Carly Zucker has thick skin. It’s a must.
As the lone female host on sports station KFAN 100.3 and wife of the Minnesota Wild’s Jason Zucker, the Twin Cities media personality also has more than 33,000 Twitter followers and nearly 28,000 Instagram fans.
While most of her online interactions are positive, there are people — usually men — who feel the need to insult Zucker, whether it’s about her appearance, her intelligence or even how her husband is playing.
Then there are those rare times when that protective layer is punctured.
This spring, Zucker posted an Instagram Story featuring her 8-year-old daughter dancing. Soon after, she received a direct message from a man she’d never met saying (among other things): “She’s going to be a slut just like you.”
Most of the time, she ignores offensive comments or cracks a joke about them. Not this time.
Zucker decided to share the message with her Twitter followers to show the type of harassment that she — and her family — are up against.
“That was one of the most aggressive comments I’ve ever received,” Zucker said. “It’s an example of the things people have to deal with on social media.”
Unfortunately, harassment has become a common part of online life, especially when it comes to social media.
In a 2017 Pew Research Center study, 70 percent of women surveyed said that online harassment is a “major problem.”
The situation is even grimmer for high-profile women. A recent University of Texas at Austin study found women in media positions are more likely than their male counterparts to experience harassment online based on their gender or sexuality. They also felt pressure to engage with an audience online, even if that meant subjecting themselves to harassment.
The Twin Cities is no exception. In conversations with three Twin Cities women in radio and TV, it’s clear that the positives of social media outweigh the negatives. However, that doesn’t make the cruel comments they endure any less hurtful. That’s why Zucker, Elizabeth Ries, co-host of “Twin Cities Live,” and Dawn Mitchell, a Fox 9 anchor and sports reporter, had to develop ways of dealing with online bullies while doing their jobs.
Ries enjoys many of her social media interactions with viewers. But lately, the host of “Twin Cities Live” on KSTP-TV has started limiting the time she spends on certain outlets.
The negative comments on social media are mostly about her weight, she says. Sometimes she’ll tell the trolls that body shaming is unacceptable, or she might reply to them with links to the Emily Program or the National Eating Disorders Associations, two outlets that help people who struggle with eating disorders.
But one kind of comment gets her riled up.
“I’m going to stand up and say something when I see a woman on Facebook criticize my weight and make comments about my body and I see that she’s got a profile picture with her two little granddaughters,” Ries said. “That’s where I stand up and say something.
“If you’re willing to say that to me, what are you willing to say about the bodies of those two little girls? Almost worse, what are you saying about your own body?”
Ries juggles a constantly evolving set of boundaries when it comes to deciding what to share on the social channels that she uses. Those lines were tested when she posted on Instagram about taking a day off from work and sending the kids to day care so she could have some time to herself.
“There are so many wonderful comments and pros of sharing those things in my mom journey,” Ries said. “But in true Minnesota passive-aggressive style, a woman commented, ‘Whenever I had an extra day off, I spent it with my babies.’ I just wrote back, ‘I’m so glad that worked for you.’ And then I blocked her from my page.”
As an East Coast native living in the Midwest, Mitchell is acutely aware that sarcasm can sometimes fall flat, especially on social media, where it’s hard to read tone.
The Fox 9 sports reporter and anchor prefers to engage her critics in conversation and find common ground on social media. However, that can be impossible when cyber bullies are just trying to get a “reaction out of you.”
“On Twitter, sometimes you have to block or mute the person to avoid negative comments,” Mitchell said. “The mute button is the best invention after brunch.
“I try not to block, but I will mute people. My intention is not to hurt someone’s feelings, but I also don’t want to clutter my feed with hate. If it’s over-the-top hate or it gets in the way of my job, I will block them.”
In April someone on Twitter said to her, “…u used to be cute before u got old.” They went on to say they still enjoyed her sports segments.
Mitchell, who called the tweet a “hand slap emoticon to the head,” said her first inclination was to laugh it off. Ultimately, she decided to call out the offender. She retweeted the offensive tweet adding: “This is the harassment women get on a daily basis. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I wanted to be perfectly clear, this line of tweeting is not OK, even if it was supposed to be funny,” she said. “It cuts to the core of what women have to deal with all the time.
“I’ve been doing this job for a while and we all get older. If I’m good at my job, I don’t care if I look like Cruella de Vil from ‘101 Dalmatians,’ I’m not here to look pretty for you.”
Weighing the benefits
KFAN’s Zucker is a fan of Instagram. She loves the sense of camaraderie and community she feels there, despite the negative commentary that some people feel the need to post.
“What’s great about social media is there aren’t really any rules to it,” she said. “You can make it whatever you want it to be. I’ve found an audience on Instagram who relates to me there. I find places to go to through Instagram. I find information in different ways and I love that.”
As a media figure trying to build an audience, Zucker said she believes that being on social media is a must. And, at least for now, the trolls don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
“Are we going to tweet until we die? Am I going to be on my deathbed scrolling Twitter or posting on Instagram?” Zucker said. “You don’t really know, it might disappear, and you move on to the next thing. I’m taking it day by day. I imagine my husband and me in rocking chairs at 80 years old, scrolling Twitter.”
So until the internet becomes more civil, Zucker will keep Instagramming, and trying to keep her cool.
“I don’t always follow this advice, but I think the best thing is to ignore it,” she said. “I truly do. Don’t engage. Focus on the positive, what you enjoy and the people who are building you up.
“That’s what I would tell my children. Do I do that? Not always.”
Amy Carlson Gustafson is a Twin Cities-based writer and editor.