AFLW star Tayla Harris, the subject of the photo at the centre of an online trolling storm in women’s footy, says she felt sexually abused by comments on social media.
- Tayla Harris said the “repulsive” comments made her uncomfortable
- Harris said she was worried for the trolls’ wives and daughters
- Harris said the trolls needed to be held accountable
The photo, taken by Michael Wilson, showed Harris in full flight, kicking for goal during last weekend’s AFLW round and drew plenty of attention, with many seeing the photo as inspirational.
But the Seven Network came under fire for removing a post with the photo from social media after it was bombarded with misogynistic comments.
Seven did eventually repost the image, with an apology, saying the removal had sent the wrong message and that it wanted to celebrate women’s footy.
Harris said she was repulsed by some of the comments online, saying she was subjected to “sexual abuse on social media”.
“The comments I saw were sexual abuse, if you can call it that, because it was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable,” she told RSN Radio.
“That is what I would consider sexual abuse on social media.”
She said the comments made her worry for what may be happening behind closed doors, in the trolls’ family homes, warning they may be indicative of domestic violence.
“I don’t want to give oxygen to the trolls, but one thing that happens to come to my mind when I saw the comments … I can see in people’s photos they’ve got kids, or they’ve got daughters or women in their photos even, and that is the stuff I’m worried about,” she said.
“Perhaps this is an issue that might need to go further, because 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 take it further. This is the start of domestic violence, maybe this is the start of abuse and the comments that I saw were sexual abuse. It was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable.
“Whether it’s Victoria Police or whatever it is, need to contact these people and give them some sort of warning. Facebook need to delete them and something needs to happen.
“We can talk about it as much as we want, but they are not listening. And [the trolls] are probably smiling about it because we’re talking about it.”
Harris said she would not be making a complaint to police about the social media comments.
She said she was grateful for the support she received after labelling those that had targeted her online “animals”.
“A lot of people [have] got on board including Patrick Dangerfield and other high-profile people [who] posted the photo and said ‘let’s share this rather than deleting it and letting them win essentially’,” Harris said.
“I kind of saw that and felt a bit warm inside, it felt great. Obviously the AFL community got around me and that was awesome, but it isn’t about me now, it’s about a way bigger picture.”
Seven prompts anger over removing photo, then apologises
The Seven Network’s initial decision to delete the post showing Harris drew sharp criticism from sports stars, including former Olympic cyclist Anna Meares and fellow AFLW player Darcy Vescio, who accused the network of bowing to pressure from trolls.
In response, Seven reposted the image last night and apologised for the way it handled the matter, saying the decision to delete “sent the wrong message”.
“Many of the comments made on the post were reprehensible and we’ll work harder to ban trolls from our pages,” it said.
“Our intention was to highlight Tayla Harris’ incredible athleticism and we’ll continue to celebrate women’s footy.”
The photo is the latest flashpoint for the AFLW, which has had to deal with a notable amount of comments from trolls on social media since the league was launched in 2017.
There has been a groundswell of support for Harris, including from the photographer who took the image, and AFLW head Nicole Livingstone.
While many people have praised Seven for reposting the image, the network has still faced criticism online for the way it handled the troll backlash.
“The social media intern went home for the day and none of us can be bothered to moderate the comments, so we’ve decided to just remove the image and go to the pub instead. We’d also like to reiterate our 100% commitment to women’s footy,” one person wrote sarcastically.
It is not the first time the digital team at Seven has come under scrutiny for the way it promotes the women’s game.
During a media session before this season, Seven filmed five AFLW captains looking into the camera and responding to misogynistic comments with the message: we don’t care what you think.
While some lauded the move, others feared it could encourage trolls who would feel validated by the attention.
‘They proudly post photos of their wives and daughters’
AFLW head Nicole Livingstone said the image had again been posted to AFLW social channels on Tuesday night, and her team had worked through the night to moderate comments.
“Again there are a minority that feel that it’s appropriate to make these kinds of comments, and to be honest I looked at a lot of them [the trolls] online and they proudly post photos of their wives and daughters,” she said.
“So I’m perplexed why they feel the need to make these kinds of comments.
“We’re working to moderate and do the best that we can — one of our photos had 5,500 comments on it.
“So we are working hard to try and moderate this and delete anything that is inappropriate in content, but we do also encourage people that the standard they walk past is the standard they accept and to call it out.”
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said “a broader accountability by the general public” was a big part of the solution.
“There is negativity in lots of aspects of our game and the community. It’s an open platform so that can happen,” McLachlan said.
“But when it’s unacceptable commentary, more and more people are calling that out — and that’s what’s happened here.
“It’s a challenging space. When we’re posting stuff, I know the guys work hard to moderate that and take comments down. It’s a big wide world out there.”
‘It’s not acceptable to troll and put people down’
Echoing the calls for public accountability was 2017 AFLW best-and-fairest recipient Erin Phillips.
“It was obviously disappointing taking down the photo but I think the greatest thing is the response from what happened,” Phillips said.
“I think there needs to be more accountability with people that do have accounts and you should somewhat have a profile, almost attached to your driver’s licence, because there’s a lot of trolls that get away with things and it shouldn’t be allowed, it’s not right.
“In saying that, what a fantastic response from the community to get behind Tayla and just show how much support there is behind her and women’s sport.
“What a great photo … and what an unbelievable athlete she is.
“I think out of this disappointing incident, it’s empowered her and it’s shown the community and Australia, first of all it’s not acceptable to troll and put people down, and another thing, look how fantastic women’s sport is and obviously Tayla is a part of that.”
Fremantle captain Kara Donnellan said it was encouraging to see the AFL community rally around Harris.
“I suppose the great thing about football is that it brings so many people together when issues like this arise,” she said.
“It’s been fantastic to see the football community all come together in support of AFLW and Tayla Harris, and try to stamp out all of those comments. It’s not needed, it’s not wanted and there’s no space in the AFL for that.”
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