There are growing calls for better moderation of social media platforms and a crackdown on abusive trolls after a viral photo of a female football player star led to a series of misogynistic attacks.
Last week, the Seven Network’s AFL Twitter account posted a photo of Carlton AFL Women’s player Tayla Harris in full flight kicking a goal over the weekend.
But the post soon attracted vile and misogynistic comments from men, leading to the post being deleted by 7AFL.
“Recently we published an image of AFLW player Tayla Harris,” the Tweet read.
“The original purpose in publishing the image was to celebrate the power, athleticism and skills on show in Carlton’s thrilling win over the Western Bulldogs.
“The image attracted a number of comments, some of which were inappropriate and offensive. As a consequence, we have removed the image and the comments”.
Following widespread criticism of the decision, 7AFL reuploaded the post and said deleting it had “sent the wrong message”.
“Many of the comments made on the post were reprehensible and we’ll work harder to ban trolls from our pages,” they said.
“Our intention was to highlight Tayla Harris’ incredible athleticism and we’ll continue to celebrate women’s footy.”
The photo subsequently went viral around the world, and the story has now been covered by the likes of the BBC and CNN, among others.
“Here’s a pic of me at work...think about this before your derogatory comments, animals,” Harris tweeted in response to the commenters.
It also reignited the debate on the role and responsibility of social media giants to stamp out offensive and abusive comments from trolls, and what real-world punishments these trolls should receive.
In response to the comments, Harris said she didn’t want to give “oxygen to the trolls”, but police and Facebook needed to do more to prevent and punish these remarks.
“Perhaps this is an issue that might need to go further, because if these people are saying things like this to someone they don’t know on a public platform, what are they saying behind closed doors and what are they doing?” Harris said.
“Whether it’s Victoria Police or whatever it is, [they] need to contact these people and give them some sort of warning. Facebook needs to delete them and something needs to happen. We can talk about it as much as we want, but they are not listening. And [the trolls] are probably smiling about it because we’re talking about it.”
Harris got the backing of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who labelled the commenters “cowardly grubs”.
“Trolls on social media, they’re nothing new these days, sadly, but I think what’s horrible is those trolls tend to target women and they tend to be the target for an inordinate share of the abuse that happens online,” Morrison said.
In the post reuploading the photo, 7AFL said they would work to ban the offensive commenters from its page.
More consideration needs to be taken on the real-world implication of these trolling online comments, Harris said.
“I genuinely consider that they might show up at the footy,” she said. “If they’re thinking this way and able to write it down, what are they going to do when I’m on the sideline meeting some kids - that’s what I’m going to have to think about now.
“As much it shouldn’t be the case at all, that’s the reality of it.”
AFL Players Association boss Paul Marsh also called for action to be taken against the online commenters.
“This is a daily occurence,” Marsh said. “Time for people to celebrate our players, not troll them. As an industry we need to work together to crack down on this behaviour.”