Chicago Sportswriter Julie DiCaro has more than 30-thousand Twitter followers, but she frequently blocks accounts that attack her. While Twitter makes it so easy to connect, in sports media women get “constant rolling harassment,” and “a stream of sexism and misogyny and threats.”
There apparently are many different motivations – wanting attention, seeking “perverse pleasure out of getting under someone’s skin,” and even “trolls” trying to force women sportscasters and writers out of the business and offline, DiCaro says. “They’re basically out to ruin my reputation.”
Some days the problem is so large that DiCaro says she spends hours blocking new and anonymous Twitter accounts. She is thankful for allies rushing to her defense, even though they also are sometimes attacked. Exposing online harassment is one way to fight back.
The #MoreThanMean project organically began with a piece DiCaro wrote last year in Sports Illustrated about women in sports media and on social media. The online harassment, though, continued through the winter. The idea for the YouTube video followed, and DiCaro was one of only two women agreeing to participate among as many as 20 asked.
Most of the women were afraid of the backlash, DiCaro says. She agrees that what women in sports see is part of a larger cultural problem of not placing value on what women say. During the election, for example, there was a noticeable lack of kindness, civility and compassion. “I think that it’s all part of the same thing,” DiCaro says.
The actual offenders did not read the mean tweets in the YouTube video, so it is difficult to measure project impact on changing attitudes and behaviors. Still, there is “something about hearing out loud and viscerally and then having to look in someone’s eyes ...that seems to change people and sort of hit home,” DiCaro says.
She does her best to accept “what they throw at me,” but DiCaro says sometimes the insults are overwhelming.
In fact, there are some days when I don’t deal with it well, and you can ask my husband. He’d be happy to tell you about all the days when… someone will say something… he’ll find me like a heap of tears on the bed because they do hurt… I don’t know if there’s any way to really prepare someone for this. I think you have to believe in what you’re doing, and why I feel that violence against women is something that has been remarkably under-reported in sports media.
DiCaro is on a mission to change this.
A community of sports women has developed, and they support each other. “I really lean on other women in the industry to help me get through it because we’re all going through it,” DiCaro says.
While cyber-bullies can be found across the Internet, Twitter is instantaneous. DiCaro says the ease of creating new and quasi-anonymous accounts means that Twitter is “so much worse.”
Media people must “develop a very thick skin,” DiCaro says. “I think that whatever you can do to prepare yourself mentally… you need to do.”
DiCaro has considered leaving Twitter, but for now she continues to engage and “out” the online attackers. Twitter also continues to work on the troll problem. Victims may now report a series of tweets that personally attack and reflect a pattern, but it remains difficult to keep individuals from creating new accounts.
Filter and blocking tools also may help.
We need to remain true to our First Amendment free speech values, but also challenge speech that hurts people. Look for the problem of online harassment to continue to be addressed, as social media platforms mature and evolve.
Read more in Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics. If you are looking for a speaker, please contact Professor Lipschultz: Jeremy.Lipschultz@gmail.com.