For all of the appeal of an online hangout such as Twitter — at its best, it really is a virtual Cheers, where everybody seems to know your name and watching a sporting event can be enhanced by the convivial sports-bar-in-140-characters vibe — it far too often succumbs to that longstanding and inherent danger of social media.
It can turn into a cesspool of crudity and cruelty in the casual click of a light-blue button labeled “Tweet.”
This is hardly breaking news, I know. Such a thought is not about to start trending for its originality, for that bleak downside of Twitter is well-established as the unfortunate fallout of the fundamental parameters of social media:
The various platforms are accessible to anyone with Internet access. And would-be purveyors of vulgar and vitriolic behavior are easily cloaked in anonymity without the threat of consequence. The patrons liable to cause trouble are getting through the door, too, and no ID is required.
But the slimy depths of this cesspool may never have been more apparent than they were earlier this week, especially in regard to the appalling treatment women in the media often endure on social media.
In a video produced by Just Not Sports (warning: video contains explicit language) and released Tuesday, two Chicago-based female sports journalists — Sarah Spain, an increasingly prominent ESPN writer and radio host, and Julie DiCaro, a writer for Sports Illustrated’s The Cauldron and a radio personality — showed us, chillingly, exactly what they endure on virtually a daily basis.
Spain and DiCaro sat on a chair, appearing separately in the approximately four-minute-long video. Various men — most casually dressed and appearing to be in their mid-20s — would enter the scene, shake the woman’s hand, and then proceed to read aloud brutal tweets that the women had received.
The men, it should be noted, were not the ones who sent the tweets; they were friends of the producers. They hadn’t seen the tweets before they read them. Spain and DiCaro had.
To call the tweets unfathomably vicious is to lack for a crueler word. They’re beyond vile. Most are unprintable here.
The result was a sequence of painfully awkward exchanges for all — emphasis on painful. The men look embarrassed and struggle to make eye contact. The women look agonized. When it’s over, many of the men end up apologizing for their gender.
Predictably, there has been some backlash to the video. Spain and DiCaro have been accused of self-aggrandizement; everyone on Twitter has mean-spirited interactions at one time or another, the argument goes, so why shouldn’t they?
Clay Travis, one of the lead wolves in Fox Sports’s frothing and ever-growing pack of well-compensated, inauthentic hot-takers, tweeted Tuesday:
I’m confident that my mentions are tougher than 99.9% of all people, male or female, receive on Twitter.
And then later, Travis again, after receiving the predictable backlash from people in possession of at least a modicum of empathy:
I love that I’m trending on Twitter. Glorious. So many mad sports PC Bros hitting their KEYBOARDS SO HARD RIGHT NOW.
He is right that everyone with an opinion gets grief on Twitter, just as WEEI’s Gerry Callahan was correct in noting on his show that angry interactions come with the territory as a member of the sports media. But it’s not about political correctness; to call it a PC debate is a flimsy and transparent shield designed to explain away unacceptable behavior.
What men endure is not anything like this. What men endure is never of a sexual nature, and rarely so ferociously personal. (The worst interaction I have ever had is a reader threatening to punch me in the face because I dared to tweet that I didn’t think Brock Holt was an everyday player.) One need look no further than the Gamergate scandal to realize that women in the media must take online threats seriously.
Spain and DiCaro were panelists at a bloggers conference Thursday and did not respond to requests for comment through their representatives. But Spain explained to the New York Times why they made the video.
“Men get mean comments, too, but I think the context of it is quite different for women,” she said. “It’s not just, like, ‘you’re an idiot and I’m mad at you for your opinion.’ It’s: ‘I hate you because you are in a space that I don’t want you in. I come to sports to get away from women. Why don’t you take your top off and just make me lunch?’ ”
Yes, everyone with an opinion and any kind of following goes through the Twitter wringer. It’s true. It’s naive to expect the golden rule to apply to social media behavior, and we’re too far gone on the Internet, anyway.
Twitter at its best is a fun place to hang out. At its worst, it’s where sad souls do their cruelest work from beneath their hidden bridge. The trolls are going to be mean to men. They’ll be mean to women, too. But being mean — and as the hashtag accompanying the video said, #morethanmean — because someone is a woman? Anyone who tries to justify that is wallowing almost as deep into the cesspool as the lowlifes who actually do it.