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How to deal with harassment via iMessage?
September 4, 2013 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Several people unknown to me (teenage girls, based on the content) have been group-texting me, an adult man, via iMessage sporadically over the past few months despite repeated explicit demands from me that they stop. How do I deal with this? At first it was just annoying but I am getting quite concerned.

The content of the messages went from odd silly nonsense (quotes from the movie Mean Girls, according to Google) and emojis to variations on "WILL YOU MARRY ME" over and over and, at one point, selfies (non-explicit thankfully).

I presume they have mistaken me for someone else - I often get email meant for at least a dozen other individuals at my email address, and the people texting me *are* using my email address, not my mobile number, to contact me via iMessage - but I have no clue at all who they are or where they are from. All I have are the email addresses they are using for iMessage.

I have explicitly said "I don't know who you think I am, but I'm certain you must have the wrong person by mistake. Do not contact me again, or I will have to report this as harassment for my own protection."

I have also flat-out said it was not appropriate for them to send me pictures, and I received no pictures since then.

This got an apology and a respite from texts in April, but they have been back at it again in several bouts... basically ever time I turn iMessage back on because I get sick of losing that functionality on my devices.

My policy is not to reply, except ocassionally to insist that they stop in no uncertain terms. Last night I said something like "I must not be who you think I am" and one of them said "you're not [my first name] [other last name]?" and I said I wasn't, but they still wouldn't leave me alone. I think they might no believe me; perhaps they think they are flirting with a friend and think he is trying to blow them off. I don't know.

My first thought was to block them, but apparently Apple has not implemented contact-level blocking in iMessage (but the next version of iOS will - maybe I just have to wait until then?). All I can do is turn off iMessage altogether, which I have done from time to time, but soon after I turn it back on I start to receive messages again.

Beyond the obvious annoyance of receiving unwanted messages, this is starting to disturb me in terms of how it could look to a third party. I guess I can understand teen girls acting this annoying way, but regardless of how their immaturity affects their understanding (or not) of the situation it is starting to make me paranoid. I have not deleted the iMessage log from my phone yet out of an impulse to keep the evidence (i.e. a record of me consistently telling them to leave me alone, and not engaging them in any conversation that is in any way inappropriate). But it seems like the only way to get it to stop as it becomes actual harassment might be involving authorities, who I presume would at least initially be suspicious of *me* being in contact with these teenage girls online (even though I have NO IDEA WHY they are texting me, and have repeatedly asked them to stop).

It's very frustrating, and I feel pathetic and at times even in a way pre-emptively victimized in a sense, in that I don't think I have any good recourse here. The laws in my country actually make this kind of repeated unwanted communication a crime (though teen girls are likely only to be warned for it), but I am not confident that I would not myself seem suspicious if I sought help from police in stopping it. Really, sir, these girls just started messaging you spontaneously? Yes, REALLY! In my imagination, this turns into a scenario where my phone is seized for at least a time, which is a big disruption to my work and life - perhaps a greater inconvenience than the harassing messages themselves.

What should I do?

Leave iMessage off until I can block these users? Try to report them in some way to Apple (Google suggests Apple doesn't even care about full-on stalkers, so this seems like a dead-end)? Report them to police to cover myself, but risk being investigated as a creep in the process? Try to engage them in a more detailed explanation of why they need to leave me alone (I'm worried about engaging them any further, adding fuel to the fire - nothing in the messages has been threatening so far, but I don't want to give them any ideas)?

Bonus points for answers from former teenage girls who've engaged in behaviour remotely like this before. I'm baffled and, as I hope you can tell, increasingly troubled.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total)
 
Admitting that I don't use iMessage, so there may be particulars of which I'm not aware, but - could you not simply change your iMessage name?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why not just show messages from your contacts, instead of everyone? If they're in your contacts you can delete them. This will also keep you from receiving messages from other strangers, but why would you want to?

I agree it's potentially serious — this is exactly the way things started for me with my second wife, and that eventually ended in disaster.
posted by ubiquity at 8:43 AM on September 4, 2013


My first thought was to block them, but apparently Apple has not implemented contact-level blocking in iMessage (but the next version of iOS will - maybe I just have to wait until then?). All I can do is turn off iMessage altogether, which I have done from time to time, but soon after I turn it back on I start to receive messages again.

Contact-level blocking will be available with iOS 7.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:43 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It appears iOS7 will have blocking for iMessage as a new feature. iOS7 should be available shortly after the new iPhone is announced on September 10th.
posted by bluecore at 8:44 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anon: "I have explicitly said "I don't know who you think I am, but I'm certain you must have the wrong person by mistake. Do not contact me again, or I will have to report this as harassment for my own protection."

I have also flat-out said it was not appropriate for them to send me pictures, and I received no pictures since then.

My policy is not to reply, except ocassionally to insist that they stop in no uncertain terms.
"

Stop replying altogether. Just stop. They'll go away.
posted by mkultra at 8:45 AM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


In like a week, when iOS 7 comes out, this will probably be a non-issue, but here is the official Apple venue for reporting unwanted iMessages:

Messages: Reporting unwanted messages sent from iMessage
To report unwanted iMessage messages to Apple, please send an email with the following details to: imessage.spam@icloud.com

Include a screenshot of the message you have received.
Include the full email address or phone number you received the unwanted message from.
Include the date and time you received the message.
posted by aaronbeekay at 8:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


"I must not be who you think I am"

Is this how you are phrasing it? This possibly isn't clear to a teenager; and may sound playfully evasive to them. Be more specific: "You have the wrong e-mail address. Please check with your friend to get the right one." Then stop responding.
posted by spaltavian at 9:06 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


There's nothing teenagers hate more than middle-aged people trying to engage with them. Something along the lines of "I think you have the wrong person, as I am a 40 year old quantity surveyor, but have you heard the new Wiz Khalifa? I think it is the bomb, and assume you hold this opinion as well" might actually work.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2013 [21 favorites]


Great suggestions so far, but I'd also suggest turning off the "send read receipts" function until you can actually implement the contact level blocking with the new version of iOS. If they don't know whether or not you've actually seen the message, the drive to continue goading you with further messages might abate.
posted by BrianJ at 9:12 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Since you won't stop, Apple will be investigating. You might want to back up your phone ASAP."

Doesn't have to be true.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Apple has not implemented contact-level blocking in iMessage (but the next version of iOS will - maybe I just have to wait until then?).

Yes, this. Sorry.

My wife has a desirable firstname@mac.com email address, and she gets so, so many misdirected emails and iMessages. No, I do not want your vacation photos. No, I'm not part of your management team. No, I cannot authorize this child to play Moshi Monsters. No, I do not want to chat with you. No, I don't know if Brandon can sleep over or not. (This is all in the last two weeks, offhand.)

Lyn Never's suggestion above might work.

If you're getting video chat requests, having a grumpy unshaven man answer them might help. (It has helped my wife.)

Upgrading to iOS 7 will certainly help.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:18 AM on September 4, 2013


A couple of things you can do until iOS 7 comes out:
1. Change your iMessage send & receive address to your phone number, rather than your email address
2. Turn off group messaging
3. Turn off read receipts
posted by melissasaurus at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since iOS 7 is coming soon, I'd just disassociate that email address from iMessages (you can turn it back on later - it's just a checkbox) and continue to use iMessage connected with my phone number and/or an alternative email address.

I've been randomly and mistakenly contacted and usually any teenagers disappear after I state "I am an X year old guy". If you don't feel like turning off iMessage this week, you can also try replying to any chat with questions about their views on the political situation in Syria. But since you seemed stressed out, you should just go with the more straightforward suggestions from melissasaurus.
posted by mikepop at 10:29 AM on September 4, 2013


I am not confident that I would not myself seem suspicious if I sought help from police in stopping it. Really, sir, these girls just started messaging you spontaneously? Yes, REALLY!

About this, if, before saying ANYTHING else, you led with the fact that you have a common name and receive email meant for many other individuals, I think they would understand.

Also, if you do go to the police, frame this differently when you are explaining initially. You don't have to say, "teen girls are sending me selfies." That makes it sound weird and sexual. Instead say, "I keep receiving spam and nonsense messages from three particular strangers. I have repeatedly asked them to stop and they haven't." Because really, you have no idea who they are. Plenty of people pretend to be teen girls online. If the police ask if you know them, say no. At most, say that you think they are a bunch of "juvenile delinquents" who think they are harassing a schoolmate. I think that would be much better framing for you.
posted by cairdeas at 11:21 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


This has come up before.

In an answer to that question, I described how I dealt with a similar situation.
posted by kyten at 12:25 PM on September 4, 2013


I had the issue in the above-linked question -- I'm not sure my solution will work for you, though. What I ended up doing was Googling the email address associated with the messages I was getting, which got me a name. Then I emailed that person, and explained what was going on (and made sure to tell them that their kids had given me enough information that I knew where they lived and what school they went to, which would have been dangerous if they had been sending messages to someone who might decide to harm them). I never heard back, but the iMessages and Facetime requests stopped immediately.

In my case, though, the email address was clearly being used for a business, so I assumed it belonged to the kids' parents.
posted by sarcasticah at 1:57 PM on September 4, 2013


When I was a tween-age girl my friends and I used to prank call people and do things like this pretty frequently. It's the current equivalent of a prank call.

I think you're over-thinking things with the concern about the police and seizing your phone. From the sounds of things there is a very clear record that you haven't done anything to encourage them and in fact have been actively trying to get them to stop. Sounds like it would be hard to spin this in an unfavorable way to you.

It seems like there are some good options above, but my first inclination was to tell you to get their name/location (by asking them for it, that is), search for them on Facebook, and then contact their parents somehow. Lots of kids' parents are on Facebook these days and you can potentially find them by looking at the profiles and finding adults with the same name (and kids usually don't have strong privacy settings so you can see a lot on their profiles, sad to say). Or possibly you can Google the email as suggested above? There is probably some way you can figure out who the parents are and either call or message them.

Bottom line, these are kids, they're being a little annoying but they are just kids and they haven't committed any grave crimes. Kids think being annoying is fun, especially when they get a rise out of people in response and there aren't any negative consequences. Forget reporting them to the police, just report them to the parents.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:51 PM on September 4, 2013


I'd definitely not reveal personal info about myself along the lines of "I'm a 40 year old guy" or whatever, because a) there's no reason random people harassing you (either out of confusion or malice) need to know any personal details about you at all, for any reason, b) this could be seen as engaging them rather than bud-nipping, c) it could easily exacerbate any potential confusion that might ever arise about the nature of the contact (you are an unwilling recipient, but then why do they know your age/occupation/favorite band, etc.?), and d) could potentially inspire them to harass you in a different, more specifically personal way.

And I'd advise against trying to get them to reveal personal info about themselves in the strongest possible terms. Asking anything about names, ages, locations is would just seem terribly suspicious to a lot of people, no matter how innocent the reason.

I agree with zero response, ignore completely, and then block when the new version is released. I wouldn't go to the police. There's no harm in sending complaints to Apple since they do have a mechanism for that, even if it probably won't result in an actual fix for your problem – it will at least show that the messages are unwanted, in the highly unlikely event you ever did need a digital "paper trail."
posted by taz at 2:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Since you won't stop, Apple will be investigating. You might want to back up your phone ASAP." Doesn't have to be true.

No, threatening teenagers will not improve the situation.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bonus points for answers from former teenage girls who've engaged in behaviour remotely like this before.

I'm an ftg and since we didn't have iMessage back then, we had to make do with the poor guy who answered the phones at the local radio station, at least until somebody found the login for a conference call system. (I suspect it must have been a friend of a friend's parent's workplace.) Once we got bored of that, it was ICQ. This was definitely a Thing among certain groups of girls at my school and it was always, ALWAYS groups, never a solo activity. The group would dare you to make the call, the group would discuss what you might say, the group would giggle in the background while you said it and then the group would discuss how it was totally hilarious and did you hear how confused he sounded and oh my god I don't know how you kept up with the silly voice because I was dying laughing!

The actual recipient of the messages is completely irrelevant beyond existing and reacting to the messages ocassionally. The value of the exercise is as a bonding activity for the group. A way to demonstrate your daringness, impress your frinds and make them laugh, cement your place in the group by using shared jokes or developing new ones, to provide a new topic of conversation and just to help you forget for a few minutes that you're thirteen years old and still too young to go anywhere or do anything exciting to the point where boredom is basically the motivating force for 99% of the decisions you make.

Tomorrow, Sarah will mouth the phrase "I must not be who you think I am" across the classroom at Tasha who will crack up and they'll both get in trouble with the teacher and roll their eyes at her and take another step on the journey from friends to BFFs.

And maybe years later Tasha will respond to a "You didn't want ice-cream, did you?" with "Not want ice-cream? Me? I must not be who you think I am!" And Sarah will say "Where does that even come from? A movie?" and Tasha will say "No, don't you remember that poor guy on iMessage when we were kids?" And Sarah will say "Oh my god, yes! Christ we were little assholes." And Tasha will say "Yeah", but she'll be smiling kind of wistfully as she does.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:55 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a 21-year old girl who will admit to having done this on more than one occasion, I second the advice to ignore all further messages. They'll stop once you stop responding and once the girl(s) get it through their head that a relationship won't transpire no matter how many lines from Walt Whitman are shared.

BTW, if they're talking to you on iMessage, they must know your contact information from prior communication. Methinks covering your tracks may be in order.
posted by lotusmish at 11:40 PM on September 8, 2013


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