On his nightly ABC talk show, Jimmy Kimmel has a lot of fun with the mean tweets people write, usually pseudonymously, about famous people online. It’s an excuse for endearing self-parody and self-effacement as the slandered celebrities read said tweets aloud and react honestly to them. The podcast Just Not Sports attempted something both similar and strikingly different recently with a startling PSA in which men read abusive tweets directly to female sports journalists. The brave reporters here, ESPN’s Sarah Spain and Sports Illustrated contributor Julie DiCaro, had screened the comments in advance, the video explains. The men reading the tweets had not. The point of the four-minute PSA is that women in sports are subject to a considerable amount of prejudice and verbal abuse, especially now that faceless, nameless users are able to spew bile on social media without any real consequences. The video starts off on a lighthearted note, much like a Kimmel segment. One comment made to DiCaro goes: “I’d like to start a petition for a ban on all links to Julie DiCaro’s Twitter feed.” Okay, fair enough. But, then, the video takes a decided turn. Just watch.
The atmosphere becomes incredibly tense as the tweets become more hateful, violent, and sexually explicit. Words like “bitch” and “cunt” are used like punctuation. Even though Spain and DiCaro know what’s coming, it’s clearly uncomfortable and traumatizing to hear these things said aloud. The male readers find it increasingly difficult to make eye contact with the women sitting directly across from them, and the tweets are separated by long, thoughtful pauses and quiet, half-mumbled apologies. At one point, a commenter requests that DiCaro be “Bill Cosby’s next victim.” Another says to her, “I hope you get raped again.” A tweet directed at Spain reads: “I hope your boyfriend beats you.” For those who use social media to express their frustrations, this is an occasion for self-reflection. Those wishing to delve further into this deeply uncomfortable topic via social media can do so using the hashtag #MoreThanMean.