Threat of stalkers, trolls makes social media complicated for LPGA players

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Threat of stalkers, trolls makes social media complicated for LPGA players

LPGA Tour

Threat of stalkers, trolls makes social media complicated for LPGA players

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Feb. 27, 2017 digital edition of Golfweek.

Morgan Pressel thought she’d be fine. But while waiting to enter a Palm Beach County court room where she’d face Alexander Berger, a man who had harassed and threatened her on Twitter and twice tried to break into her guarded Boca Raton, Fla., community, Pressel lost it.

“I guess I’m not as strong as I think I am,” she said. “That was brutal.”

The incident with Berger, who has been locked up a second time, caused Pressel to take a break from Twitter.

Now that she’s back as one of the tour’s most popular players on multiple social platforms, a cautious Pressel wants young pros to understand that social media safety is serious business.

“It’s actually something I’ve talked to the LPGA about a lot,” the 11-year LPGA veteran said.

There’s a fine line between being social and sharing too much. LPGA players rely on social media to build their brands in a way most high-profile athletes take for granted. For some players, it’s the only marketing tool available.

Post something eye-catching on Instagram – such as the video of Jaye Marie Green hitting driver off the beach in the Bahamas wearing a bikini – and suddenly Men’s Fitness has an interest in women’s golf.

Mo Martin doesn’t have an Instagram or Snapchat account. She keeps her Facebook personal and uses Twitter to communicate with fans. Those fans, however, don’t get too much insight from the major-winner. She has tweeted only 260 times since adding her account in 2011.

“The people who have been successful in having their brands elevated have had to sacrifice a lot of personal information,” Martin said, “because that’s how (fans) feel connected.”

Stacy Lewis believes she has been passed over for sponsorship opportunities because she’s well below the 100,000 mark in Twitter followers with 52,300. Would she even have a Twitter account if not for professional golf?

“No chance,” the former world-No. 1 said.

Natalie Gulbis was the first LPGA player to join Twitter in 2008. Gulbis’ P.R. firm advised her to join Shaquille O’Neal and Jimmy Fallon as early users, saying she’d land a back-page story in the Wall Street Journal if she tweeted.

Now she’s entertaining 142,000 followers on Instagram in addition to the 263,000 on Twitter. She’s been the victim of identity-hacking issues on social media as well as cyber-bullying. Gulbis prefers the kill-them-with-kindness approach when addressing Internet trolls and keeps a healthy perspective on how few followers really seek to spoil the fun. Still, she’s quick to delete the ugliness from her page.

“My mom reads them all,” she explained.

The questions Gulbis used to receive in fan mail now come at the bottom of an Instagram post. What’s your workout routine? What are you working on in your swing?

Gulbis spends 15 minutes a day maintaining her social platform, and most of that time involves looking at the 308 accounts she follows on Instagram.

“I want to spend time living my life,” the 15-year LPGA veteran said. “I don’t want to just watch.”

Jessica Korda likes to use Michelle Wie as the best example of how social media can show a different side of players.

While on the course Wiesy comes across as serious and scripted. Her Snapchat and Instagram posts, however, reveal a lighter, sometimes goofy and certainly creative side to the popular player.

“It’s a totally different person,” Korda said.

But showing personality can invite trouble. The LPGA has tried to help.

Security director Joe Funk started working with the LPGA roughly a decade ago. Back then, he said, 70 percent of his time was spent working at on-site events and 30 percent dealt with unusual letterwriters. Now Funk says up to 60 percent of his time involves tackling players’ social media issues.

“The programs which allow these people to get around filters and security settings is pretty remarkable,” said Funk, who works for TorchStone Global. “People feel safe posting on Facebook thinking ‘Hey, it’s only my friends that can see,’ and that’s not true. There’s a whole market.”

Funk also warns against players posting too much private information about their schedules. Geotags, for example, make public the real-time GPS location of a player’s whereabouts.

Though in the case of four-time winner Wie, something as innocuous as a Tweet about a sunrise practice session at the LPGA stop in Portland, Ore., a few years back turned alarmingly bizarre.

It didn’t take long for security to notice the man in the powder blue suit and floppy hat at 6 a.m. Turns out he took a bus from Iowa to Portland to propose to Wie.

“We took him to the hotel and put him on a bus back to Iowa,” Funk said. The man showed up once more in Rochester, N.Y., but hasn’t been heard from since.

At a rookie meeting on the Symetra Tour last season at the Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial in Fort Myers, Fla., retired player Gail Graham got the room’s attention when she talked about the dangers of posting personal information on public accounts.

Graham shared the story of a friend on tour who put a stalker in jail for 15 years after she had to move three times in the span of six months. The stalker followed her at home and on tour long before the introduction of social media.

The balancing act doesn’t only concern safety. It’s also about protecting a player’s brand and mental sanity. (Even a sunset picture from a struggling player can elicit mean comments. “Maybe you should leave the beach and practice more,” a troll told Cheyenne Woods.)

Paula Creamer carries the largest Twitter following on the LPGA with 339,000 followers. She posts all her own content and feels lucky her fan base keeps it positive for the most part.

“There is kind of that gray area,” the 10-time LPGA winner said, “where if you give them too much, you have your Monday-night quarterbacks sitting in the chair trying to tell you how to do everything.

“That’s the hard part. … I want to use social media as a way to interact; I’m not asking for opinions.”

Lewis found it difficult to avoid reading comments after she offered an opinion. It reached a breaking point in the fall of 2013 when she quit
Twitter after criticizing fans in China and then commenting on a lucky break Shanshan Feng received en route to victory.

“People want you to say what you think, but you can’t,” she said. “You can’t say it because of the backlash you’re going to get.”

Lewis eventually returned to Twitter, but her posts are mostly vanilla.

One of Woods’ pet peeves is when followers tell her to “stick to golf.”

“They don’t see you as a person,” she said.

Not exactly the definition of social.

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