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Twitter: a community of sporting superfans? Or a trollers paradise?

by Samuel Whitehead

9 September 2020 14:42pm

Do you love it, or do you hate it? Like most of us, you’re probably somewhere in-between. Since its creation in 2006, Twitter and sport has become deeply connected. There’s no doubt this connection has its pro’s. It allows for close interaction with our favourite athletes and enables a platform for debate, simply not possible before the online era. However, while the freedom of Twitter has always been its biggest draw, it’s also been its biggest flaw.

For good, or for bad, the platform has united the world. Sporting events are no longer just occasions but moments of huge cultural significance. These moments are heightened and glorified by the thousands who flock to social media and speak their minds. Consequently, the trending tab is often dominated by sporting events, filled with discussion, gibes, banter and of course, trolls.

Is rivalry to blame?

Sporting rivalries have been around since the beginning of sport. They can hold a momentous power, turn neighbours against each other, friend into foe. Often, it can bring the best out the sports stars but sadly, the worst out of the sports fans. Unquestionably, rivalry thrived pre internet but the transition into the social media age has only heightened levels of angst. Fans could only dream of this type of global interaction before social media. However, for many it’s become a platform filled with spiteful hate rather than thoughtful exchanges.

Unfortunately, for those who seek honest and fair debate, Twitter is often swamped by arguing rival fans. Ridiculous claims and downright false comments take centre stage over users who just want normal interactions. Twitter allows the opportunity for anybody to criticise behind the safety of their screens. Most commonly, its harmless banter and folly. However, a selective few overstep the mark.

A culture of impatience?

In today’s society, we are all culprits of impatience. It’s easy to scan Twitter every day desperate for the slightest hint of information. This addiction is part of the problem. I, like thousands of others, have fallen victim to the new norm of society: constant thirst for information. Life is on refresh and this spills over into a sporting context.

Twitter often deals in absolutes, but sport is flexible in its nature. Its unpredictability is its beauty. A team may lose because they simply didn’t perform on the day, but on social media the result is scrutinised and sensationalised. Ultimately, it reaches a point where the loss is no longer just a bad performance but a multitude of issues. Sports broadcasters debate, interviews of players are analysed, fan channels rage and meanwhile, the sensationalism builds and builds. It accelerates to a point where the only fix is the quick one.

Never before have athletes been so defined by moments. A team wins, they are the best that ever was. They lose? They’re the worst of all time. It’s a constant practice of sensationalism as well as impatience, one intertwined with the other. The Premier League is sports biggest victim of this unfortunate culture. Due to this attitude, fans believe there is a quick fix to every issue, creating an immense pressure for clubs to act following poor form. A total of nine managers were sacked in the 2019/20 Premier League season and while owners may point to other factors, it's often the weight of social media that influences decisions.

When does trolling become abuse?

Unfortunately, many sports stars are targets for abuse. Unlike other celebrities, athletes have their careers constantly displayed in the media. It’s a requirement of their profession. Twitters global outreach means the exposure is widespread. It has become a melting pot of speculation, thousands of voices producing thousands of opinions.

Earlier this month, the BBC released a startling article on the effects social media has on British female elite athletes. 30% said they had been trolled on social media. According to the BBC, this same statistic was 15% in 2015. Women described the “horrific abuse”, “threatening” language and “scary” exchanges they endured. As well as the 20% who experienced racism in their sport.

The Premier League’s Twitter problem…

Across the globe, the people of 2020 have made a stark statement against racism. Sadly, this abuse is rife in the sporting corner of Twitter. Seemingly, the Premier League has been plagued by these issues. Alarmingly, several players have spoken out about such abuse. This month Patrick Van Aanholt shared his horrific online abuse, while his teammate, Wilfred Zaha, also expressed similar abuse in the past year. Last year, Pogba, Abraham and Méïte were subject to abuse after performances on the pitch. Three examples that are undoubtedly just small ripples, in a vast ocean of ignorance and hate.

Can Twitter continue to tip toe down this fine line between trolling and abuse in sport? With seemingly no altercations in its regulations, it remains to be seen whether the Premier Leagues efforts on racism make a lasting difference.

In summary, Twitter trolls can vary from the outright absurd to the downright offensive. Under any sporting tweet they’ll be there, lurking. The trollers and the sporting superfans share the same platform but not the same ideals. Witnessing a fair and civil debate on sport seems like a rarity found only once in a blue moon. While rivalries rumble on and the people of Twitter become more information focused, we can only hope the more significant abuse can be halted. Replaced by an emergence of true sporting superfans.

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