4 ways student athletes can deal with haters on social media

November 24, 2014 Kevin DeShazo Social Media Education Tags: , , , 0 Comments

One of the arguments against allowing student-athletes to use social media is how accessible it makes them to fans. Fan, of course, is short for fanatic. To say that people are passionate about sports would be quite the understatement. Online, that passion and fanaticism can and is taken to extreme, and sometimes flat out disturbing levels. We’ve seen “fans” wish death upon athletes through Twitter, call them racial slurs, tell them they are horrible and should give up their scholarship, and any number of other criticisms you can imagine.

Tweets like this are unacceptable. I’m no legal expert, but I firmly believe that legal action should be taken when somebody threatens to take a gun and 30 bullets to a team bus. This is something the Supreme Court is actually considering.

It’s the ugly side of Twitter for many public figures. In an article on Mashable, Bill Voth of Spiracle Media, who works with a number of professional athletes, had this to say about the topic, “Trolls are getting louder and more powerful, and I think ultimately this is one of the biggest threats to Twitter itself.” He’s right. Student-athletes are humans (and, for the most part, kids). Nobody deserves this type of abuse. If something isn’t done, it may drive public figures away from the platform.

Student-athletes at all levels will deal with some form of hatred online. Some will be harmless, some will be abusive and demeaning. We recently did a session on cyberbullying and one student-athlete spoke up and acknowledged that he receives hundreds of hateful messages online daily. It was a powerful moment that opened the eyes of this reality to other student-athletes and administrators. Coaches and staff need to be aware of it, and need to be having continuous conversations with their players about it. Procedures need to be put in place, especially when it crosses the line into cyberbullying. This isn’t something that they should deal with alone.

With that said, here are 4 ways student-athletes can handle the online haters:

1. Ignore it. This seems simple enough, but the reality is it’s difficult. When you open up your Twitter app and see a notification that somebody has tweeted something to you, you want to read it. It could be a friend, a fan, a family member, or a hater. Being a competitor, you want to respond when somebody calls you out. When somebody challenges you. But why give value and attention to somebody who doesn’t deserve it? Jon Acuff, in his ebook The Hater Handbook, has this to say about ignoring online critics:

A stranger. Someone I’ve never met. Someone I’ll never meet. Someone whose sum total investment in my life thus far has been the forty-seven seconds he spent writing a Facebook or Twitter comment…You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. You don’t need to prove that you’re good enough. He doesn’t get a vote in that.

As Herm Edwards said on a recent ESPN Radio interview about arguing with and acknowledging the haters, “You’re empowering the wrong people.”

2. Retweet it. A number of student-athletes, and other public figures, have taken this route. Rather than responding to the person and engaging in a battle nobody wins, they’ll just retweet the abuse. Why? Three reasons. One, it lets people see the hatred they deal with online. Two, to expose the person attacking them online. It’s easy to tweet something abusive to a student-athlete, thinking nobody else will see it. If they retweet it to their 5000 followers? The game has changed. Those tweeting hateful and violent things to student-athletes shouldn’t be allowed to hide in anonymity. Third, they let their fans and supporters deal with it. Prior to their football game against Oklahoma in 2011, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden received this horrible tweet from a “fan” of OU:

It’s terrible all the way around, made significantly worse by the fact that members of the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team had died in a plane crash just two weeks earlier (not to mention the plane crash involving the men’s basketball team years earlier). After Weeden responded with the above tweet, OSU and OU fans alike went after the kid, eventually ending up in his being dismissed from the college baseball team he played for (yes, this was one student-athlete abusing another online). Weeden knew that responding to the hater himself wouldn’t do any good, so he let his fans take care of it for him. And they did.

3. Block them. The “block” feature on Twitter is terrific, and one that I don’t think enough student-athletes utilize. Don’t want somebody reading your tweets? Block them. Tired of getting abused or attacked by a user? Block them. When you block them, they won’t see your tweets (unless they logout and manually go to twitter.com/yourusername) and, if they try to tweet something to you, you won’t see it. They’ll have to create a new Twitter account if they want to continue attacking you online (some are sick enough that they will actually do this). This also frees up your mentions/replies, allowing you to see messages from those you actually want to interact with. Those who are supporting you and tweeting you positive things. In other words, those who actually deserve your attention.

4. Delete your account. To the point that you just can’t deal with the online haters? Delete your account. In my opinion, this is a last resort. It lets the haters win. It tells them that they got to you and that what they did is ok. That they’ve overpowered the positive reasons you use social media. That they are louder and more impactful than your supporters. With Twitter and Instagram growing in popularity among young adults, deleting your account on these platforms can be a difficult thing to do.

Hiding behind a computer screen or an iPhone keyboard gives people an extra dose of courage (and idiocy). Internet tough guys will tweet out things that they wouldn’t dare dream of saying to your face – or to anybody else, for that matter. They don’t deserve your attention or direct response.

Ignore the critics. Ignore the haters. Haters are looking for a response. A reaction. It’s difficult, but don’t give them what they want. Nobody wins in a Twitter argument. You can be right but wrong at the same time. Instead, focus on those who add value to your online experience. Focus on staying positive and engaging with those who do the same.

Fieldhouse Media is an award-winning firm dedicated to helping athletics departments get the most out of their social media efforts, from educating student-athletes and staff to providing an overall strategy. To find out more about us or to join the more than 70 schools utilizing our services for their athletics department, contact us today.

*this was originally posted in February of 2013 but has been updated.

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