Welcome to Netiquette 101, in which we'll be using cyber-case studies to teach you basic but valuable cyber-lessons in being a better cyber-citizen. Today, we discuss the various ins, outs, and what-have-you's of online dating.
Case Study: On January 26, 2013, the greatest Twitter direct message of all time leaked onto the internet. Its sender? J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks. Its recipient? A young—as in, a senior in high school—female fan. The exchange went a little something like this:
Fan: I'm going to your game tonight.
J.R. Smith: Dope
J.R. Smith: Oh really
Fan: Oh really what [smirk emoji]
J.R. Smith: You trying to get the pipe?
Now, J.R. Smith was not the first person to use the internet to ask a total stranger if they wanted to fuck, and he was certainly not the last. But the confidence with which he posed the question, the degree to which he escalated what began as a benign interaction into an offering of sex, the sheer audacity it takes to refer to your dick as a pipe, the way J.R. joked about it on Instagram afterward… Is it any wonder the line became a catchphrase and then a T-shirt?
On Motherboard: Cyborg Combat Critters
According to a certain kind of crude male logic, if you go up to a thousand strangers and ask all of them to have sex with you, at least one will eventually say "Yes," even if you get several hundred "Nos" before that. In real life, this would be extremely time-consuming, not to mention skeezy, and might very well get you maced or arrested. Online, this behavior is still skeezy, but it's much easier to ask for sex, especially if you're as famous as J.R. Smith.
What We Can Learn: J.R. Smith being J.R. Smith, the story was treated as a joke, but bluntly asking someone if you can present your genitals to them via Twitter DM is really fucking crazy and borderline predatory—even if you're a famous and shameless NBA player. You're just not supposed to act that way, unless you're on a site where it's expected that you'll be sending sexually explicit messages back and forth with other consenting adults.
This isn't to say that meeting your significant other (or even finding a casual hookup/sext partner) online is weird. It's not weird at all! But it's important to remember that the rules of normal society still apply when interacting and flirting with people from the internet. Not every social network is full of horny women in your area now just waiting for you to message them, just as not every building in America is an S&M dungeon.
Case Study: If you've got the time, you should really spend the next ten minutes of your life watching the above vlog from a couple who got engaged because of World of Warcraft. If you strip away the dude saying insanely corny stuff like, "It was the first time I talked to her… achievement unlocked!" and the guy comparing himself to a "hidden Paladin" because his girlfriend couldn't tell her parents about him, it's actually sort of adorable. They overcame great obstacles—her family smashing her laptop, his brothers thinking she might have been catfishing him, the fact that he was playing too much World of Warcraft—to be together, and yet here they are, engaged! These two people clearly love each other—like many couples do, they've developed a story of their relationship with major events and milestones. Most of their milestones just happen to involve World of Warcraft.
What We Can Learn: One of the really cool things about the internet is that it allows you to self-select your peer groups. People on Twitter and Reddit and countless other sites form little communities that develop their own tradition and languages. Think of bodybuilding forums, the fitness-obsessed corners of Instagram, the comments section of Guardian crosswords, "Weird Twitter," Facebook groups devoted to specific brands of motorcycles—these people are regularly talking to each other all the time, about both their common interests as well as what's happening in their actual lives. It's totally possible to be more intimate with an online buddy than your coworkers or the IRL "friends" you only see at house parties. And when you think about it that way, eventually physically hanging out with (and potentially having sex with) someone you met online is one of the more normal and human things you can do.
Recommended: The Digital Love Industry
Case Study: This summer, a writer named Grace Spelman aired out a dude named Ben Schoen on Twitter. Spelman claimed that Schoen, a former host of the Harry Potter podcast Mugglecast, had been harassing her online, and had the screenshots to prove it. Schoen claimed that he'd simply been trying to interface with Spelman because he wanted to do business with her and it was all a misunderstanding. However, that didn't account for his frequent messages across several different platforms or him calling her "the one" and joking that they should get married. And nothing can account for him using the phrase, "You removed me from Facebook in a ghostly manner" in an email to Spelman.
What We Can Learn: When it comes to online interaction, intent matters way less than interpretation. Schoen might not have made a conscious decision to harass Spelman, but when someone looks at the mass of messages he sent her—some flirty, some mean, some aggressive, some just downright desperate—it's hard to take it as anything other than harassment.
It's not OK to force someone to interact with you, regardless of the circumstances. It's like approaching a table in a coffee shop and trying to force the stranger already sitting down to talk to you.
Eventually, everyone will realize that when it comes to romance online, the rules of engagement remain the same. There's a right and a wrong time for everything, and just because acting like a goon online doesn't immediately get slapped for their creepiness doesn't make it any less real. I never thought I'd type this sentence, but we should all take notes from the World of Warcraft couple: They used the internet to find someone they shared a connection with, didn't encroach upon each other's space, and now have reached an enviably high level of happiness.
Follow Drew on Twitter.