Sudbury author recounts social media attacks following Kobe Bryant criticism
Threats, online attacks made Julie Lalonde fear for her safety following tweet
After Kobe Bryant's death in a helicopter crash on January 26, online tributes for the basketball great and his daughter Gianna, who also died in the crash, poured in from all over the world.
But among those tributes a few people dared to remind people that Bryant also had a stain on his reputation.
Bryant was accused of rape in 2003, though he wasn't convicted in a criminal court.
He did, however, say of his accuser, "I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
Julie Lalonde, a Governor General's award-winning women's rights advocate, wants people to remember that part of Bryant's legacy, too.
In the days following the NBA star's death, she sent out a critical tweet about Bryant's past, and it cost her.
"I was pretty gobsmacked to see fellow progressives just really applauding Kobe's legacy as an athlete," Lalonde said. "The fact that he was a father and a husband. And I just tweeted out and almost immediately it blew up with some of the most heinous harassment I have ever experienced."
People have sent me messages telling me my kids should be raped. People have sent me 1000s of messages saying I should have died in that helicopter crash. <br><br>All I did was ask people not to forget he was a rapist. <br><br>That was it. <br><br>I’m not a horrible person. Not even close. <a href="https://t.co/tj5cMnp8t1">https://t.co/tj5cMnp8t1</a>—@JulieSLalonde
Lalonde, who has experienced online harassment before, said the attacks were different, this time around.
"Within about an hour and a half close to four million people had seen the tweet. It just was unbelievable."
Lalonde said she deleted the tweet and locked the account to stem the tide. But attackers soon targeted her instagram account, and the social media accounts of her employers.
The threats were so credible, she said, that police told her to leave the house for safety reasons.
Lalonde was in the process of promoting her new book – which deals with her experience of intimate partner violence – when the storm hit.
"I got literally hundreds of thousands of tweets saying 'you know the saddest part about your book is that you don't die at the end. I wish this f***** had killed you. I wish you get raped to death.'"
"Just vile, horrid, unimaginably cruel things. But the kind of the most common theme throughout was 'I wish your father had killed you.'"
At first, she said, she tried to convince herself that admitting the attacks upset her was an admittance of defeat. She said a book by Jessica Valenti – Sex Object – helped her come to terms.
"She talks about how...we don't need tools to dehumanize us because we've dehumanized ourselves by pretending that we don't have feelings," she said.
"I think it's unfair that I get targeted this way and I think it's totally unfair that I am then burdened with showing stoicism and acting as though it doesn't matter to me."
Lalonde said her connection with progressive feminists also elicited a stronger than normal reaction from commentators. She said women calling out men on social media often triggers trolls.
"I have feminist in my Twitter bio, I have feminist on my web site," she said. "I think that people bring their baggage to that conversation regardless of what comes out of my mouth."
"And so the simple two sentence tweet was taken to mean that I hate men, that I'm glad that Kobe died, that he deserved to die."
"I mean these are not things that I said nor do I believe these things, but unfortunately the stereotype around feminism is that you hate all men...and that all men deserve to die."
Even after the attacks, Lalonde said she still stands by her tweets.
"I don't know if it's based in a sort of Judeo-Christian understanding of life. I'm not sure where it comes from, but we really have to rid ourselves of this idea that when you die your sins are erased...sort of a carte blanche situation," she said.
"Because your victims are still alive, the impact of what you did is still alive. It's not to say that we can't celebrate the good parts of your life, but to me it's just about putting an asterisk beside someone's name."
"[Bryant] was someone who championed women's sport and someone who deeply harmed a woman. So those are all parts of his legacy. And to reduce somebody to the good that they've done when they die because it makes us feel better erases their humanity."