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Influencer ‘Vulnerable’ On Instagram Over Disability Fetishism

January 30, 2023

    An entrepreneur and fashion influencer says she has been left feeling “vulnerable and unprotected” after facing daily sexual harassment.

    Sandie Roberts uses social media to run her company Roll with Style – a fashion guide for wheelchair users.

    She has 39,000 followers on Instagram and said her problem comes from people with a fetish for disabled women.

    Mrs Roberts wants Meta – the company that owns Facebook and Instagram – to do more to protect people.

    Speaking to BBC Radio Gloucestershire, the 52-year-old, from Cirencester, said she has been dealing with sexual harassment online for around 18 months and when she first encountered it, she found it difficult to deal with it.

    “I felt terrified they would find me in real life. It made me feel completely objectified,” she said.

    “It took a lot for me to get past that and continue to post content.

    “It has made me feel very unsafe, every time I go to work I put myself in a vulnerable position. It makes me feel physically sick.”

    Although Mrs Roberts says that she will sometimes posts pictures of herself in revealing clothing, she does not believe that should make it ok to be objectified or make it her fault.

    “I have posted lingerie photos, so people might say ‘you are asking for it’. I do not agree with that at all,” she said.

    Because Mrs Roberts, who has been in a wheelchair since 2019, uses her social media to advertise products, she cannot turn her account to private.

    But if she removes the followers who harass her, the algorithm will assume her content is unpopular and show it to less people.

    “If you were in an office, they could be fired for sexual harassment. If you were in a shop, you could get security to deal with them,” Mrs Roberts said.

    “On social media, you have to leave your shop open all the time and anyone can wander in, they can sexually harass you all they like and you can do absolutely nothing about it.”

    Presentational grey line

    Meta has provided the following advice on features that can help people encountering similar problems:

    • Limits – this can be particularly useful for public figures. It lets you hide direct messages and comments from two groups of people – those who do not follow you, and people who only followed you recently
    • DM [direct messages] controls – this allows people to turn off DMs completely or choose who can DM them, such as choosing to only receive DMs from people you follow 
    • Comment controls – allows you to turn off comments from specific people or turn them off completely, on a post by post basis
    • Hidden Words – allows you to filter DMs and comments that contain abusive terms so you never have to see them
    • Blocking – this prevents people from interacting with you. They can not find your account, or see or interact with your content

    Presentational grey line

    At its worst, Mrs Roberts said she had people flooding her account with messages at around 1,000 per hour.

    “I tried deleting them – it took two of us working flat out to do it and we removed over 64,000 of them from my account,” she said.

    “But this killed my account flat. I am damned whatever I do. It is exhausting.”

    A solution Mrs Roberts suggested is making it an option to sift through people who want to follow her, which is currently only an option for private accounts.

    But online safety expert, Hera Hussain, said it is platforms such as those run by Meta that should be doing more to keep Mrs Roberts – and those like her – safe.

    “The solution is not for Sandie to leave the platform,” Ms Hussain said.

    “The solution is not for her to spend hours sifting through harassment messages.”

    Ms Hussain added that one of the issues is that platforms are secretive about how their algorithms are run, which makes it difficult for people to predict how their actions will affect their accounts.

    “This is a very traumatic experience for someone running a business,” she said.

    Mrs Roberts said: “I work so hard on my account. I’m targeted with my content, my captions are search engine optimised, my hashtags carefully selected.

    “I work with well known brands and I love my job.

    “Where are we supposed to turn when we are being attacked by these vile people in a place of our business?

    “I’ve reported many accounts for porn only to be told Instagram are too busy to even look into it.”

    In a statement, Meta said: “We do not allow gender-based hate speech, threats of sexual violence and exploitation or unwanted harassment on our apps.

    “We will remove this content when we become aware of it.

    “We really encourage everyone to use our safety features, which we have developed in direct consultation with safety experts and our community.”

    One Comment leave one →
    1. January 30, 2023 2:59 pm

      This sounds terrible. No women deserves to be objectified in this way, regardless of disability etc. I think social media companies do need to develop better systems for protecting people, whilst enabling some degree of freedom of speech 🙂

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