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CyberAbuse in sport: beware and be aware!
  1. Emma Kavanagh1,
  2. Margo Mountjoy2,3
  1. 1Sport Psychology and Safe Sport, Bournemouth University, Poole, UK
  2. 2Family Medicine, McMaster University Michael G DeGroote School of Medicine, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3Games Group, International Olympic Committee, Lausanne, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Margo Mountjoy, Family Medicine, McMaster University Michael G DeGroote School of Medicine, Waterloo, Canada; mountjm{at}

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What is #Cyberabuse?

As demonstrated in the social media posts of netball athletes Stacey Francis-Bayman and Jo Harten, online abuse of athletes is shockingly violent and unfiltered, and radiates beyond those who experience it directly to those who witness it (figure 1). There are benefits associated with time spent online such as the opportunity for self-presentation and representation, providing a platform for advocacy and amplification of voice on wider social issues, all of which have the potential to support athlete welfare.1 However, it is now recognised that online environments can be unfriendly, combative and confrontational, and therefore, provide the optimal climate for harassment and abuse.2 As a mechanism for enabling abuse, online environments augment harm(s) that can occur in physical spaces and have created new forms of violence unique to these spaces. Currently, the literature in the sporting domain concerning abuse in online environments is sparse and has focused primarily on abuse targeting athletes via social networking sites.3

Figure 1

Abusive social media post.

A variety of terms have been adopted to describe behaviours that can be classed as violent or abusive interactions online including but not limited to online hate, cyber harassment, virtual maltreatment and cyber abuse. Kavanagh et al presented a typology for #CyberAbuse defining abusive interactions enabled by social media platforms as ‘direct or non-direct online communication that is stated in an aggressive, exploitative, manipulative, threatening or lewd manner and is designed to elicit fear, emotional or psychological upset, distress, alarm or feelings of inferiority’.4 Four types of abuse are common in social media spaces: physical, sexual, emotional and discriminatory based on gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality (xenophobia) and/or disability—abuse which is often experienced in multiplicity and intersectional in nature.

Athletes, sports journalists, coaches, sports fans and officials …

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  • Twitter @margo.mountjoy

  • Contributors Both authors responsible for conception and design and revising the manuscript. EK was responsible for preliminary drafting.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests MM is a member of a Deputy Editor of the British Journal of Sports Medicine and is a member of the Editorial Board of the Injury Prevention+Health Promotion Editions, BJSM.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.