Its Just Megabantz, Innit? LOL: Justifying Virtual Maltreatment in Sport.
Start date: 7 July 2014
Recent years have seen a considerable shift in the ways in which athletes and fans communicate (Pegoraro, 2010), with social media allowing direct and immediate communication between fans and athletes allowing gatekeepers such as officials and journalists to be bypassed (Hutchins, 2011). As a consequence, fans now have unprecedented access to athletes (Kassing and Sanderson, 2010), becoming closer to their heroes (Pegoraro, 2010). As Suler (2004, p.321) notes, however, “people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t normally say and do in face-to-face interaction”. As a consequence, there is a growing evidence of widespread online maltreatment against athletes and officials involving “direct or non-direct online communication that is stated in an aggressive, exploitative, manipulative, threatening or lewd manner designed to elicit fear, emotional or psychological upset, distress, alarm or feelings of inferiority” (Kavanagh & Jones, 2013). Despite recent high profile incidents, the question of how such behaviour may be justified by perpetrators has yet to be explored, Using a netnographic (Kozinets, 2010) approach, an analysis of two public forums (the Guardian, Digital Spy), identified four strategies to justify online abuse against athletes. These were Dissociative imagination (Suler 2004), or the view that online abuse is somehow “not real”; Externalising cognitive distortions (Barriga, et al 2000), or viewing online maltreatment as just “banter”, and two moral disengagement strategies (Pornari & Wood, 2010), these being Displacement of responsibility (blaming the online medium itself rather than taking personal responsibility), and Moral justification (the victim deserved it).