A man sent me a dick pic on Instagram

Ash Huang
6 min readApr 29, 2016

Do you build consumer products? Cool. This is for you.

Today, I got a rare Instagram message from a friend with an awesome recommendation. That’s when I noticed a banner at the top that of the message window said, 3 message requests. It was blue and enticing. So I clicked it. Design!

Inside was a bunch of garbage from people I don’t know, including a dick pic, which I could clearly see in the thumbnail. Ah, the non-pixellated glory of retina.

I long pressed the message, toggled edit, pressed every button I could think of. No option to report the user. No option to block.

Took a screenshot.

I searched for the user so I could report him. He had no photos I could see, so I couldn’t even indirectly report him. I clicked the little three dot junk drawer (no judgement, every app has them) and hit report.

Was taken to a report flow (regrettably, I got hopeful and stopped taking screenshots.). Clicked “I believe this account violates Instagram’s community guidelines”. If they got into that kerfluffle about removing a picture of a period stain, surely they’d be not cool with a dude sending me his penis. Reported him for nudity. Blocked him. Was not asked to provide details; ended up navigating to a support page and complaining in the comment box at the bottom, and on Twitter.

(That’s okay, I guess. Medium is now my giant comment box! :) And isn’t this better for everyone?)

Went back to messages, and saw the number had gone down to 2 message requests. Cool! Took a screenshot.

Clicked in. Dickpic still there. Took a screenshot. Hit edit and manually dismissed all of the messages. Goodbye, penis.

Went to my settings. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I didn’t mess with my private settings.

Uh…where are the privacy settings for messages? Were the other two messages in my message request folder dick pic’s too, that some other poor women have already responded to?

I guess I can not click the little blue link on top of my messages folder. Wish it wasn’t designed in a way where it was at the top of that screen, and enticingly blue. I sometimes click things reflexively. Still, despite its friendly demeanor, I think that feature is forever dead to me.

I could change my profile to private, I guess. Maybe that would keep message requests from strangers out, I haven’t gone into a Google hole about this yet. Except I kind of rely on Instagram as a part of my marketing platform, and I do like publicly connecting with strangers who also climbed that arch in Sedona.

So I guess I’ll just leave it alone and pray to the anti-peen gods. Maybe some poor support employee will read my angry comment and ask for the screenshot without the red sad face, ask for proof that I was indeed digitally accosted by a dickpic this afternoon.

Now you see why I keep taking screenshots of everything.

So instead of that penis just disappearing into the ether, it’s now preserved on my phone, in between photos of my dog and the fact that I am drinking a mint tea AND a glass of water, lol, a longstanding joke between my friend and I. And we live in the cloud era, so it’s probably on my computer and on some poor Dropbox server, too. I have to keep the dickpic, in case I get the chance to talk to a human about it. Because I’m not going to let this be another ‘he said, she said’, where people try to peg me as a hysterical female. I’m tired of that story.

But what’s Instagram’s policy even on strange private dick pics? Will he get banned? Can they even police private messages? Can he argue that I photoshopped the screenshot, that his penis isn’t even that color? I haven’t read the terms of service line by line and I’m getting a bit tired at this point, so I guess I’ll just go about my day.

I detailed this process and my thoughts because I want you, a product person, to understand how much someone has to go through when they are abused on platforms. Do I think Instagram was like, heh heh, let’s make a thing that will help this sicko send his penis to Ash Huang? No. Of course not. In fact, I bet intelligent, nice people had a long debate about whether or not to let strangers send messages at all.

There’s gonna be that one person rolling their eyes, like ugh, what, do we have to walk on eggshells now just because one dude is gross? How are we going to get anything done if we are so precious about everything?

Someone told me early on in my career that product design is all about edge cases. It’s trying to figure out how users will break your system, and doing your best to anticipate that. It’s helping humans be better humans and keeping them from falling through cracks.

I’m a product designer, so I can totally understand why this system was made this way. It’s the simplest way to encourage strangers to interact. If you found your pictoral soulmate on Instagram, you could send them that pic showing them that you, too, hiked up to the top of that arch in Sedona! Or, maybe I don’t follow this person yet, but we are friends in real life. It makes sense to see a preview or thumbnail of a stranger’s message, because a picture’s worth a thousand wormz etc etc etc. It also has the bonus of re-using the message components from friends (also includes a thumbnail), so avoids new system elements.

But it feels like everyone got busy on something else and then forgot to finish this feature. They implemented the simplest solution and then never went back to it.

Sorry, Dieter. Simple is not always better. Sometimes simple is way, way worse.

You know what’s a really complicated problem? How to deal with messages that aren’t public. If two consenting adults want to privately send penises to each other, is Instagram going to police that behavior? What if the recipient is a minor? And to make matters even more complicated, how to deal with non-public pictures from strangers. What if someone wants strangers to send them pics of penises? What if they, like me, really don’t?

The dick pic was an edge case that did not get properly addressed, and now I forever have to have some stranger’s penis on my phone. If it were actually addressed, maybe I could say whether or not I want people to send me message requests at all (after all, with the cute little alert is visually designed, a message request is as almost as good as a message from someone I follow). If it were addressed, maybe I wouldn’t see image previews from strangers unless we had a friend in common.

Yep. That’s complicated. But it may have stopped me from seeing a dickpic today, which pretty much makes me forget every good simple interaction I had on Instagram in the last month.

But here’s the rub. Do I think anybody’s going to fix this flow? I give it a 30% chance. Maybe if this somehow goes viral or if TSwift or Lena Dunham complains about it, like, 23 times. I’m sick of living in a graveyard of V1’s that never get fixed and ultimately become confusing places to get lost in, or worse, backdoors for abuse from the badly behaved.

I love Instagram. But I can’t help but feel some innocent veil has been ripped away, that at any moment some weirdo can send me a penis. In fact, there’s a chance that by even writing and publishing these words, I’ll be flooded with pictures of troll-dude’s weens. Because no one likes an angry female.

Here’s to hoping not! Consider your edge cases, boys and girls!



Ash Huang

Tea-sipping she-wolf · Indie designer and author · http://ashsmash.com · http://eepurl.com/bZsqnz for weekly inspiration