Baseball Star Turned Internet Vigilante. Social Media Trolls Beware

Something interesting happened the other day that well and truly blurred the lines between real life and the one that lives in the digital world called social media. They are fast becoming one and the same if they haven’t already. There is no better example of a blurred line than when people behave very badly in the digital world and don’t expect consequences or retribution. In other words, you can’t go round dissing people and not expect it to come back to bite you. What goes around comes around and in this case boy did it come around. It all centres on someone unlikely. Someone, you wouldn’t expect to be a digital crusader. His name is Curt Schilling. If you follow baseball in the United States then you’ll know he’s a bit of a legend of the game. But it’s not his baseball exploits that we are talking about.

Curt Schilling turned himself into a troll hunter and a pretty effective one at that after his daughter became the target of what can only be described as vicious online social media abuse and bullying. I think it would be fair to say that her father’s sporting notoriety might have been a motivating factor for the abuse. But it was uncalled for and thoroughly unpleasant. People who do this kind of thing are cowards. They hide behind the anonymity that social media generously gives them except they did not count on Schilling.

The former Red Sox pitcher acted swiftly, publicly humiliating his targets and getting some of them fired from their jobs and suspended from university. It was internet vigilantism at its finest. It all began when Schilling had the temerity to tweet his congratulations to his 17-year-old daughter, Gabriella, on gaining a softball scholarship. I mean the arrogance of the man. What was he thinking? Apparently major league baseball stars aren’t allowed to express parental pride in the achievements of their offspring. Or so some people seem to think. Schilling was just like any other Dad who sees his kid stand up on their own two feet and achieve something in life. Good on him I say for being a father taking an interest in his child.

Schilling says as a world famous sports star and avid social media user, he was expecting the inevitable “smart ass college kid” replies, which included “I’ll take care of her” and “Can’t wait to party with her.” But he was horrified at the torrent of graphic and violent comments that followed. “I want to come and play but Gabby wants me to *** and stay,” said one. “Teach me your knuckleball technique so I can shove my **** in your daughter,” read another.

In what is now the hallmark of the troll, the tweets mentioned rape, as well as bloody underwear, “and pretty much every other vulgar and defiling word you could likely fathom,” Schilling said.

So Curt Schilling drew a line in the sand and said enough. But that’s not all. No sir. If you are going to play with fire, best not invite Curt Schilling to the party because you are going to get badly burned. Schilling used his position in the public eye to out the internet trolls. He identified two of them in particular, who had made little or no attempt to conceal their true identity. One was Adam Nagel, a sophomore at Brookdale Community College, who called himself The Sports Guru. The other, with the username Hollywood, was vice president of the Theta Xi fraternity at Montclair State University. “I was a jock my whole life,” Schilling said. “I played sports my whole life. Baseball since I was 5, until I retired at 41. I know clubhouses. I lived in a dorm. I get it. Guys will be guys. Guys will say dumb crap, often. But I can’t ever remember, drunk, in a clubhouse, with best friends, with anyone, ever speaking like this to someone …”

After he outed them, Schilling wished them luck if they were googled. He said he kept every one of their offensive tweets. “No less than 7 of the clowns who sent vile or worse tweets are athletes playing college sports,” he said. “I knew every name and school, sport and position, of every one of them in less than an hour.” Like I said. Do not mess with Mr Schilling.

The 48-year-old father of four got in touch with the coaches and parents, of the people who wrote the offensive tweets. Many were made to write letters of apology. He also published two more tweets by users Justin Time and Jacob Robbins, “to let you internet sleuths have a go” meaning Schilling’s blog followers.

Commenters on his blog and Twitter users began circulating the names of Nagel and the Montclair student, Sean Macdonald, along with their mobile phone numbers, email addresses and social media account details. MacDonald, who worked part time selling tickets for the Yankees, was fired, and Nagel was suspended from university. All their social media accounts have been deleted.

Justin Time was identified as Liam Cronin, a camp counsellor from Huntington, New York. Jacob Robbins was identified variously as a student at St Ambrose University in Iowa, as a San Jose State student and as someone called Ben Cohen. Two days later, he released another name, which received the same treatment. Schilling’s campaign made headlines nationwide in the United States. Some applauded him for speaking out against verbal abuse on social media. Others expressed concern over what they perceived as witch-hunts, and Schilling’s “doxxing” of the trolls, which means revealing personal information online, and is illegal.

Cronin went so far as to reveal himself on Schilling’s blog, explaining that his comments about Gabby being “passed around” only referred to “sluttiness”, not rape. Sorry but that doesn’t cut it as any kind of apology or act of contrition. “I simply was trying to piss off curt schilling because I think he’s a moron,” Cronin wrote, adding that Schilling’s fans had called his college demanding he be kicked out, his past employers to make sure he is blacklisted for life and his parents, to tell them what a terrible job they did.

So how does Curt Schilling feel about all the trouble he’s caused? You may not be surprised to know that he is utterly unrepentant. He told the New York Post newspaper, there’s no longer any distinction between online and offline lives. “People are saying, ‘Hey, Curt Schilling called out people on Twitter, and they got in trouble in real life.’ Twitter now IS real life — Facebook, Instagram, all of it,” Schilling said. He is right. Schilling says he is now done with naming names, at his daughter’s request, although she told People magazine she didn’t feel sorry for the trolls.

“It’s really sad that one thing they said could cost them their entire career on a sports team or their job, but I think it’s even sadder that they don’t think that should have happened,” Gabriella Schilling said.

Curt Schilling’s act is the latest in a series of online social media shaming, which saw a PR executive, Justine Sacco, publicly vilified for an offensive and racist tweet she made about AIDS. Lindsay Stone went into hiding after a tasteless joke she made at an American military cemetery which she later shared on social media and Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice lost endorsements after using a gay slur. A Brisbane tech blogger, Alanah Pearce turned the tables on her trolls by contacting their parents. The internet is a bit like being careful what you wish for. It offers opportunities for verbal abuse and for retaliation. For every action there is a reaction. The father turned social media vigilante summed up his position on his blog: “Gabby I know you’re likely embarrassed ( for what I did) and for that I apologise. But as we have talked about, there is no situation ever in your life, where it’s OK for any ‘man’ to talk about you, or any other woman this way.

“This is so far off the radar it’s pathetic. The ignorance and pathetic lack of morals or of any integrity is astounding. These aren’t thugs, tough guys or bad asses, these aren’t kids who’ve had it rough, they aren’t homeless or orphans, these are pretty much ALL white, affluent, college attending children, and I mean children.

“It truly is time this stopped. I don’t know where it started because it sure as hell didn’t happen much when we were growing up.”

He’s so right about that. Should we feel sorry for the trolls who lost their jobs or got kicked out of University for what they did? Do they deserve our collective sympathy? Did Curt Schilling over react in what he did, defending his daughter? Let me take a second to think about that. Ok. I did. No.