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Anti-social Media - How fans have blown the chance to connect with their heroes

Thursday 8th March 2018

Social media is about as social as a drunk shouting at a discarded kebab outside a takeaway after a heavy night.

These putrid platforms, these cauldrons of hate, were created to bring people together, to bridge the gap between humans, to broaden our minds and introduce us to different cultures and different ways of thinking.

Instead of walking across that bridge some of us have taken a match, set it on fire and stood back to admire the carnage.

In an ideal world, social media would be a place for inquisitive conversation, a place for people to find answers to their questions.  It would be a place to learn, a place to cajole and congratulate and commiserate, a place that we could all enjoy, no matter who we are.

At times it is; raising awareness of certain issues and locating lost cats are just two examples of how it can bring light into the world but when it comes to football things often take on a decidedly dark hue.

When the topic of football is up for discussion social media turns into a hovel where people whore themselves out for likes and retweets, a slum in which each step you take comes dripping with the threat of attack, a barren tundra of opinionated idiocy.

When Twitter was launched, many football fans may have hoped that it would provide the link between player and supporter that they had craved for so long.  As players tentatively signed up, fans started to dream of the possibilities that this new branch of communication could provide.

They imagined long and in-depth post-match exchanges with the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney.  They thought that candour and charisma would come flooding forth from the people who run our clubs and that - with the barriers between us and our sport broken down - football could return to the good old days when the fans felt valued and not like insignificant onlookers in a game of corporate chess.

But we ruined it for ourselves.  We took the gift of Twitter and polluted its atmosphere until the air was thick with the fumes of vitriol and insults.

We sat players down on chairs and hemmed them in and abused them for their performances, mocked them about their tumultuous personal lives and poked fun at their poor grammar.

Players who were willing to engage with fans shot back into their shells like startled snails.  They ran away and deleted their accounts or, if they were brave enough to stay, did so from behind a shield of dull platitudes.

For some reason, probably due to jealousy, we hold footballers to a higher standard of accountability than others. But just because they get paid more doesn’t mean that they are any more deserving of our abuse than a binman or an accountant.

So what if they get paid a lot of money? They were lucky to be born with talent for a lucrative sport, we weren’t.  As the old saying goes, life’s not fair.

In any case, our gripe shouldn’t be with footballers earning millions of pounds but with the government for not valuing other more noble professions highly enough.  Many people highlight the wage gap between nurses and footballers as wrong, maybe even immoral – it is.

But remember, the majority of the nation voted for Brexit, a political travesty which will likely see the NHS shrivel up and die before our very eyes but not before the nurses and doctors of this neglected institution are forced to work until the point of collapse, for pittance, in dilapidated hospitals; yes, nurses don’t get paid enough, but what are we doing to help them?

We live in a time when the smallest inkling of an idea that enters into our Kardashian-and-processed-food -addled brains absolutely MUST, under pain of death, be posted onto one or more (or all) social media platforms so that our friends and followers can stay perpetually updated on the faux-fantasticness of our lives or hear our ill-informed (and perhaps even bigoted views) on politics which we have regurgitated from the pages of whatever tabloid we should be wiping our collective backside with.

We had a chance to connect with footballers, to find out if they really are human or just the product of an elaborate robotics experiment funded by a conglomerate of bored oligarchs.  We could have even asked them what they thought, from a moral perspective, about being paid so much in comparison to nurses.

Instead, we scroll back through year's worth of tweets to find one that will cast a shadow over an individual’s character or we lambast a player for spending his wages on a car or a holiday as if we wouldn’t do the same.

We messed it up and it went too far.  Now Twitter is just a place where people, regardless of their allegiances, make vaguely xenophobic calls for Arsene Wenger to be forcibly removed from his role as patriarch of Arsenal Football Club and where we pour scorn on players who seem to be constantly injured, as if it was their fault.

Very recently Daniel Sturridge was forced to endure such criticism when he limped off after a few minutes in West Brom’s game against Chelsea in February.

In the moments that followed his substitution, Twitter was a tsunami of overt ridicule for Sturridge.  He has 2.1 million followers on Twitter but hasn’t posted a single tweet since the incident.

In a time when we are supposed to be more conscious of the potential for mental health issues in sport this kind of incident seems to demonstrate that we don’t actually care that much.

The main problem with attacks like this is that there is next to no accountability to consider when composing a tweet.  You can effectively say whatever you want without having to worry about the police coming to knock on your door or the subject of your abuse coming to knock your front teeth out.

It’s one big shouting match where obnoxiousness usually wins out and constructive debate is buried beneath of pile of caustic banter and drowned out by the din of mindless conjecture.

It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that Twitter would be a lot better if we took a powerful hose and aimed it at the crowds and watched the beautiful sight of fools being powerfully blasted off the face of social media.

Of course, this is not possible. As much as Twitter and other social media platforms cause the stock value of free speech to plummet I am still, although ever more begrudgingly, an advocate of it. Football is a game of opinions after all.

However, I do wish that people would use Twitter for what it was designed for.   Not as a vehicle for our ignorance or to spread the toxic infection of lad culture, but to bridge the gap between the human race and promote intelligent conversation; to help us, ultimately, to evolve.

Dan Whelan

Dan is currently working as a columnist for Plymouth Argyle's award-winning programme, The Pilgrim.  He covers a variety of footballing topics but specifically enjoys writing about the inner-workings of the football fan.

He does this by drawing on his experiences following Argyle and his observations of the behaviour of supporters in both their natural environment (the terraces) and their technological playground (Twitter).


Total articles: 38

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