Stacey May Fowles is a Toronto-based writer.
On Saturday, at 8:30 a.m., police officers showed up at 24-year-old Nicholas Kharshoum's door because he threatened a statue. Specifically, he tweeted that he would throw a 3.5-metre, 360-kilogram bronze statue of Ted Rogers – which stands outside the Rogers Centre – into the Toronto Harbour.
Mr. Kharshoum's rather aggressive message was spawned by worry that the Rogers-owned Toronto Blue Jays may not offer to pay future free agent Jose Bautista what he is asking. There is a degree of hilarity to his threat and the exaggerated reaction it spawned, mostly given the sheer impossibility of a single Blue Jays fan being able to uproot Ted from his podium and toss him into the lake. But there's also something infuriating about how seriously this comment was taken, and the rather prompt police action that followed. If you are a woman and active on the Internet, you'll probably know exactly what I mean.
The sentiment, tone and profane nature of Mr. Kharshoum's tweet is certainly not uncommon in the sports conversation. I know this because I've been on the receiving end of this kind of hostile jargon simply for having an opinion on the game. In fact, as a female sports fan, I spend much of my time doing two things: enduring aggressive online abuse from (mostly male) strangers, and being told either to ignore it or not to take it too seriously. I've faced cruelty and threats in comment sections, on social media, and from those who take it upon themselves to e-mail their unsolicited opinions. Although most of this onslaught is simply irritating, there have certainly been moments in my online life that I have been legitimately afraid.
There is always a degree of hopelessness to this kind of fear – our culture has made it clear that the toxic environment that exists for women online is not something we're really collectively willing to do anything about. When I received a rape threat in the comments section of a piece I wrote, I quite rightly had no expectation that police officers would arrive at the door of the stranger that decided to terrorize me. In fact, I didn't even expect the publication to delete it.
Whether intended or not, the message that this particular aggressive police action sends to those who have to live with this very real fear is that large corporate interests matter more than the safety of the individual. The issue is complex – those who feel threatened don't often file police reports, for a variety of reasons – but the sheer absurdity of such a quick and invasive response hits a real nerve with anyone who has received vitriol from anonymous strangers. It makes a mockery of what we endure.
When this very odd news broke, many women who have been legitimately afraid online expressed their disdain. Certainly Mr. Kharshoum should be more thoughtful about the tone and language he uses in a public forum, but it's ludicrous to suggest that anyone – Rogers staffer or otherwise – truly believed he had genuine plans to take down Ted.
If the authorities are interested in using their resources to deter online threats, it would be far more meaningful to show up at the door of someone who terrorized one of the countless women for whom online abuse is a genuine concern.
For what it's worth, the Toronto Police have conveyed that they take any threat against a person or property very seriously, but for those of us who face a daily reality of online abuse, this placation of baseless corporate fear feels like a slap in the face.