Some days, being a human being on social media feels a lot like being in a Liam Neeson movie. When the enemy wants to play dirty, the enemy goes after your family. And in a post this weekend on his blog, former Red Sox Curt Schilling shared what it feels like.
As Schilling describes it, after years of coaching her and watching her play sports, he was elated last week to learn his only daughter has been "accepted to college and will begin playing softball there next year." And like many a proud parent, he shared that news. He admits that after getting a few not unexpected "can't wait to party with her" remarks he shot back a relatively tame comment about his "friends in special forces." And then it got ugly. As he puts it, he started seeing "tweets with the word rape, bloody underwear and pretty much every other vulgar and defiling word you could likely fathom began to follow."
Schilling, who calls himself "a jock my whole life" generously says, "I get it. Guys will be guys. Guys will say dumb crap, often." But this was different. This was, "Teach me your knuckle ball technique so I can shove my fist in your daughter." This was a series of specific references to parts of a real young woman's body, and about specific acts these people imagined doing to them. And Schilling says that "I have zero issues being made fun of. It’s part of living and playing sports your whole life and when you’re built like I am you need to develop a defensive strategy early in life." What he quite justifiably has a problem with is dealing with an upset a daughter who "didn’t do anything, she never said anything, yet she’s now receiving personal messages with guys saying things to her… What part of talking about a young woman, my daughter or not, makes you even consider the possibility that this is either funny or makes you tough?" He mentions it wasn't too hard for him to figure out who these people tweeting at him were – "pretty much ALL white, affluent, college attending children, and I mean children… making conscious choices to cyberbully an amazing and beautiful young woman on the internet." And pretty much all operating on the assumption they wouldn't be held accountable -- until Schilling did just that. As he says, "I found it rather funny at how quickly tone changed when I heard via email from a few athletes who’d been suspended by their coaches."
Because I am on record as having daughters, I periodically get messages from individuals eager to express their hope that my girls experience sexual assault, or mere failure and pain, or that they turn on me and murder me. Some of it's pretty descriptive. This is what these creeps do. This is how they get to you. And the reason I try to be discreet about my children online isn't just fear of earning a place on STFU, Parents. Yet last year, when Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a revealing feature for the Washington Post on the challenges that the partners of women who are routinely harassed online face, she didn't even mention the abundant abuse their children are vulnerable to. But as Schilling's tale makes clear, you don't even have to be an uppity feminist for your kids to become targets. You just have to, by your presence in the world and acknowledgment of a family, exist.
It's frighteningly easy online for people to be abusive, but it's frighteningly easy for them to turn vigilante too. A perusal of the comments on Schilling's blog reveals people eagerly trying to track down the trolls' personal information, including their workplaces, schools and phone numbers. One of the original Twitter abusers even leapt into the conversation to say, "I made a very large mistake which in a day has changed the way I think about what I say, post, or do and the repercussions it has." Another of Schilling's trolls has already been fired from his part-time job as a ticket taker for the Yankees, while yet another has been suspended from his college, pending a disciplinary hearing.
Believe me when I say that on my list of things I eagerly avoid in this life, Republicans and Red Sox are high up on my top five. Believe me further when I say that the Internet penchant for gleeful retribution frightens and alarms me, which is why I choose not to name the creeps when they aim at my family. Because it's a short trip from pointing out what's already public information and doxxing, and because I don't want anybody's families and associates to suffer too. But where Schilling and I are kindred spirits is that we're both parents who love our kids and want to protect them. We're parents who happen to believe that our daughters should not be subjected to ugly sexual insults for any reason whatsoever -- including simply being somebody's child. And we know all too well, as Schilling says, "We live in a world that in some cases despises women.”