Gabby Douglas is a decorated Olympic gymnast who will bring home a gold medal from Rio. But her performance has not been enough to appease some observers on the Internet.
Douglas, 20, who won the women's all-around during the London Olympics in 2012, lamented on Sunday that she had been picked apart by people on social media for everything from her appearance — right down to her hair texture — to her behavior during a medal ceremony while the national anthem was being played.
"When they talk about my hair or not putting my hand over my heart or being very salty in the stands, really criticizing me, for me it was really hurtful," Douglas said, according to the Associated Press.
Even her mother, Natalie Hawkins, expressed frustration with the harsh attacks. "They said she had breast enhancements; they said she wasn't smiling enough; she's unpatriotic," Hawkins told Reuters.
After some noticed that Douglas looked disappointed while watching her teammates succeed, "then it went to not supporting your teammates," Hawkins said. She added: "Now you're 'Crabby Gabby.' You name it, and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?"
The Olympics has always been fertile ground for narratives about fallen heroes, but observers on social media can distort those stories and take them to extremes — while still expecting athletes to smile and act gracefully when they lose. But the online criticism of Douglas has been relentless since her lackluster performance during the Olympic trials, she and her mother both said. After the women took home the gold in the all-around, Douglas' failure to put her hand on her heart during the national anthem struck a nerve with viewers.
Not everyone thought this was valid criticism.
But if we've learned anything from social media's power to tear down idols, it's the same tools can be used to build someone back up. By Monday, #LOVE4GABBYUSA was spread across Twitter by fans who wanted to help Douglas feel better despite the abuse. It was an outpouring of support for an athlete that came days, if not years, too late.