|A New York Post article detailed the harassment of Gabby Schilling.|
By Kim Tarasiewicz
When baseball great Curt Schilling tweeted congratulations to his daughter, Gabby, on being accepted to play softball at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, he likely didn't expect that the response from some men on Twitter would be to threaten to rape her with a baseball bat. Or their fists. They weren't particularly picky.
He was upset and appalled – and rightly so. Now he is pursuing legal means to press charges. I, for one, am pleased to see someone making it clear that threatening and demeaning online statements are acceptable. Not just the bullying, which everyone agrees is wrong, but the idea of online anonymity and the breakdown of common courtesy and respect. Many of the offenders in this case were not teens, but were young adults who should have known better.
Working in online marketing and media, I wasn't surprised to learn how easy it was for Schilling to track down and uncover the real-life identities of the offenders. We've written about social media “privacy” before on the PR Lawyer, but it’s amazing how many people who use social media do so without truly understanding that nothing is anonymous.
“It was easier than anyone might think,” wrote the New York Post. “Schilling, 48, began Googling their Twitter handles, their online friends, tracking down their Facebook and Instagram pages, following all the little cyber bread crumbs we unknowingly leave behind each day.”
How did these men think they wouldn't be found? But more importantly, how did they think this was acceptable behavior in the first place?
After two of the men were identified, they faced consequences of their own. One, a Yankees employee, was fired from his job, and the other, a New Jersey community college student, was suspended and “will be scheduled for a conduct hearing where further disciplinary action will be taken,” according to a statement the college posted on its Facebook page on March 2.
The public relations fallout for both the men and the organizations to which they are tied is very real. The college had to do damage control by suspending the student, dealing with the police and putting out a statement of apology. Now every time someone runs a search for that college, this will show up in the newsfeed - probably not helping recruiting and, I’m certain, causing long-term public relations issues for the college.
From the liability aspect, the legal rules and precedents of social media are just beginning to be formed, and my guess is much development and change still is to come. Social media is a new focus for law firms and attorneys have begun to caution their clients to refrain from using social media when they are a defendant in a case. Social media statements are also starting to be admitted as evidence in some court cases.
While the full legal ramifications of the Schilling case have yet to be seen, the public reaction has been clear. The general population is fed up with online haters, and it’s time for things to change. My hope is that the courts agree and rule in favor of civility and respect.