When regular guys read real tweets sent to female sportswriters Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain, the exchange quickly devolves into a cringe-worthy scene.
The men appear deeply unnerved as the rhetoric turns increasingly vicious. Uncomfortable pauses and embarrassed looks abound as they continue vocalizing these harassment-level comments directly to the women who are their targets.
The video has sparked a debate about misogyny and sports. This, however, is nothing new, nor is the phenomenon by which women encounter extreme hostility when they enter a “man’s domain.” Such is the history of any underrepresented group. What’s most striking then is a new kind of hotbed for aggression and hate that is emerging, and starting to fester, on social media.
One comment is an isolated incident, a fanatic that somehow got access to a laptop or smartphone. The onslaught, however, hints at a virtual mob.
By now, most of us are familiar with the Internet troll. He (or she) haunts the web, leaving nasty comments with little to no repercussions. This country has always maintained freedom of speech, but now, this speech can reach virtually anyone you want, particularly with the advent of Twitter.
From the president to Kim Kardashian, the common populace now has a direct line to public figures. Haters around the world have a voice, meaning it’s easier than ever to hate and be heard. Not only is there relative anonymity, and therefore little accountability, but there’s also convenience. Before you would at least have to commit to writing a letter and address it appropriately. With Twitter’s 140-character limit, it’s a mere sentence, search and send to publish your insult or threat for all to see.
Alone, the voices are cutting, but together… that’s what’s worrisome. The trolls already united to turn Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay, into a racist, genocidal asshole in a matter of hours. Could the haters form an insidious collective with the potential to turn dangerous?
Aside from the actual rhetoric, this medley of the trolls is what’s most striking when female sportswriters listen to mean tweet after mean tweet out loud. One comment is an isolated incident, a fanatic that somehow got access to a laptop or smartphone. The onslaught, however, hints at a virtual mob. And when all sorts of relationships are started or sustained on the Internet, I can’t help but wonder if and when this mob will become all too real.