The trolls hide behind screens.
And I've wondered: If some of these online creeps were face-to-face with the woman they are trashing, looking into her eyes, rather than the glow of their phone or laptop, would the vicious words they type with such abandon actually leave their mouths?
What would it look like if you were at Starbucks and the guy in front of you didn't like the way the barista steamed his milk? And to express his displeasure with the way she did her job, he told her she should be raped, beaten and maimed? Or he told her that she's an ugly, skanky, worthless whore who should have been aborted?
Somehow, I don't think that would happen.
But behind the coward's shield of anonymous text, guys do this to women online, every single day.
ESPN took that on that scenario challenge a brilliant PSA they dropped today. It's like Jimmy Kimmel's Celebrities Read Mean Tweets about themselves, only with two ESPN sportswriters, Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro.
ESPN videotaped Spain and DiCaro sitting across from sports fans who were asked to read some of the online messages the women get every day.
First of all, these poor guys. They didn't know what they were in for.
They writhed, sweat, hesitated and apologized their way through the exercise. Clearly, they were unprepared for the violence and vulgarity these sportswriters face every day.
The messages start out kinda meh, the kind of ribbing you accept as a columnist.
But they quickly turned into f-bombs and c-bombs that the guys had a hard time even saying.
And that's the point.
The #morethanmean campaign highlights the power of online harassment. "Get over it," or "Ignore it" or "Sticks and stones" – the advice women on the receiving end of this harassment doesn't work.
Astonishingly, after I wrote about the heinous online slander directed at Virginia firefighter Nicole Mittendorff, and the ongoing investigation by her Fairfax County department about whether this online harassment played any role in her suicide last week, there was online chatter about why she didn't ignore the attacks.
The guys posting nasty, lewd, degrading and mean messages about her also said they work with her. Would they say all this to her face at work the next day? At a fire? When she's saving someone's life?
If you wouldn't say it, don't type it.