C’MON BOYS & GIRLS. PLAY NICE!
Back when I was growing up going to the footy was a bruising affair.
Often times you would need to stand for the whole game, and it was an environment in which men, upon the sounding of the opening siren, would turn into Neanderthals who spewed forth abuse of every type, from sexual to racial.
It was taken for granted that men, both players and spectators, could act that way and any women – should they be bothered attending – were expected to put up with it, given they had entered a man’s world.
Football codes around Australia – but I speak mostly of AFL as that is my code – realised that such circumstances were not only out of place within modern society, they were also bad for business. Footy remains a place of passion, fervour and of agony and joy, but now such abuse is singled out and not only frowned upon but can lead to penalties for both players and spectators.
It seems however that those blokes who were abusive at the footy have now just drifted online to political blogs.
In research for my book, The Rise of the Fifth Estate, I found that while more blogs on Australian politics were written by men, when it came to the participation of women on blogs – whether on the mainstream sites or independent blogs – the tone of the debate was the crucial driver.
News sites that want to be trusted need to realise that content now includes the comments as well as the articles.
Just as the AFL saw the way to expand their business was to encourage an environment where both men and women would feel comfortable, so too must news sites know that unless they want to remain bound to a shrinking market they need to create an environment where all feel able to participate.
One of the most astonishing openings to an article on social media I’ve ever read was by Helen Lewis writing for the New Standard last November when she wrote: “You always remember the first time someone calls you ugly on the internet. I imagine – although it hasn’t happened to me – you always remember the first time someone threatens to rape you, or kill you, or urinate on you.”
I wonder if Prime Minister Julia Gillard can remember the first time she read such abuse directed at her?
My guess is not, so often and for so long has the criticism been flung her way.
Of course she, as our first woman Prime Minister, must deal with a louder volume of abuse than do most women – including those who work in the media – but nonetheless she is certainly not alone in having been the victim of such abuse.
It was interesting to see her call out the abuse she receives for what it is when in her marathon press conference she referred to “the misogynists and the nut jobs on the internet”.
As someone who has a number of relatives who favour the more conservative side of politics I already receive numerous emails from them wondering what I have to say about the “facts” regarding the welfare received by asylum seekers or the horrors of our government debt.
No doubt many readers have also come across such bits of what they see as “disinformation”.
Thus the Government and the Prime Minister already operate in this age where any controversial policy position can lead to a flood of excremental information via email, blogs, Twitter and talk-back radio (usually the first place any internet sewerage is flushed into the mainstream).
In the midst of this mass of information, the Prime Minister threw the problem back onto her questioners. She noted, “despite the changing economics of the media industry, I think highly professional, ethical journalism will become more valued, not less valued”. Such rosiness however came with a responsibility and a challenge.
The Prime Minister saw the reason for this high value is because people “will look within that sea of stuff for the things that they believe they can trust, which puts all of you in an interesting position.”
An interesting position indeed – especially as the traditional media becomes increasingly merged with social media – where consumers are no longer passive, but instead readers who want to be part of the conversation.
Such a point will mean that not only will readers look for news they can trust, they will increasingly look for environments they can trust – and for women (and many men) this will include environments where misogyny and abuse won’t be tolerated.
*Greg Jericho writes a weekly blog for ABC Online’s The Drum. From 2006 to 2011 he worked as a Commonwealth public servant, mostly in the film policy division. He has a PhD in English literature and an honours degree in economics. He also writes, blogs, and tweets as his alter-ego, @GrogsGamut.
The Rise of the Fifth Estate is the first book to examine the emergence of social media as a new force in the coverage of Australian politics. You can read an extract here.
Using original research, Greg Jericho demystifies the Australian political blogosphere and tackles head-on some of its key developments, such as: The way that Australia’s journalists and federal politicians use social media and digital news; the motivations of bloggers and tweeters; the treatment of female participants and the eruption of Twitter wars.