To say AFLW player Tayla Harris has been caught in a social media storm is an understatement.
It began when 7AFL posted a remarkable photo of her, mid flight, in a game that was removed late on Tuesday because the trolling it attracted on Facebook and Twitter was so vile.
In response to that decision Harris proudly posted the image herself, which was then shared thousands and thousands of times.
Here’s a pic of me at work… think about this before your derogatory comments, animals. pic.twitter.com/68aBVVbTTj
— Tayla Harris (@taylaharriss) March 19, 2019
After trending on various social media platforms and making TV headlines, on Wednesday morning 7AFL apologised for removing the image and reinstated it.
We're sorry. Removing the photo sent the wrong message.
Many of the comments made on the post were reprehensible & we'll work harder to ban trolls from our pages.
— 7AFL (@7AFL) March 19, 2019
Harris has felt “empowered” by the incredible response to the image and everything it represents. But she is also disturbed.
In a radio interview with RSN Breakfast on Wednesday morning she zeroed in on exactly what is so disconcerting:
“I don’t want to give oxygen to the trolls but there is something on my mind through all of this.
I read the comments. I know I shouldn’t do that but it’s hard. I did so I saw them.
And some of the people who said things… I can see in their profiles they’ve got kids, or daughters, or women in their photos and that’s the stuff I’m worried about.”
"I can see in people's profile pictures and they have women in their photos. What are these people saying behind closed doors?"
— RSN Breakfast Club (@RSNBreakfast) March 19, 2019
“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?
These people need to be called out. By the AFL, yes, but maybe it needs to go further.
Maybe this is the start of domestic violence or maybe it’s the start of abuse. The comments I saw were sexual abuse. It was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable.
Whether it’s the Victorian police or someone else, something needs to happen. They need to be warned. They’re not listening and they’re probably even smiling because we’re talking about it. Something needs to go further.”
Harris is right. Trolling isn’t an activity removed from reality. It’s not peddled by robots. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is propagated by human beings, our fellow citizens, our co-workers, our fellow commuters, our friends, men in the coffee queue. These are the individuals who are willing not just to write despicable things but to abuse women. To resort to threats of sexual violence. To deride and debase women publicly.
And it has consequences. It is ludicrous to pretend that a person can make the choice to threaten a stranger online in one moment, and in the next be respectful towards the women around them. It is an either or proposition. You either respect women as human beings, full stop, or you don’t.
And if you don’t the problem goes well beyond a phone or a laptop or a social media platform.
Tayla Harris is right: there needs to be consequences for every single person who wrote something vile and abusive under that image.