Sharing private messages from Ben Affleck, Matthew Perry or anyone else is plain bad manners

Last week, two Hollywood celebrities were publicly shamed. The private video messages of Ben Affleck and Matthew Perry to women they met on a dating app were shared to social media by the women involved. Oh, how I laughed!

Except, I didn’t. Nor did I laugh when a Facebook friend of mine shared messages from a man who wanted to date her, along with his name and photographs. Instead of politely declining and blocking him, she screenshotted the entire exchange and mocked him.

Ben Affleck’s private messages on a dating app were shared with the whole world.Credit:Dave J Hogan

I don’t laugh when people post message threads from their kids, messages that look cute from one angle, and mortifying from the other. Nor do I laugh when people post screenshots of texts with an ex or a family member or boss, that were sent with the reasonable expectation of privacy.

It might be strictly legal to share a screenshot of a message, or to write about “All the celebrities who slid into my DMs!” and back it up by sharing those exchanges, but it’s tacky, it’s unhelpful, and it’s plain bad manners. And yet so many of us participate in it. Why is revenge porn illegal, but revenge posting actively encouraged?

This may be a radical thought, but we should keep our personal correspondence private. After all, we all communicate through the written word. Many young people barely use the phone to talk, conducting all of their conversations over social media.

We need new standards of etiquette to help us navigate this terrain: Don’t send unsolicited dick pics. Don’t bully people over text. Keep your personal correspondence to yourself.

Sharing abusive messages has become the fallback solution for women (and it is mainly women) who are the targets of online threats, because the social media sites and the police do little to protect us. It is important and necessary that light is shone on abuse and that online violence against women is called out.

But there is a big difference between feeling threatened and feeling annoyed. Receiving a message that displeases you, or a message from a person who displeases you, doesn’t justify a public shaming.

“Well, if people behave themselves they won’t be shamed,” I hear you say.

Untrue and unkind. We all send messages that aren’t well received or behave poorly on occasion. Which one of us hasn’t tapped out a text we later regretted, or written a bitchy comment to a third party, or made an overture to a person who wasn’t interested?

The world is challenging enough without this endless public shaming. It’s up to us as individuals to set standards of online decency. Privacy is fundamental to human interaction. It is only dead if we all agree that it is.

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