I appreciate that you’ve tried to make a careful distinction throughout between the reply guys who harass women and the category of reply guy you seem to identify as. I certainly agree that it’s pretty pointless to criticise people on social media for being, well, social. I’m all for talking to people from different walks of life and engaging in cross-generation discussion — that’s how you learn and challenge your own viewpoint, after all. However, that conversation should be consensual and occur on terms that both parties agree to i.e. with both parties opting into the discussion.
But the way social media and particularly Twitter works with private/public accounts means that if, as a writer, I want people to engage with and share my articles through retweets, I need a public account. This means that anyone can follow me, and unless I block them (for seemingly doing nothing wrong), they can reply to my tweets. This approach also requires me to proactively vet every account that follows me on Twitter, which at 12K followers and counting isn’t realistic or productive.
There’s something about my own experience as a woman who grew up with the boom of social media that thinks there’s something sinister about men, however well intentioned, who reply to tweets from teenage girls/young women. I’ve been on Twitter since 2012, when I was 15, and I’ve accrued a few ‘regulars’ as I’ve come to think of them. They are a bit like middle aged or old men in the pub who make small talk with the considerably younger barmaid. There’s nothing creepy about their behaviour per se, and they’ve never made inappropriate comments (beyond the odd comment about me not suiting bangs, or me being able to do ‘better’ than someone I just broke up with). But at the same time there is this uneasy feeling of ‘why are you talking to me’ — or, rather, ‘why are you still talking to me, despite the fact I don’t follow you, I haven’t followed you back at any point in the last 5 years, nor do I intend to’. The most I interact with them is the odd favourite of a reply where they’ve actually said something I agree with.
These men are largely offering trite observations and comments about my life, which they read about through my tweets, and they’re completely within their right to do so. After all, my Twitter account is public not private. But I can’t help but think if these men had a teenage daughter who was being followed around in real life by three or four middle aged blokes commenting on her lifestyle choices — who she dates, what she eats for lunch, her choice of feminine hygiene products, etc. — they’d be a little freaked out. It feels a little bit like adopting several Dads; it makes me cringe.
I think the barometer of ‘would you say this to someone you don’t know at all in real life?’ is what distinguishes a ‘reply guy’ from just a guy, replying to a tweet which asks a question, prompts a response, or in someway suggests that the writer wants a conversation. So long as you’re following this test, you’re not a reply guy at all.