Creating a pathway for respectful online spaces with consent
From messaging apps to online dating websites, there are many ways people are connecting online. Although you aren’t talking face-to-face with someone, you still need to get and give consent along the way. You should always consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions if you don’t know.
Unlike in-person interactions, digital conversations can have less clear cues like body language, eye contact, posture, or tone of voice that can indicate how someone is really feeling. So when we communicate online, it’s important to develop new ways to recognize others’ boundaries and give them the space to recognize our boundaries as well. If we shift from making assumptions to clearly communicating our boundaries and asking questions when we’re not sure, we can create a pathway to more respectful online spaces.
We show respect for ourselves and others in everyday ways when we practice consent. Consent gives us a framework for how to communicate boundaries and understand how our choices impact others.
What is consent?
Consent occurs when someone gives permission for something to happen or agrees to do something.
When you ask someone for consent, they need to know specifically what they’re agreeing to, so make sure what you’re asking is clear. For example, “Want to FaceTime tonight at six?” is a more specific way to ask than “Are you free to talk?” Consent also needs to be voluntary, so those who are agreeing should be doing so freely and 100% by their own choosing, without pressure, guilt, or coercion from the person asking.
Consent in online contexts and situations
When it comes to sexual activities that take place through screens — such as sexting, sending nude photos, or connecting for in-person sex — digital consent is a baseline for moving forward.
Digital consent is a way to refer to sexual consent that happens through screens.
Just like in-person sexual encounters, consent should be an ongoing conversation when you’re communicating digitally. Although you aren’t talking in person, you should always consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions if you don’t know.
We can practice digital consent by:
- Asking permission before sending explicit messages or texts.
- Respecting the decisions of others once you ask. It’s never okay to coerce or pressure someone to send photos or record sexual acts. If someone says no after you ask for digital consent, respect their choice and move on.
- Understanding that everyone has boundaries around meeting up in real life. If you’ve met online or on an app, make sure you both agree on the next steps and feel safe and comfortable with meeting up in person. Regardless of what others expect, everyone has the right to decide what is best for them and to act on those values.
- Asking each time. Getting digital consent is important every time. Even if your partner agreed to something sexual before, they are not obligated to agree to do it again.
Consent isn’t only important when it comes to sex — there are everyday ways that we negotiate our needs with the needs of others.
Everyday consent means we communicate our boundaries and ask others for their perspective before taking actions that impact them.
We can practice and model everyday consent online by:
- Respecting the devices and accounts of others. It’s never okay to try to unlock someone else’s phone without permission or look through their inbox or texts. Similarly, when sharing a device with someone, log out of accounts that you do not have permission to use and do not look at private account information.
- Asking permission before posting a photo of someone else on social media and before reposting, resharing, or sending someone else’s photo or personal information.
- Checking if it’s okay before sharing information outside of your one-on-one chat.
- Agreeing on a platform and giving options when communicating — for instance, giving the option to leave your webcam off during a video call.
- Making your availability for activities like video calls clear and conducting them within the agreed-upon time frame. Let a friend or colleague know you would like to video call specifically rather than assuming.
- Setting Boundaries for the Holidays During a Pandemic from NSVRC
- Digital Consent in the Age of COVID-19 from NSVRC
- Consent and Social Distancing from Prevent Connect
- Quarantine is an Opportunity to Teach Consent from Men Can Stop Rape
- It’s Time We Start Negotiating Non-Sexual Consent, As Well from The Swaddle
- Did I Say That was OK with Me? Understanding Consent and Boundaries from the National Federation of the Blind
- Teaching Consent in the Digital Dating Era from Times of India