West Ham defender Hawa Cissoko says she was "surprised" by the racist abuse she received online after a Women's Super League match last season.
The France international suffered the abuse on social media after being sent off last October against Aston Villa over an altercation with Sarah Mayling.
Cissoko, 26, had not seen such abuse first hand in the women's game before.
"I didn't expect it would happen to me, especially when the people that did it don't even watch our games," she said.
"If it was from people who follow the league, I would understand a little bit more. [But] I realised, OK, some people are just racist and they just find every opportunity to be racist and say whatever they want.
"When I understood this, it was easier to deal with. At the beginning, you take things personally; you think they don't like you when they see you every week. But when I realised it was outside of WSL fans, I thought 'I don't care'."
Cissoko, who was part of France's World Cup squad over the summer, says social media companies can "100%" do more to protect people online.
"I know that some people, they send messages because they know that nothing is going to happen," she said. "Even if you tell them you're going to the police, they know nothing will happen. We need more security.
"On social media, I just ignore people because it is not real. Those people, they can say a lot of things on social media, but if they met me, they would never say this because they would see I am actually a human with a heart and feelings.
"If I turn off my phone, they don't exist. The most important thing is the relationships I have with my team-mates, my coach and my family."
Cissoko has been sent off three times in the WSL - more than any other player
Cissoko's sending off against Villa earned her a five-match ban - she raised her hands to Mayling's face after the Villa full-back reacted to a tackle.
The defender also got three yellow cards last season.
She says people now view her as an "aggressive" player as a result of her no-nonsense style of play and it has led to referees judging her harshly.
"If I want to change the picture, I have to change my game and if I change the way I play, I won't be good," said Cissoko.
"I'm fast, I'm strong and I'm powerful. If I stop being me, West Ham are going to rip up my contract and I will be playing Sunday League! I have to stay me.
"I think some people have made a picture around me as a player that I am aggressive and stuff like that. But if you look, I think I do less fouls than any other defender. Sometimes I finish games and I haven't made a foul.
"The [red card] against Aston Villa - that is a red card, that is fair - but the other player [Mayling] only got a yellow card and I think she started it, so should have had a second yellow card.
"People have this picture of me but it is not true, I am calm and I can be calm on the pitch."
The France international hopes this season will be a different story and that she can avoid any suspensions under new manager Rehanne Skinner.
The defender admits she can "continue to improve" and be more consistent "in the way I play, my attitude and my behaviour on the pitch" but thinks more communication between referees and players would help.
She said: "Once I was tackled and I felt like it was a foul and [the male referee] didn't. I said 'hey, ref, this is a foul!' And he said 'no, just calm down'. This is not the moment to say 'calm down'.
"Just ignore me and I will calm down! I think it's just the misunderstanding between players and referees. I think we just need to speak to them. I will understand them more if I speak to them and they will understand me more too."
Perhaps surprisingly, Cissoko says she would like to become a referee when her playing days are over.
"As players, everyone wants to be a journalist or a coach, but I think after my career I would like to become a referee," she added.
"No top-level player in the men's or women's game has become a referee. Maybe I can be the first one."