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Should Social Media Hate Speech Go Unpunished?

09 Apr

chris-symeEditor’s Note: This post original appeared on, and as Chris Syme knows that cyberbullying is an issue that I elaborate on often here on my blog, she was kind enough to offer this post as an addition to our cyberbullying collection of information, resources and awareness.

Sports fans have the most passion of anyone on the face of the earth. There’s something about competition that brings out the best and worst in people. Recently, we got to witness a little of the dark side.

When the University of Kansas men’s basketball team beat Iowa State in overtime last Monday, all hell broke loose on Twitter, and not in a good way. The game was forced to overtime on a very controversial call, which has since invoked possible discipline by the Big 12 Conference for the referees involved. To add insult to injury, a Kansas player punctuated the overtime period with a showy dunk when Kansas had already sealed the game by ten points. Following the game, one ISU student tried to accost the Kansas coach, but was detained by police. Two Iowa State students made threats and racial slurs on Twitter, including a threat to bring a loaded gun to the Kansas team bus. The student body government at Iowa State has issued an apology to Coach Bill Self, according to an article in USA Today.

Now the questions start: should the students that made the threats be expelled? There is a bigger issue we need to examine here. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that death threats and social media hate speech have emerged in online networks. State laws vary and there are questions about how federal laws should be enforced online. But the authority to enforce discipline in this case begins with the university. Currently, the school and local police are said to be involved in investigations. The verdict is still out. Another issue comes to light. Who is responsible for protecting the student-athletes?

Some think we should train our student-athletes to talk back, stick up for themselves, and retweet the hateful messages to expose the villains. My concern is that we are talking about highly vulnerable 18-22 year-olds here who are being exposed consistently to hateful and brutal remarks from angry fans. Wouldn’t a better solution be to involve the athletic department administration in the process?

Athletic departments should consider appointing a social media advocate, of sorts, within the department that student-athletes can contact in real-time when they receive such abusive messages. It might be a coach or assistant coach, compliance officer, or department administrator.  That adult employee should be empowered by the department to take action on behalf of the athlete, whether it’s call the fan out publicly, send them an email, contact the police, or whatever appropriate action will begin the resolution process. Student-athletes need to know that they are protected from such thugery by their schools.  We shouldn’t be leaving it up to these young people to fend for themselves on social media. This is an educational opportunity for athletes and schools alike. Cyber bullying is wrong and schools need to stand up for their students, and punish the offenders accordingly.

For more information and resources on cyberbullying, no matter where you are in the world, if you’re the bullied or if you’re a witness to someone else being bullied, click here.

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