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  • Writer's pictureMatt Himsworth

What role do the banter merchants play in online harms?

Sport has been crying out for social media companies to do more to protect its athletes in recent weeks, months, no, it's probably been years. It is a campaign that will continue and will grow stronger. Player unions, organisations like Kick it Out, the players themselves and clubs will continue to fight the good fight.

We all have a role to play and, like all societal change, we should be working on our own conduct and those little cultural alterations. What an impact it would be if the casual sports fan, who wouldn't dream of racially abusing or threatening a player, nevertheless started to think about how he discussed public figures online or conversed with fellow users. The exaggerated partisanship in sport has long been a frustration of mine. If we could all, as fans, start to show a bit more respect then we might start to drag the neanderthals, who take rivalry to criminal extremes, along with us.

Football social media is perhaps the most toxic. It has always been our most partisan game and rivalry has crossed into bitterness and hatred long before the advent of social media. The inability of some football fans to put tribal rivalries to one side on social media is a depressing fact of life. One case in point this week are some of the 266 replies to this respectful tribute to the 96 by Raheem Sterling.

Whilst many of the hugely disrespectful replies have been deleted the mentality of those who posted them in the first place is difficult to understand. Such individuals exist and share our planet. Those that sit in positions of influence therefore should be doing everything possible to influence fans towards a respectful discourse and away from the pathetic partisan rivalries that lead to threats and violence.

Unfortunately, some of those with that influence have fallen short in recent times. Leeds United's official Twitter feed's focus on pundit Karen Carney was well reported after it resulted in grim, and inevitable, sexist trolling of Carney and only in the last week we have seen social media teams desperate for tiresome football banter but it has only resulted in a terrible waste of a paint brand's advertising budget and a social media team embarrassing itself before being fired by one of English football's most prodigious talents.

Phil Foden is a young footballer who wants to be thought of a serious and respectful man. Those with the power to post from prominent social media accounts need to reflect the tone and respect that their client wants. I would love to know what a man like Marcelo Bielsa thought the Leeds United social media team targeting Karen Carney. I'd also be interested to know what Brendan Rodgers, a man of great integrity (as shown in his approach to recent Covid protocol breaches by players), would make of Leicester City's TikTok account. TikTok may well be a lowbrow forum where hits, clicks and controversy plays out well but I am not sure that content like this fits with the ethos of a proud football club like the Foxes.

TikTok is full of official, verified, club accounts engaging in this kind of content. It plays out well with the banter lads. It gets likes and clicks but the social media teams achieved numbers are not, I suspect, the KPIs at the King Power.

It is not just, though, that these videos are naff, embarrassing and don't reflect well on the club, they legitimise the conduct of the hard of thinking that believe it is ok to attack, harass and abuse rival players. If we want social media to be a forum where everyone lives by the maxim "be kind" then we have follow that maxim ourselves.


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