Online harassment targeting female sports fans

- It was a big sports weekend in New York with a lot of fans sharing their opinions on social media. But for women, simple tweet often becomes an opening for serious cyber-bullying.

You might think "Yeah it's the internet." If I'm watching the Knicks or the Rangers and tweeting about it, I'm going to get some harassment on line from the other team's fans, but that's not what this is. For women it's a lot worse. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center survey shows younger women get it especially rough. It's often prolonged and sexual in nature.

"The retaliation was extremely brutal. Things like, I don't know if I can say it, things like 'You should have been aborted,' 'You should be drinking bleach,'" Nicole Schuman said. Her story is a familiar one. She is a big hockey fan who hopped onto a radio station's Facebook page to take part in a discussion, and immediately she became a target.

"Zero to a hundred, right away," she said. "There was no discussion. There was no argument. It was just 'My way or the highway.'"

That Pew survey found a quarter of all women 18 to 24 were sexually harassed online, a problem especially notable in the male-dominated world of sports.

"I think a lot of women get a lot of the 'Go back to the kitchen' stuff," said Anna Horford, whose brother Al plays for the Boston Celtics. She is very outspoken on Twitter, which makes her a regular target for vicious attacks and even spoof accounts aimed at embarrassing her. "At this point it has become such a common occurrence that I am just super used to it," she added.

The attackers are almost always random. Some are repeat offenders. And even if their accounts are blocked or eliminated, many just create new ones.

"I just think people feel so brave behind a screen that they can say anything they want," Schuman said.

"When you're saying that kind of stuff you have to realize you're talking to another human being and you have to ask yourself if you were going to say that to the person's face," Horford said.

The power, and difficulty, of words being said directly to women was basis of this "More Than Mean" project by the blog "just not sports." Random men read the often threatening and vulgar tweets to the sports reporters who were targeted.

Psychology professor Nava Silton said anonymity fuels the attacks.

"When people are behind a veil if they think they're protected and nobody knows their identity then they'll feel much more willing to say things they won't normally say in person," Silton said.

In the end, this is cyber-bullying. But these women say it's time to rise up and show their opinions are just as valid as anyone's.

"As women we need to come together and we need to normalize talking about sports," Horford said. "It's not a man's world."

"I think women are a huge part of sports and a huge part of fan-ship," Schuman said. "Our voices need to be heard just as much as anybody else's and we do provide a different perspective on a lot of things that happened."

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