Gina Rinehart fell down a flight of stairs and the public’s response has been ugly and violent.

“Fat ugly hag probably tripped up on one of her chins.”

“Eww, saw too much Gina leg. They could have edited that out. Reminds me, I must order my xmas leg of ham.”

“My favourite Gina Rinehart memory is when she played Jabba The Hut in Star Wars.”

“If she’s broken a leg, call a vet and have her put down.”

I couldn’t make up these comments up if I tried. Why would I, when they were so remarkably easy to find? All I had to do was look at any coverage of Gina Rinehart falling at the Melbourne Cup and snatch them from the top comments.

Perhaps immaturely, watching people fall over is one of the small pleasures of my short existence. Stairs, cracks, their own feet. There’s something so wonderfully awkward at gauging the immediate reaction of someone who has just fallen over in public.

So, when I saw the coverage of Rinehart taking a tumble at the Melbourne Cup I had one overriding thought: Unfortunate, but funny. A slippery flight of stairs doesn’t discriminate, no matter how much money you have or how much power you wield.

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And then I clicked on the comments and my one overriding thought became an entirely different story.

The horrific online abuse of women is no new notion. Just this year, a study conducted by digital security firm Norton found that over half of Australian women had experienced some form of abuse or harassment online. Harassment ranged from unwanted contact, trolling, and cyber bullying to sexual harassment and threats of rape and death.

Gina Rinehart fell down a flight of stairs and the public’s overwhelming response was that she should be put down. That she should be shot like an animal too sick to go on.

I'm not naive enough to assume the vitriol directed at Rinehart on Tuesday night was simply because she is a female.

Gina Rinehart is distinctly unlikeable. She has money and power and she has said more polarising things than I even have time to touch on. People genuinely don't like her and that sentiment isn't without reason.

But Rinehart also has four major characteristics working against her: She is a woman, she has money, she has huge influence and she also isn't a size zero. She defies every part of what we think a woman should be. And so, when that woman fell down a flight a stairs, our collective cried that she should die.

Rinehart is so far removed from average folk that so many believe she is disqualified from a category of women that should protect from horrific online abuse.

The only thing I found myself pondering last night was how we would react if the Clive Palmers or Rupert Murdochs of the world were the ones who had taken that tumble. How would the public have reacted? Would it have made the news? Would we be calling for them to be put down, too?

There's no doubt a tumble from these rich, equally unlikeable figures would have invited a wave of mockery. There's no question the comment-section of the story would have been brimming with comments wondering if they fell on their wad of cash, or if they lost balance because their pockets were too full.

But what I find deeply problematic is the safe assumption we can make that the vitriol directed at Rinehart would not have touched the hypothetical mockery directed Murdoch or Palmer.

I've grown very careful of the things I call out as gendered. The more you call them out, the less people listen. I've learnt to spend more of my time picking my battles, fighting the bigger fight. Never did I think this would stretch so as far as protecting someone like Gina Rinehart, but online abuse of women is an epidemic and Rinehart is just one of its countless victims.

Having money, power, unpopular opinions and deserving the protection from frightening and violent abuse aren't mutually exclusive. Being unlikeable doesn't warrant threats of death regardless of how divisive you are.

The response to a simple fall has gone beyond joking, beyond mocking and beyond "bullying" the "bully". It's landed itself in an ugly field of violence, sexism and intended malice.

Laugh at that fall for a week if you please. But a laugh is where our line should lie.

WATCH: Famous women read mean tweets about themselves:

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