Talking point: the dark side of social media
For all the positives they’ve brought to tennis, fans on social media have introduced an unprecedented level of negativity that is weighing heavily on players.
For all the positives they’ve brought to tennis, fans on social media have introduced an unprecedented level of negativity that is weighing heavily on the very players that attracted them to the game in the first place.
Tennis fans have never had it better. Not only are they in the midst of a golden era in tennis, but they also enjoy the most connected relationship with their tennis heroes than any previous generation.
Players are taking to all forms of social media, letting fans into their lives while simultaneously trying to achieve their sporting dreams and goals that they have sacrificed all for since they were children.
You can enjoy Andrea Petkovic’s musings through various platforms on her website. You can watch Novak Djokovic goofing around in the locker room on YouTube. Want an update on Sam Stosur’s latest training session, or Maria Sharapova’s new outfit? You can like them on Facebook and check out their images. Did you know that Casey Dellacqua had a sleepover recently at her beloved Nan’s house? She posted a twit-pic. Want to see what baby Michaela Bryan (Bob’s daughter) is up to, or Andy Murray’s dog Maggie May? You can follow them both on Twitter.
Such an insight into the lives of players never used to exist. It’s an exciting addition to the game that makes the players seem more real and relatable, not just the superhuman athletes that can crunch a tennis ball over and over for hours – though it’s also marvellous to watch someone play the sport we love so much better than we could ever hope to.
Fans should count themselves as lucky and blessed. Yet there seems to be a disproportionately high number who are forever disgruntled.
If a player loses, what’s the response? Sure, there’s plenty of supportive comments. But interspersed throughout these is a stream of negativity. That player “sucks”. Their loss is symptomatic of the tennis fortunes of their native country. They choked. They tanked. They’re fat. They let everyone down. They’re a bad example for young players. The armchair critics never miss a chance to get their claws out, highlighted in an article by Sports Illustrated’s Courtney Nguyen following Laura Robson’s first-round loss in Dubai.
It was this kind of abuse that forced young Canadian talent Rebecca Marino to step away from the game for seven months in 2012, not long after she rose to prominence by cracking the top 40.
“Things were being written about me, and I’m quite sensitive about that … With professional athletes, people put them on a pedestal sometimes, and they forget that they’re actually a person still,” the 22-year-old revealed recently in an interview with the New York Times’ “Straight Sets” blog.
“They’ll say, ‘You gave that match away, you cost me such-and-such amount of money, you should go burn in hell,’ or ‘You should go die.’ And oh, my gosh, that is really scary.”
That quote references the abuse Marino received after losing matches that gamblers had placed money on, a subject that author Ben Rothenberg explored in another article for the New York Times. Rothenberg reports that Janko Tipsarevic, Rhyne Williams and Amer Delic have all received demoralising communication via social media from angered gamblers who had lost money due to the outcome of their matches.
Revealed Delic: “I would get like messages … saying like, ‘Oh, you tanked this match!’ with all the cusswords, blah blah blah. ‘I know where your grandparents live!’ I mean, I would laugh at them afterward, but it was just like I’d get that all the time — even now.
“I knew when I got on Twitter that it was going to happen — the same thing happened on Facebook and whatever. It’s just the way it is, because it’s the social media and that’s the way it works.”
But why should it be this way? And since when did gamblers ever earn the right to take the moral high ground?
Thank goodness for comment moderation. This function exists for articles and other forms of media on several tennis websites, and as one of the staff working on australianopen.com, I’ve had the task at times of moderating the thousands of fan comments in response to news posted on the website. While much of it is positive and supportive, many comments – most notably pertaining to the Williams sisters, most often relating to their physical appearance, gender and race – are vitriolic. Comments are deleted, and the author of said comments promptly black-listed. There is no place for such hate in the game, or anywhere, for that matter.
Little wonder then that Marino discontinued her presence on social media when announcing last week that she would be stepping away for the game a second time – most likely for good. Although long-lasting depression had apparently played a significant role in her decision, she also admitted that social media had been “taking its toll”.
“Honestly I’ve had enough of the internet, twitter and facebook. I am now deleting everything. Heck I should even throw out my computer … So goodbye twitter!” she said in a parting tweet.
To all those people secreted away in their homes, trolling the internet from behind the safety of an avatar or screen-name, fingers poised for another outburst or personal attack – take a second. Open your blinds. Shut down your computer. Get outside and enjoy the world. Focus on enriching your own life and personality, rather than bringing down others because of theirs. Perhaps even go for a hit of tennis – it’s easy, right?
Just do something else, rather than let your toxic words and sentiments continue to pervade cyberspace. Rebecca Marino is gone. Please don’t force any more players away from the game you so purport to love.
The ideas expressed in this article are those of the author, not Tennis Australia.