Should Footballers Really Have Twitter?

James Richardson discusses the issues and controversies of Footballers on social media.

There has been a recent spate of issues relating to Social media and Sports stars. Racism, homophobia, abuse and accusations of criminal activity are just some of the issues that have seen Sportsmen and women have been in the news for in recent weeks.

The issues have been rising and rising over the last few years as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other sites become increasingly popular and more people of more generations are getting involved with social media.

Racism in Social Media

Mario Balotelli has been in the news several times for racism on social media.

Recently, Mario Balotelli has been on both sides of the racism row. Previously he has been the subject of a lot of racism on the internet. One example of this is in September of this year, when he was subject to a number of racist tweets in response to his message. “Man Utd… LOL” after they lost 5–3 to Leicester. This resulted in a high number of Manchester united fans, abusing Balotelli over the social media site, some of the comments of a racist nature. The police were contacted by Twitter, and since then a number of convictions have been given to some of the people involved.

Balotelli has also been subject to racism on the field throughout his careers and even stated he would “leave the pitch” if it happened again.

Balotelli spoke to CNN about how racism makes him feel as he plays for AC Milan.

However, In early December of this year, It was Balotelli who was being called a racist. He re-posted an image, which contained a number of anti-semitic stereotypes. The images was a picture of the video game character “Mario” who was described as someone who “Jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.” Mario being from a Jewish family and being black assumed that this would come across as a joke, and not anti-Semitism. However he was slaughtered on both Twitter and Instagram where the image was posted. Being called a racist.

The image in question: A screen capture of Mario Balotelli’s Instagram with the photo that has caused outrage.

Since then the FA has come out and charged him with being anti-semitic and he has accepted these charges. This could mean the player could be banned for 5 matches in the English competitions. This really demonstrates the power that the internet has over us these days, that a few things said online can prevent a footballer from playing.

Manchester City midfielder, Yaya Toure, has also been on the end of several incidents of racial abuse in the last few months, which has happened both on and off the field. Other players are reporting more and more of it online.

Homophobia in Social Media

It is not just Racism that is an issue in Social media. In November of this year, Casey Stoney, England Women’s International, became a mother. She and her partner Megan Harris used artificial insemination to conceive a child. Their lesbian relationship came under fire from people all over twitter.

She spoke to the Telegraph about how the comments made her feel, saying:

“If you’ve had a bad day and someone sends you a horrendous message it can affect you,”

“You think, ‘You are sitting behind a keyboard, judging me and yet you don’t know me, you don’t know my background, you don’t know what sort of person I am, you don’t know how much we have wanted these children”

Stoney also received homophobic abuse when she ‘came out’ as a lesbian.

It clearly shows how this kind of issue can effect people. However, some people argue that she should just leave twitter if she didn’t want to see these kind of messages.

However, she responded by saying: “…who wins out of that? I want to talk about my games, my school visits, my life and give a different side of a footballer that maybe they don’t get to see in the male game. I’m happy, have a fantastic family, a fantastic life, I play for my country, I’m in a good place. There are a lot of messages I can give on Twitter that are much more positive.”

I think this really begins to answer the question, Why would you keep twitter. But, before we can answer “SHOULD footballers be allowed have Twitter?”, we need to first answer WHY they have it at the moment.

So, Why do people have Twitter?

There is a real want to share in the modern world. You want everyone to know what cool things you are doing, how you are feeling, what you achieve, your opinions, and Twitter can be a real outlet for that. It can even offer support from people you didn't even know cared. However it can also be damaging and harmful if you are someone in the public eye.

A lot of these cases have suggested that they have received a lot of positive comments on twitter, and for some stars it is a way they can communicate with their fans. Stars these days want to communicate with their fans, find out what they like, find out what they want, so that they can reach out to them. For a musician, maybe they can receive feedback from their fans saying they want them to do more of one type of music. Or a Youtuber, can receive feedback about individual videos, what to do in the future etc.

For footballers however it is far more limited. Most fans just want their side to win, or to put in a positive performance. Just how much can they really reach out to their fans? It seems to just be away for them to open themselves up for criticism and abuse.

Some fan argue that is can even demoralise the team, or have the exact opposite. However others think the Internet cannot really hurt you.

Can the Internet really hurt you?

Portsmouth footballer, Jed Wallace, is a player at the centre of his team with a large twitter presence. Some fans regard him as the key man for their side, and have been known to post comments on Twitter. Some praising him, and others slaughtering him for poor performances. Taking their anger on the team’s performances out on him as a scapegoat for the club.

However, his attitude to the abuse he receives is that it is a fifty-Fifty relationship he shares with Twitter. Stating: “One week they love you, the next they hate you. Never get too high never get too low”

Here he is saying that Twitter can knock you down a peg or two if you get too big for your boots, but he is also saying that it will pick you right back up again if you fall too low. It is a place where people don’t really want to see you depressed or upset, but they also don’t want to see you being boastful, big-headed, overly opinionated, or abusive to other people. It is human nature that we all want the people around us to be content, and nothing more. It is a tight balance between Sympathy and Envy. If you are down on your luck, then they are sympathetic and with that comes supportiveness. But, if you are too big, then they will be jealous, and with that comes hatred and abuse.

This is the risk footballers have to take these days. They get a lot of positive comments, offers of good luck, congratulations, shared chat or banter with the fans. However they will also get some people who disagree, and want to argue or abuse them.

For Jed, clearly he wants it enough to take the abuse, the benefits must out way or equal the downsides.

However, for other players the abuse if far more real, and can affect them on and off the pitch.

Kevin Davies was playing for Bolton at the time of his Twitter abuse.

Preston Striker, Kevin Davies, spoke to the Daily Mail in 2012, about how he had had sleepless nights over the abuse he received on twitter, which affected how he was playing.

I enjoyed my time on it because it gave you the opportunity to have conversations with fans and people and charities — that was fantastic

But when it gets to the point where you get abuse and stuff I think it can play on your mind, it can affect you.

“If you’re not sleeping at night wondering what you’re going to be waking up to, I don’t think you really gain anything out of being on there”

There are always going to be people who want to abuse footballers, tell them that they were not good enough and make nasty comments. However some of the abuse is too far. Could more be done to neutralise the hatred, and keep it to a more fair level?

Should more be done?

Some people think that the responsibility is with Twitter.

In January 2014, Stan Collymore, a broadcaster and former footballer, was subject to racial abuse and threats to him and his life.

He responded with these tweets:

Collymore directly accused twitter as not doing enough to stop this kind of abuse, saying that it was up to them to ban these people from the site and prevent them from making these kind of comments again.

It was not the first time he had received abuse, two years prior, some law students were charged, one put in prison for 56 days and the other ordered to do community service. Which caused people to call for Twitter to deal with ‘Illegal Tweets’

Collymore said, in an interview with the BBC, that he wanted to use twitter to debate football with people.

“If we disagree… absolutely fine, but I shouldn't be racially abused for it, I shouldn't have somebody that tweets me two days ago saying, ‘I'm going to turn up at your house and murder you’,” Collymore then said.

“I mean this is just sheer lunacy and Twitter at the moment, I don’t think they know what to do.”

Twitter responded in a statements saying “Twitter is an open communications platform. Our priority is that users are able to express themselves, within acceptable limits and, of course, within the law”

Showing that they do have a desire to keep their users within the law, but also want to keep their policy of allowing freedom of expression to their users.

Does Twitter really affect the ‘Real World?’

As we have already seen, Twitter has the power to cause someone to be banned from the game for a few matches, however in November this year, Sheffield United came under fire, for allowing footballer and convicted rapist, Ched Evans to train with the club. Twitter became the main source of the messages calling for him to be banned from football for life, and some abusing the club for not doing more to protect themselves from this issue.

As a result of this, the club retracted their offer of him training with them, and a contract offer for the youngster to play for the Blades again.

Jessica Ennis-Hill is from Sheffield and has a big association with the Blades.

British Olympian, Jessica Ennis-Hill, was one of the people who spoke out, asking for her name to be removed from the stand at Sheffield United’s home ground, Bramall Lane.

Sponsors also threatened to pull out of the club, and Presenter Charlie Webster, stepped down as a club ambassador.

This shows that actually, twitter and public outcry can have a real effect on people’s lives and a club’s day to day running. Ched Evans will probably never play football again after United’s twitter criticism, which eventually lead to them not offering him a contract. Also, Sheffield United could've lost several sponsors, a club ambassador and a celebrity Sportswoman, who is heavily associated with the club. It seems that Twitter can cause a lot more to be lost, rather than just a few hurtful comments.

What is causing the increase in these issues?

An increase in users is the first problem. According to non-partisan fact tank, “PewResearch.org” 98% of people aged 18–29 use the internet and 89% of those use social media. The data collection company also goes on to state, that overall internet use is at an all-time high of 86% of all adults.74% of those use social media.

What this tells us is that more and more people are using social media. This means that stories are causing more and more of an online ‘buzz’. People around the world are commenting on stories that would have been localised in the last few years. People who have no relation to the story, no knowledge of the bigger picture. This is where the problem lies. Controversial opinions from the under-informed, the misinformed and a set of mediums that doesn't really regulate what their users can post. Their post sometimes reaching millions.

Another reason that has been stated is that it stems from people having more out-dated views. Racism and Homophobia are something that previously has been common place in society, but now it is more widely frowned upon. In some cases even made illegal.

PewResearch also published that 82% of 30–49 year olds use social media, 65% of 50–64 year olds and 49% of 65 and overs. These are all massive increases over the last year, where just five years previously there were only 48% of 30–49 year olds, 24% of 50–64 year olds and as low as 13% of 65 and overs.

Some people blame the issue arising from the older generations, where some people may still have more outdated views, and this would explain an increase in the last few years as now, the number of people using social media over the age of 30 has doubled, and over 65’s have more than tripled. In a world where more people are tech-literate, more people are taking to social media to express their views.

Another cause is the lack of regulations and convictions actually caused directly from this kind of abuse. It is very difficult for the police to arrest 10,000 people If that is the number who has posted abusive comments.

In May 2011, thousands of people were guilty of breaking a super-injunction by naming Ryan Giggs as having an affair with Ex-Miss Wales and Big Brother contestant, Imogen Thomas.

These people took to twitter and around 75,000 people were guilty of the crime of breaking a super-injunction by naming them.

Some fans openly mocked the super-injunction. Such as this image of two fans with Giggs and Imogen Thomas masks with blurred out eyes.

However the police could make no arrests or uphold this law due to the high volume of people breaking it.

It would be in these kinds of situation where the only people able to make a dent in this would be Twitter themselves, banning these people and removing any comments relating to this breach in law.

What We Found

We surveyed a number of people about this issue and found a number of interesting opinions that the public had on this issue.

83% of people surveyed believe that Twitter should be open to everyone.

However 61% of people think that Twitter should do more to protect people from abuse from people on their site.

When asked, should Sports’ Stars be banned from having public social media accounts, 80.9% of people believed they should not ban footballers from having social media. Also, 71% of people stated that that it was up to the player whether they wanted an account or not.

Of the 19% of people who voted that they should be banned, 89% of them said that it was to protect the club from the players comments, and only 11% said that it would do anything to stop abuse on the social media site.

60% of the people that voted that players should be banned stated that it should be up to the club to ban them, with only 38% saying that Twitter should be the one solely responsible for the censorship of their users tweets.

11% of people even stated that due to footballers high wages, they should have to listen to the abuse from fans.

Disagree? Fill out our survey yourself here.

What are the Solutions?

One solution would be that Twitter does more to censor what it’s users put. Having a no tolerance policy to people posting abusive comments is something that has been called upon by many people. Some wanting people to be instantly banned for the more serious comments such as; racist, homophobic, sexist and threatening posts.

Twitter are caught in two minds of what to do about the situation.

However, Twitter themselves seem reluctant to the idea of doing so, saying that it would be very difficult to censor all of their users, since there are so many, and there are some posts which can be offensive to some, and not to others.

Another solution would be that Clubs decide whether their players should be allowed on social media. Their own Code of Conduct would require players to be offline if the club believes that it can effect morale of the team and individuals.

However, clubs that chose not to do this would still have the same problem. If the issue arose for them then they would have less of a defence, and less power to overcome the situation.

Bigger punishments, is another way that they could deter this type of comment. Having a 56 day jail term for giving someone death-threats online is something which is no where near enough of a deterrent. If large fines and longer jail terms were written into British laws, then this might act as a deterrent for some people who might be thinking about making a comment towards a player.

However, we also know that if done en-masse then the police have very little power over the laws. With increasing popularity of social media, it is getting harder and harder for them to police the internet.

Finally, it is down to the players. Individually they should be able to decide if they want to use twitter or not. They are their own people, if they are someone who cannot take the abuse, then they should avoid it, and if they are someone who needs it in order to get support, socialise and other important features of the site, then they should be allowed to have it.

In Conclusion

I think that it is clear to see from the examples I have given that there are a lot of issues with Twitter and other social medias. The majority coming in the forms of Racial, Homophobic and Verbal abuse. A lot of people believe something should be done to protect the users of twitter, and footballers.

However, unfortunately not a lot can be done to combat this in a significant way. Individual cases are becoming more and more the norm, and it is getting out of hand.

Increased policing of the internet is something that needs to happen, not just in this specific example, of Footballers on Twitter, but in all realms of the world wide web. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult with increasing numbers of people, of all age groups on the internet.

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