If you’re a woman on the internet, chances are you’ve gotten a creepy message (or a million). Why should you have to deal with creeps at all?
That question prompted experience designer and recent VCU Brandcenter graduate Berfin Ayhan to dream up NastyBot, a Facebook messenger chatbot that, as Ayhan describes, “helps you deflect dick pics.” Its main ammunition against the creeps? Snark.
The idea, which Ayhan created for a class, is that NastyBot would be able to hop into any unwanted conversation without the dude knowing it (something Ayhan recognizes is actually impossible to do on Facebook’s platform at the moment). Using facial recognition tech, Ayhan imagines that NastyBot would be respond to any pictures a man would send with the perfect snide remark. The bot would also be able to block, report, or respond in a pre-specified way. For instance, Ayhan gives the example that you could ask NastyBot to send a relentless online harasser an image of the actor Gary Busey every time he messages you. “Hopefully running them around in circles while they have to deal with pics of Gary Busey is funny and they stop talking to you because maybe it’s not worth their time,” Ayhan says.
She was inspired by the Creepy PMs subreddit, where people share the gross messages others send them online. It’s part comic relief, part support group. And the sweet but sassy persona that’s on display in Ayhan’s concept video–she describes NastyBot as “a mix of Cindy Gallup and the Orbit lady”–was designed to mimic the feeling of the subreddit. “I wanted to take the humor that people look to when it comes to having conversations about creepy messages and translate it into a tool that they could possibly use,” she says.
Ayhan doesn’t think that laughing at creeps online will fix harassment, nor should verbal abuse be taken lightly. But humor does have its uses. “I think defusing situations with humor can be very helpful,” she says. “You feel like you can be safe behind having fun with it, especially when you’re feeling threatened.”
For now, NastyBot is just a concept because of Facebook’s limitations–for her class, Ayhan also built a real chatbot that helps users navigate Facebook’s policies on harassment. But she’s looking for partners and would love to develop it into a real service that can save women from the creeps with one of the best weapons on the internet: snark.