Social media plays a massive role in most of our lives in the modern era. I recall feeling really connected with people all over the world when I created my Myspace account back in 2004. Add a photo of yourself in front of a mirror, select an annoying song that would play as soon as anyone opened your profile, and rank your top 8 friends in order. It was a much simpler time, but long gone are those days.
Fast forward a couple of years and most people had jumped ship to the behemoth known as Facebook. It wasn't just about your close circle of friends posting one of those annoying questionnaires anymore. Instead, you now found yourself surrounded by friends, family, extended family, family members you've never even heard of, acquaintances, your neighbour, and that ex that just can't let it go. The modern age of social media had commenced.
It all started out relatively innocently, at least in my experience. Status updates were just that; updates. It wasn't so much about sharing opinions back then. Rather, people would tell the world what they were up to.
Phil is... watching TV.
Phil is... wondering what to have for dinner.
Phil is... sharing something that nobody cares about but people will 'like' out of a feeling of obligation.
I have to admit, I've never really felt that connected on Facebook. I find it difficult to be my full self when I'm surrounded by certain people. The way I'd speak to my friends is probably not something my aunt would like to see on Facebook.
Short But Sweet
The first time I really started to enjoy the features of social media was when I stumbled upon Twitter. I thought it was awesome. None of my relatives had an account, and it was much easier to be myself in light of this. Things have changed slightly now, and probably for the better, but back then it was all about getting your message across within a small number of characters.
This didn't feel like the place to share what you were eating, but rather a safe space to offer opinions that had an impact. It was all about getting to the point as quickly as possible. Perhaps I should remember that as I write this post. Anyway, I quickly fell in love with the fast-paced nature of this new era of social media. Comment sections were filled with discussions that didn't take an hour to read, and you could jump in and out of them whenever you wanted.
Sweet and Sour
One of the main issues of this form of social media, in my opinion, is the ability to say whatever you want without any form of repercussion. It leaves the door open to abuse, and although there are ways to report such incidents, it's clear that a lot of the nasty stuff makes it through the net.
The rise of social media has led to an era where many people spend more time interaction on their phones or computers rather than face to face. I believe this has created a digital world within which people are dehumanised. We are reduced to mere usernames and profile images, and considerations about human feelings are often disregarded.
This has become a major issue in the sports world. I can only speak from a football perspective as that's the main sport I follow, but some of the things I've read in comment sections over the last few years are disgusting.
Football abuse has always been a hindrance to the sport, but at least it was contained to the terraces in the past. Long gone are the days when a footballer can step onto the pitch, possibly receive some abuse from a minority of idiots in the stands, but then go home to a normal life. These days, abusers can spew their hatred 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and they do. There's no excuse for it.
Forced to Retreat
A recent example of this kind of social media abuse occurred after the Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool game. There was a moment in the game when Sadio Mane decided not to play a pass to Mohamed Salah and instead fed the ball to Naby Keita, whose shot was saved.
There's an argument to be made that a pass to Salah would have been a better option, but you're talking about split-second decisions in a Premier League game. The benefit of hindsight isn't something a footballer can make use of during a match. However, the reaction of a section of Liverpool supporters and, alarmingly, Salah supporters was a disgrace to the game.
After the match, Mane logged in to his Instagram account and posted a photograph with a caption, celebrating the Liverpool win. A worrying amount of people took this as an opportunity to abuse Mane for not passing to Salah. The majority of the comments are too vulgar to repeat but included instructions for the player to kill himself, and other vile, abusive language.
Now, you might be thinking that a footballer doesn't check his comments and mentions so it doesn't matter. That simply isn't the case, and Mane decided to remove his photograph. Some people will say that footballers shouldn't have social media accounts if they don't want to receive abuse, but that's not how the world should work. That's an archaic view, akin to the kind of nonsense you'll hear about how women should dress differently if they don't want to be sexually assaulted. Let's put a halt to that kind of garbage right there.
It is clear to me that people need to realise they're posting these awful things to a human being. I can guarantee that the majority of these trolls would not say this kind of thing to someone face to face. It's the ability to remain anonymous and say whatever you like without repercussions that gives them the confidence to spread their hate.
A Chance of Balance
More needs to be done on behalf of the mega-rich social media companies to crack down on this kind of thing. Let's make one thing clear. I am not suggesting that we shouldn't be able to be critical online. However, there's a big difference between offering a negative opinion and racism, homophobia, and death threats. Some people will whine about 'freedom of speech!' but that shouldn't really apply in these instances. Freedom of speech, in my opinion, should not extend to abuse on a social media platform. There are terms and conditions that need to be implemented upon registration.
Making sure our voices are known is a good way for us to try to shift the balance. This was the case when the official Egyptian Liverpool Supporters Club sent out a statement following the abuse of Mane that made it clear that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and that the player had their full support. The group also received hundreds of uplifting messages to pass on to Mane from Egyptian fans and took to his social media accounts to leave some wonderful comments for him read.
The point I'd like to end on here is that it's not okay to abuse other human beings. It makes no difference if they're a sports star and have lots of money, this kind of behaviour is a plague on the game. If you're ever feeling frustrated by a sports game and are ready to send out a message of hate, please do hold off on the trigger finger and make sure you're being critical in a respectful way. Likewise, if you see others sending out abuse then please report these messages to the platform and perhaps let them know that their comment is not okay. Let's cut out the abuse and get back to the real discussion.