Let's Talk About Online Harms
Are you chronically online? In today’s world, it’s impossible not to be.
Online connectivity brings about a host of benefits. From connecting with your local sporting community, finding training plans, nutrition guidance and injury rehabilitation, information is readily available – in bite sized pieces to boot.
The average person spends more than one day per week online.
On the flip side, the ever-evolving interaction between our physical spaces and the online world is unchartered territory. When so much of our lives are lived online, it is safe to say that digital technologies are now an integral feature of everyday communication and activity (Kavanagh, Osborne & Jones, 2018).
When Dr Emma Kavanagh (Associate Professor in Sport Psychology and Safe Sport at Bournemouth University) was in town for the Global Coach Conference 2023, Safe Sport Commission Singapore invited her to lead a Communities of Practice (CoP) about online harms in sport. The CoP was attended by Safeguarding Officers, members of the Support Network, Sport Psychologists, and representatives of National Sporting Associations.
Online environments can provide a complete abandonment of social restrictions that might otherwise be present in a face-to-face interaction, providing a fertile space for abuse to occur (Kavanagh, Litchfield & Osborne, 2023; Osborne, Litchfield & Kavanagh, 2021).
While athletes are most thought of as victims of abuse, coaches, journalists, fans, and officials have all been targets of online abuse. Alexandria Olton, Sport Psychologist at the National Youth Sports Institute, shared her experience of online abuse:
“No one is safe. When we lost, fans blamed the Sport Psychologists for not adequately preparing the team. When we won, it was only on a technicality or by luck.”
Dr Kavanagh explained how power in virtual spaces contributed to online violence. Anonymity, distance, parasocial relationships, trigger events and lack of regulation emboldens users to behave in shockingly violent and unfiltered ways, vastly different to how they may behave in person. While online platforms have amplified the voices of abusers, there is equal possibility for the collective voice against abuse to be heard. We must use online platforms to speak out against abuse.
What can we do?
Online safety must be considered in the realm of Safe Sport. For young persons, they have never known a life without the online world. Furthermore, the 24/7 nature of online environments makes it impossible to switch off.
It is important to equip sport stakeholders with strategies to safeguard themselves online and interact with the online world in a way that is healthy for each individual. Having conversations about online safety, using “do not disturb” mode and blocking trigger words on social media sites were some measures identified by participants during the CoP.
Young people now experience sport in a different way, and it is important to be conscious that their relationships with the online world are constantly evolving. Online abuse can have significant impact on victims so we must respond with openness and compassion. For more guidance, check out the Australian eSafety Commissioner.
Thank you to Dr Emma Kavanagh for your time and insights!