Ahead of International Day of the Girl on Sunday, former Chelsea FC Women captain Karen Carney speaks about how she was subjected to online abuse during her playing career and what social media platforms can do to tackle the issue.
As the coronavirus pandemic forces our lives to move increasingly online, girls are at risk now more than ever, and this week the club will support global charity partner Plan International’s #ListenToGirls campaign to protect girls’ safety online.
To raise awareness of the campaign, our Education team have been delivering sessions in our partner schools, while Blues players Erin Cuthbert and Bethany England have been showing their support via our social media channels.
During her time as a Chelsea player, Carney received online abuse, most notably back in 2018 when she was subjected to disturbing messages from an Instagram user, and Carney admits those messages had a huge impact on her.
She said: ‘I remember exactly where I was when I read it. At the time I was with my mate and they said to just ignore it.
‘I’d had a lot of things in the past but that one I just couldn’t ignore. I genuinely couldn’t ignore it.
‘I usually let a lot of things go, I just brush it off but I felt that was unacceptable.
‘I thought, how can people go so low? And to think that person can then go and change their Instagram name or Twitter name and go and do it again and again and not be caught.
‘They can do it with a different name and think that it’s okay - it’s not acceptable.’
Carney signed for the club in 2016 and helped the Blues to a Women’s Super League and FA Cup Double during the 2017/18 campaign before being made club captain the following season.
The midfielder also played 144 times for England and has gone down in history as one of England’s all-time greats, an accolade underlined by being made an MBE in January 2017.
The former England international retired from playing in July 2019 and has now moved into broadcasting, working with BT Sport, and Carney revealed that she has received a host of negative comments online since becoming a football pundit.
She added: ‘It’s a real fine line with social media because it does affect your mental health.
‘There’s been a lot of occasions where I’ve said one thing or I’ve said something wrong because we’ve been on air for three or four hours – one little thing that I’ve let slip and you get hammered for it.
‘The abuse isn’t great and I ask myself sometimes, why am I on social media? What is the benefit towards my mental health?
‘There’s loads of times when I might watch football and I might not agree with a comment made by a pundit, but I would never go and batter them on Instagram or any social media platform.
‘You can have your opinion, you can really dislike me but there’s no need to get personal and that’s where I get a little bit frustrated. But I have to say it’s not just the females, it’s the male pundits as well.
‘At the end of the day we are told to give an opinion and when you are opinionated, whether that’s in your personal life or in your job, you are going to cause controversy but then people just batter you for it.’
This International Day of the Girl, Plan International’s Listen to Girls campaign will shine a light on the harassment and abuse girls and young women face online.
Carney believes more should be done by social media platforms and has offered advice to young females to ensure they stay safe online and continue to feel empowered.
She said: ‘You have to give in the details of your passport or your personal details to be verified.
‘Then if anything is said, they can track you down and take some action.
‘I’d probably say to young females to take the comments off Instagram, I’d probably post and not look or try and make things private.
‘If you are in the business world, I would probably get someone to look after their account.
‘If I’m going back to myself five or six years ago, when I was in the football world, I would give someone else access to my account and they would be in charge of it.’
Find out how you can stand up for girls’ rights by clicking here