It’s a tale as old as the internet: when Alexandra Tweten would log into her online dating accounts, she’d occasionally get messages from random guys that made her uneasy. Sometimes it’d be an unsolicited dick pic. Other times the messages themselves were lewd or creepy right off the bat. “I just wouldn’t respond, or I’d think, ‘No, thanks. I'm not interested,’” Tweten tells VICE over the phone. “And then they got hostile.”
She noticed this troubling pattern on Tinder, OKCupid, and other dating apps she was using at the time, but one particular incident left her especially disturbed. “It was this guy who just kept on sending me the same copy and pasted message, over and over and over again. His profile didn't show his entire face, and it just seemed crazy,” Tweten says. “He just kept on sending the same message, so finally I said, ‘No, I'm not interested.’ He flipped out and just was like, ‘WTF! Why would you even respond if you weren't interested?’” She remembers thinking, “‘This guy is unhinged.’ And it kind of scared me.”
Tweten’s experience with creepy dudes on dating apps isn’t unique, of course. “I had this conversation with a bunch of women, and we were all just talking about the abusive messages that we had received online,” she says.
In 2017, a Pew Research Center survey revealed that 21 percent of women ages 18 to 29 have experienced sexual harassment online, and 83 percent say that online harassment is a serious problem. According to Rosemary Rade, Director of Digital Services for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Love Is Respect, online dating platforms can create a feeling of anonymity that makes it easy for users “to say whatever they want, using abusive language with few repercussions,” she tells VICE over email.
Abusers can easily erase evidence of sexual harassment or violent threats by unmatching or blocking another user, effectively letting themselves off the hook. Documenting instances of online harassment can hold abusers accountable, and Rade recommends taking screenshots of threatening conversations—which is exactly what Tweten did.
In 2014, Tweten started posting screenshots of her online dating mishaps on Instagram using the handle @byefelipe (the name is a nod to the “Bye Felicia” meme, used to dismiss a noxious person). Soon, her email was flooded with submissions from other women with similar experiences of harassment on dating platforms. “I realized that it was really common,” Tweten says. “It felt a lot better.”
In August, Tweten released a book titled, Bye Felipe: Disses, Dick Pics, and Other Delights of Modern Dating, a guide to dealing with online harassment. “It's basically the book that I wish I would have had in my early 20s to tell me how to go about dating,” Tweten says. Bye Felipe includes personal stories and dating advice from Tweten and friends, as well as a selection of the best comebacks documented on the @byefelipe Instagram. “I love seeing women put men down,” Tweten says.
The book also includes a breakdown of “all the different types of trolls that find their way into our inboxes, like mansplainers, fat-shamers, and just different types of insults,” Tweten adds. “I tried to piece them together to see if there was a common pattern and how we could combat that.”
Bye Felipe is a feminist takedown of the insidious aspects of online dating, and though the book features plenty of clever comebacks, there’s more to Tweten’s message than putting down trolls. “This is a problem in our society in general, this thing of men becoming aggressive and hostile when they're told ‘no,’” Tweten says.
When men respond to romantic rejection with hostility or threats of violence, Rade explains, they often do so because they feel entitled. But men who feel ownership over women’s bodies, time, and attention—and react violently when they’re rejected—aren’t necessarily solitary jerks or lone trolls. The rise of incels and growing popularity of Red Pill forums point to an insidious, institutionalized sense of entitlement and broader ideologies of violence against women that extend far beyond dating apps. Any abuse, including sexual harassment or hostility in response to romantic rejection “is about power and control,” Rade explains.
“It seems like every month there's a new story about a woman being shot or stabbed or something by a man who she refused to give her number to,” Tweten says. “And I think that a lot of times, men don't understand that the stakes are really high for women, just existing and talking and interacting with men.”
Many of the conversations Tweten posts on @byefelipe are difficult to read, because they confirm the fears many women have, that men will try to kill them. When meeting a stranger from the internet, women can never be completely certain that their date isn’t actually a murderer. That’s partly why when a Tinder reject goes from sending smiley face emojis to sending rape and death threats, it can be terrifying. “I think it's really important to highlight and point out the real life consequences for women,” Tweten says.
“Abuse is never ok, whether it’s verbal, digital or physical,” Rade adds. “Anyone should have the right to not respond to an online dating message or request without having to deal with abuse if they do so. The responsibility for the abuse lies with the abuser.”
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