Emily Clarkson gets such a constant flood of photographs of naked men posted to her Instagram account that she has devised an automatic response to send them because she feels the social media giant does too little to help.
“I am cyberflashed relentlessly on Insta. I get d*** pictures all the time”, says Clarkson, who explores the quirks of social media on her podcast Should I Delete That?. She also gets “regular rape threats, death threats”.
In response, the 27-year-old daughter of Jeremy Clarkson, the Sunday Times columnist and star of Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime Video, sends a reply dreamed up “by women smarter than me”.
“It says, ‘Our AI technology has recognized you have sent this. If you believe it was a mistake, please reply ‘Help’ or your account will be terminated by the end of the day.’ It’s great to see all these men writing back, ‘Help!’
“I am having to do that because nothing official like it exists. Instagram has nothing really [fully] policing this. I report them and they say, ‘It does not go against our guidelines’. I have never had a complaint upheld [by Instagram] I think.”
Ironically, when she posts images such as those used as part of a feminist campaign to “free the nipple” she says these images are removed. The photos of women celebrating their own bodies are classed as “adult solicitation” and removed.
Clarkson, who has 250,000 followers on Instagram, and other female social media influencers, including the former television presenter Carol Vorderman, are now calling for the laws that apply in real life to sexual harassment and flashing to also apply online.
The influencers, who recently met Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, to discuss their concerns, welcome the new Online Harms Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech in May but say it does not go far enough.
The photos of women celebrating their own bodies are classed as “adult solicitation” and removed.
Clarkson said: “A hundred percent I want real-life laws applied online. People think [social media accounts are] a silly little hobby of bored little girls. It is so not like that online. It is fabulous — the makeup, the hair, the love, the community, the support. But it is also very dangerous, breeding ‘incels’ [involuntary celibate groups], terrorism, abuse and hate crimes.”
She says it is not “realistic” to expect teenagers to get off social media. “Everything is online now … It is victim-blaming at its core,” she said.
Sharon Gaffka, a former civil servant who appeared last summer on the TV reality show Love Island, says she was trolled on Instagram with racist and sexist abuse.
Gaffka, 26, got voice notes from a group of teenage boys threatening to kill her, and recieves “two unsolicited explicit photos a day”. “I have reported lots of things on Insta to Insta and they say it does not break community guidelines,” she said. “If someone walked up to me and pulled their trousers down in the street, they would be arrested , but you can send me a d*** pic on Instagram and nothing happens to you. I would definitely like to see real-life legislation applied online.”
Vorderman, 61, who presented Countdown, warned that in the metaverse, the virtual-reality world accessed via a headset, people were simulating sex with celebrities and, on one site, children.
“We say what is happening online is so powerful that every law that applies to these sexual offenses in the real world should also apply in the virtual world.”
A spokesman for Meta, which owns Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook, said: “The harassment of women is unacceptable. That’s why we don’t allow gender-based hate or any threat of sexual violence, and last year we announced stronger protections for female public figures.”
Sian Griffiths is the education-and-families editor for The Sunday Times of London