It has long been suspected that female athletes are subjected to more vitriol on social media than their male counterparts – now a new study has confirmed it.
Nearly 27 per cent of comments on well-read Facebook posts by major Australian broadcasters were negative towards sportswomen compared to 8 per cent for male athletes.
The analysis, conducted by women’s and children’s advocacy group Plan International, looked at more than 1300 comments on broadcasters’ pages in the past 12 months.
Posts that received a “significant” number of comments were examined, while those with little or no engagement were ignored.
Of the negative comments directed at women, 23 per cent were sexist and 20 per cent belittled their sporting abilities.
Remarks like “stick to netball” and “women should be in the kitchen” were some of those captured on pages belonging to broadcasters including the ABC, the Seven, Nine and 10 networks and Fox Sports.
Nearly 14 per cent of the negative comments directed at female athletes were highly sexualised and explicit.
Men, on the other hand, were most often sledged for perceived cheating on the field or accused of using illegal drugs.
Abuse ‘sending strong message’ to girls
Plan International spokeswoman Hayley Cull said the lack of regulations within social media channels was putting girls and women at risk.
“For girls and women in the wider community, we see a trickle-on effect that is quite significant,” she said.
“When they see this kind of harassment, abuse and trolling of women athletes, that sends a really strong message to a lot of girls.”
Ms Cull said the perpetrators of online abuse were generally men and boys, however that was not examined in the study.
“The nature of social media is it’s either anonymous or the real details of who those people are is not readily available,” she said.
The study comes a month after a wave of abusive comments were posted on the 7AFL page after it published an image of Carlton star Tayla Harris kicking a long-range goal.
The abuse was widely condemned, but the broadcaster also came under fire and apologised for sending “the wrong message” by deleting the photo.
Harris, one of the AFLW’s most recognisable players, said “severely inappropriate” online comments had left her feeling uncomfortable in her workspace.
The head of Victoria’s Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, Bridie O’Donnell, said the study’s results were not a surprise.
“I think any women who have any type of online profile, whether that’s on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, knows that people are pretty quick to give pretty brutal feedback,” Dr O’Donnell said.
“We’ve still got a way to go in being broadly inclusive of all types of women that play sport, let alone women who have a disability or Indigenous women.
“When athletes aren’t playing well enough, we should be allowed to ask questions of them … it’s just that with women athletes, that translates to something even more dangerous and abusive.”