When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, had he known that 20 years later his invention would facilitate the spread of the musings of Joey Barton he may never have bothered. In contrast to Stephen Fry, that other King of Twitter, Barton is the clever man’s idea of a stupid man. Not without intelligence but with neither the perspective and restraint to use it effectively, nor the self-control to let it guide him. Not dense, but foolish. We know this because his every thought is broadcast to anyone who wishes to know, via the social network of his choice. Along with his opinions on anything and everything – Joey informs us of the need to bolster border controls, Joey speaks on the Terry/Ferdinand racism case – he also exploits the main attraction to footballers of such direct access to supporters, which is the ability to justify themselves in public without those pesky journalists getting in the way with their research, background and comment. Certainly never dull though. Perhaps Barton’s path is preferable to that of Michael Owen and a thousand other footballers who wouldn’t know an interesting opinion if it shat on their shagpile. Anyone following Owen’s sparring with Piers Morgan for any length of time would probably give up on the future of the human race. Twitter has killed forever the idea that famous people are any more interesting than you or I. Well, you anyway.
Fans don’t cover themselves in glory either. Social networks open up whole new vistas of opportunity for inadequates to send abuse to strangers in the name of that scourge of modern life, “banter”. A bantosaur spends their time searching the ether for someone who will bite on their half-witted humourless jibes, presumably instead of the scary business of building actual relationships, that having the drawback that any real person would sack them off in seconds if they tried the same kind of thing. A justifiable difference of opinion is one thing, a deliberate attempt to needle is another. A different phenomenon, but just as pitiable, is that of the “In The Know”, or ITK. Someone sets themselves up with an enigmatic twitter name like @FootballAgent2012 or @nufc_itk, then pretends to have a position with insider knowledge about club business, with regards to transfers, contracts, bust-ups, or what-have-you. In reality, they guess, retweet rumours they pick up elsewhere and try to persuade others that they really do have that inside track, sources who know what’s really going on, despite 99% of their tips turning out wrong. Presumably they wish to gain followers, but their Walter Mitty fantasies are ultimately empty, and if people weren’t so desperate to have a clue they wouldn’t give them half as much of the oxygen of attention. A lot of people have a lot of time on their hands it seems.
Unfortunately the brainless antics of the blank thoughtless masses are the least of the effects of twitter to worry about with regard to football. The ugly head of racial abuse has been rearing up on twitter for some time now. Stan Collymore has been putting up with it for ages thanks to his profile working for TalkSport. At the time of writing, a Jesmond law student was fighting accusations in court of racially abusing Collymore on twitter. Micah Richards recently deleted his account after 3 months because of the abuse he suffered of this kind. Patrice Evra was exposed to horrendous abuse from a misguided group who objected to him reporting Luis Suarez for abusing him racially. I assume the irony was lost on them. They recognised the seriousness of the allegations or they wouldn’t have troubled themselves. They presumably thought Suarez was innocent, otherwise they wouldn’t have been so upset. But their criticism of his accuser took the form of the exact thing they were defending their hero from having done, making them guilty of the terrible crime they couldn’t let him be tarred with. Both Ameobis at Newcastle have suffered racist abuse. The list goes on. It must come as a shock to football that after 20 years of pretending that this kind of thing had disappeared magically from football grounds, it turns out that it was just simmering beneath the surface. If we have one thing to thank twitter for, it’s the Darwin Awards effect it performs of flushing these knuckleheads out from cover. They seem to think that they can say what they like, and because their account isn’t under their birth name, if they delete it they can escape prosecution. They’re probably the same people who pay for porn with their credit card from their work computer and act surprised when they get into trouble.
There are rules to social interaction which apply not only in person but perhaps even more so when the interaction takes place remotely and anonymously. Behaviour which would possibly get you in trouble with a random pubgoer doesn’t become any funnier or more acceptable because you’re doing it from behind the screen of your laptop or phone. It’s easy to understand why someone might try to make friends with someone they’ve never met. It’s more difficult to follow why they’d want to make them an enemy.