The comments were vile and, in many cases, disgusting.
With her husband, James, playing goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the team struggling in a game early last spring as their playoff hopes faded, April Reimer began receiving a barrage of cruel messages on social media.
From there, things escalated, as some fans somehow discovered her cellphone number and anonymously made menacing phone calls and sent disturbing texts.
She got the police involved, and they were able to find those responsible.
“Sad to say, I’ve had these kinds of comments for years,” she said. “You kind of get a little numb to them.”
Now, after months of preparation, she intends to do something about it.
On Thursday morning, Reimer spoke to 200 kids at Park Lawn Middle School in Toronto about cyberbullying, part of what she hopes will become a national campaign in the coming weeks and months. Partnered with the Canadian Safe School Network, Reimer intends for the work to become her full-time job, using her celebrity to help promote and foster a good cause.
The campaign will be called Tweet Sweet – with a website set up at tweetsweet.ca – and those who use the hashtag will be eligible to win a pair of Leafs tickets twice a month.
The effort comes at a controversial time for social media. In the past year, there has been a growing conversation over how difficult it can be to be a woman on Twitter, in particular, with high-profile politicians and journalists dealing with anonymous rape and death threats on the medium.
One story in the Washington Post last month about the issue had the provocative headline “Rape threats, then no response: What it was like to be a woman on Twitter in 2014.”
The Pacific Standard’s assessment was even more blunt: “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.”
“Twitter has become a place for abuse, and for women and people of colour in particular,” women’s advocate Jennifer Pozner said in the Post piece. “The company knows it and has done precious little.”
The story that resonates most with Reimer, however, is that of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old from near her hometown of Maple Ridge, B.C., who committed suicide three years ago after relentless online bullying.
When Reimer became the subject of attacks by Leafs fans, she felt there was an uglier undercurrent to it all beyond a few harmless messages from strangers.
“I knew her story,” Reimer said of Todd. “I saw how the online community can be very destructive.”
Rather than approach Twitter about changing its policies, Reimer views a grassroots campaign through schools as the best way to speak directly to a generation that’s coming of age with these issues at the forefront.
She could give the movement a much-needed spokeswoman, too.
“Cyberbullying has just taken off,” said Stu Auty, president of the Canadian Safe School Network. “And it’s tremendously damaging, particularly for young kids. They make mistakes, and regrettably, they’re permanent if they’re posted. It’s a big deal.
“She can make a difference hopefully and raise some awareness to this. She does have a profile … and she’s a very bright young woman. She’s very sincere.”
Only 25, Reimer explained that, as a hockey wife, she has a lot of time on her hands, and her background includes plenty of experience as an activist and with public speaking. She and her husband split life between Maple Ridge and Toronto, depending on the season, and finding seasonal work can be difficult.
There remains the looming possibility of a trade, too, but she hopes this can become an enduring cause, wherever they end up.
“I hope to be very busy,” Reimer said. “I don’t charge the schools to come.
“At least this is taking a negative situation and using it for something positive,” she added. “It’s not like this happened for no reason. And [bullying] happens to everybody. It’s not just hockey wives.”Report Typo/Error