Patia Braithwaite learned the complexities of “sliding into DMs” the hard way—with an awkward online exchange with an ex she reached out to via a private message on Facebook.
She had wanted to see for herself what sliding into direct messages is all about. “I’m sliding into your DMs!” she messaged her target, who responded with an obscene suggestion that shocked her.
She shut down Facebook, embarrassed and confused, and decided she would never speak to the guy again. Until he texted and told her the phrase he had sent was a song lyric.
Her experience is one of many scenarios that can play out when one person contacts another privately on social media channels—otherwise knowns as “sliding into DMs.” This feature of today’s online dating landscape presents many opportunities, both for positive connections and for things to go badly wrong.
What does DM mean?
Major social media channels allow users to contact other users privately by sending DMs, or direct messages.
The direct messaging services on the major platforms are similar. They generally allow you to send a private message to anyone on the platform—and sometimes to many people at once—but some of them allow users to place restrictions on DMs or require users to accept the message before starting a conversation.
Here are details about how each of the four major social platforms handles DMs:
- On Facebook, you can DM any other Facebook user, but if you’re not already Facebook friends with the recipient, your message will arrive in their Message Requests folder. The recipient must accept the message request before replying to your DM.
- Snapchat lets you define who can contact you in your privacy settings, under “Who Can Contact Me.” If you choose “Everyone,” anyone on the app will be able to message you.
- On Instagram, you can send direct messages to individuals or groups. If you set your account to private, only those with whom you’re connected will be able to access your account and send you a DM.
- Twitter allows you to send a DM only to those who follow you, unless they’ve indicated in their settings that anyone can message them. Everyone in a group message can see all the messages, even if they don’t follow each other. If you’ve enabled your account to receive messages from anyone, you’ll receive DMs as Requests in the Messages tab.
What is sliding into DMs?
With social platforms so popular for staying in touch with others, direct messaging services have increasingly become part of users' communication habits. It’s also become a common way of meeting new people—or at least attempting to.
“Sliding into DMs” means contacting someone via direct message when they haven’t initiated contact or otherwise indicated they want to be contacted by you. These messages can be expressions of genuine interest or a real attempt to start a conversation, or they can be more akin to harassment—such as commenting on someone’s looks, expressing sexual desire or even issuing threats.
Why would someone want to slide into my DMs?
Many people slide into DMs to make romantic inquiries or advances toward users whose social feeds they admire.
Since these messages are often sent by strangers and are by definition unsolicited, they are often unwanted. This is even more so if the message is overly sexual, assertive or objectifying.
Users who send messages like this may not be looking for a real romantic relationship as much as they are trying to satisfy various urges. For example, they may need to feel powerful or in control, release pent-up sexual desire, or handle other distressing emotions.
But while the term sliding into DMs is most often used to refer to unwanted romantic overtures, the practice isn’t always negative or sinister. There are many other reasons someone may want to DM someone else over social media. Many of these uses are innocent and not unwelcome. For example, a marketer tries to drum up interest for a product, a recruiter puts out feelers about a job, a reporter seeks information from a source or an old friend tries to get back in touch.
And there are indeed instances where sliding into DMs is an effective method of starting a romantically inclined interaction.
“You don’t have to be a creep to slide into DMs,” said Julie Spira, online dating expert and founder of Cyber Dating Expert. “You can be seriously interested in the person. I think you should make a connection so they know who you are, otherwise they’ll think you’re a spammer.”
It’s also important to communicate in a way that indicates you’re interested in lighthearted social conversation, not anything else.
“The key is to be light and fun so that you get a feel for the person and see if you connect before taking it to the next level,” said Kim Seltzer, a makeover expert, therapist, dating coach and owner of EliteImageMakeovers.com. “The biggest mistake people make in a DM exchange is that it becomes bland, transactional and disconnected.”
Corresponding effectively with strangers in writing can be tricky because it’s difficult to discern nuance or pick up on certain forms of humor like sarcasm. As Braithwaite found out, a miscommunication like a poorly placed song lyric can ruin a conversation quickly. That’s why it’s important to be authentic and have fun while still remaining vigilant when communicating via DM.
How can I keep my DMs secure?
Communicating with people you don’t know online comes with an inherent level of risk, so it’s important to be discerning and cautious when using DMs to meet new people. Be on the lookout for requests that seem overly familiar or comments that don’t sit right for any reason.
“Avoid continuing conversation with pushy requests,” said Seltzer. “Anytime someone asks you to meet right away or make demands on you before having a safe and good DM exchange is a red flag. Especially run if that person becomes upset or threatening if you say ‘no.' It’s important to alert [that website’s customer service] and block the person right away.”
Blocking users from contacting you via DM is possible on each social network, so take a minute to find out how in case you need to freeze someone out in a hurry.
- Facebook allows you to block someone altogether, which means they can’t see anything on your account, or you may simply block them from messaging you. To block someone from messaging you, open the conversation with the person in question, click on the gear icon at the top right of the chat box, and then click “Block” and “Block Messages.”
- In Snapchat, go to your privacy settings to define your permissions for who can contact you under “Who Can Contact Me.” You can specify that only friends can contact you. If the person you want to block is a friend, go to the “Friends” screen and tap and hold on the friend’s name, then click “More” and then “Block.”
- Instagram lets you block specific users altogether from seeing your account, and those people won’t be able to send you DMs. To block someone, bring up their profile, click the three dots at the top right of the screen, and then click “block.”
- Twitter lets you block users by clicking the caret at the top of a tweet from the person you want to block, then clicking “block.” Another way of blocking someone who is messaging you is to report that person. Open the conversation you’ve been having with the person, then click the “Info” icon and select “Report.”
One step you can take to help ensure you’re blocking the person on all social channels is to search for yourself using a people search service. Doing so may reveal any other social media accounts you may have forgotten about. A username search may also reveal a user’s identity if you have concerns about harassment or other problems.
Sliding into DMs is such a common practice that there are songs written about it, but it can still catch social media users off-guard if they aren’t used to being contacted by strangers.
It helps to understand the way direct messaging works, why people may contact you on DMs and how you can keep yourself from unwanted attention on social media.
But while it’s important to be vigilant, being open to DMs can expose you to exciting new social possibilities. Avoid responding with obscene song lyrics, and you’ll be off to a good start.