Virtual maltreatment: Sexualisation and social media abuse in sport

Chelsea Litchfield, Emma J Kavanagh, Jaquelyn Osborne, Ian Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Virtual maltreatment is a rapidly emerging and highly significant issue within contemporary sport. This study examines such behaviour by exploring the negative social media attention that tennis player Maria Sharapova received during the 2015 Wimbledon tennis championships. Using a netnographic approach, an analysis of two popular social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) was conducted to examine the social commentary surrounding this athlete during the event. Three primary themes emerged from the analysis of data on these platforms: ‘admiration of her physical beauty and/or sexualisation’; ‘threatening physical and/or sexual contact’ and ‘emotionally ridiculing and/or criticising’. These findings demonstrate how social media provides a space for unregulated physical and sexual abuse of female athletes in a way that traditional sports media does not. Virtual abuse and maltreatment is identified as a significant social problem which requires further consideration in academic literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-47
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology of Women Section Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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