, so please lose some of that "we are the greatest people on earth" and your articles might be halfway enjoyable.

    (I am not cis-heterosexual-male, so you can't use the argument above on me)

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