Written by Staff Writer
Female athletes have repeatedly been targeted with hate messages on social media following the London Olympics and at major global competitions, including the World Athletics Championships in London two years ago, a team of Scottish researchers have found.
“The levels of social media abuse at European and World Championships … were on the rise with the influx of the new mobile technology and social media,” Duncan Stewart, a Social Media Professor at the University of Strathclyde, told CNN.
While all gender groups were subjected to abuse at the World Athletics Championships in London two years ago, the researchers have found that the abuse directed at women has exceeded that directed at men.
“We wanted to understand why and find out whether there are any tangible reasons or might be actions being taken to protect female athletes,” Stewart said.
The researchers found that women had the highest rate of online abuse — with 84 percent of harassment directed at women and 57 percent at women of color.
In some cases, the women were targeted for comments they had made or anticipated them making during competition or simply being female.
“When a woman criticizes someone else’s performance, either on social media or verbally, she is called name calling,” Stewart said.
“Often she is called ‘granny’ or a ‘bitch’ and sometimes a racist word. We know that men are not automatically called this,” he added.
“Women comment on male competitors’ performances and sometimes say things like ‘look how he looks like he’s been drinking in his village’,” he said.
Below is a complete list of the gender and ethnicity groups that experienced the highest rates of social media abuse in 2018, according to the researchers.
Female athletes endured a majority of physical abuse from online abusers – with 77 percent of abusive messages sent to women being directed at them and 28 percent being directed at women of color.
The researchers also discovered that 13 percent of female athletes were abused personally by a coach or other person with authority over them, while 14 percent of female athletes received direct abuse from a team member.
A number of athletes who were targeted by abusive online bullies told researchers that the attacks had negatively impacted their self-esteem and morale, but that some did not report the abuse to authorities or security due to self-esteem and safety concerns.
“Some of the data is still in flux but what we do know is that female athletes have been subjected to high levels of abuse and that we are seeing some improvement in the situation, but it is still a problem,” Stewart said.
He said the fact that the abuse was being seen only online was testament to how destructive this form of hate speech was, “for both participants, who can be targeted with threats, for spectators and visitors to stadiums or sports venues that are involved with major events, as well as for the media and the wider public.
“If individuals who carry out this abuse knew the consequences it is likely that they would think twice about doing so,” he said.
The findings were published in a study entitled “Cyber Harm, Social Media and Context-Specific Categories of abuse – A Functional Evolutionary Analysis of Online Harassment for Female Athletes”