Social media provides the opportunity for promoting the achievements and opinions of female athletes. It has been noted that traditional media gives more space to male athletes (i.e., Vann, 2014), but now female athletes could “balance the force ratio” through social media. However, the online environment has not been flooded solely by positive responses, but also by the extremely harsh and critical remarks from so-called fans, who in reality are often haters. Their comments and reactions addressed to the athletes through social media can negatively affect both career growth and personal life. Moreover, the level of stress caused by the micro-aggressive behavior of the public and fans or trolling in the social media environment can be even higher in the cases of female athletes (Woodman & Hardy, 2003). Despite the aforementioned risks, social media communication represents a powerful and beneficial tool and should not be omitted by female athletes, as the results of this paper show.
The study focuses on the communication of Czech professional female athletes (Zuzana Hejnová, Petra Kvitová, Ester Ledecká, Karolína Plíšková, Martina Sáblíková, Eva Samková) in Olympic sports disciplines on their official Facebook pages.
In the first phase, the themes of their postings were analyzed. We revealed that the majority of the selected athletes’ postings were mainly sports-oriented which corresponds with the previous findings (i.e., Smith & Sanderson, 2015). To detect the risks of negative, hateful or inappropriate fan behavior, two research questions were posed: How are the posts published on the official Facebook pages of selected Czech professional female athletes accepted by their fans? and What kind of negative and/or annoying reactions and comments appear on the selected official Facebook pages of selected Czech female athletes, and what are they aimed at?
Both quantitative and qualitative content analyses of the selected athletes’ postings and fans’ reactions (from July 2018 until December 2019) were conducted.
The results of the study proved that the selected athletes faced various types of negative, hateful or inappropriate “fan” comments and reactions that are caused not only by unsatisfactory sports results, but in many cases also by an overemphasis on sexuality, seemingly “non-feminine” appearance, (over)weight, homosexuality, political orientation, or excess of the promotional and commercial content. Although the negative, unfavorable, hateful or annoying comments occur on the official Facebook pages of selected female athletes quite often, the reason was in most cases not (only) the sports performance but mainly other aforementioned personal factors (cf. Wenner, 1998). For the final comparison we also present the examples of a good practice and an effective positive communication on the selected athletes’ profiles.