Twitter and other social media platforms were implicated by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in his press conference after the soccer summit at 10 Downing Street aimed at tackling racism in football. Hunt and the FA chairman David Bernstein said, in effect, that while overt racism was now much less a problem inside grounds, outside people were still making racist and homophobic remarks. And while in the past their audience may have numbered just a handful of tiny-minded idiots and those unfortunate enough to overhear the bile spilling out of their twisted mouths, they now have a much wider audience – online.
But legislating against them would be both difficult and, in my view, contrary to the open spirit of the social web. Even trying to outlaw them risks drawing far too much attention to odious individuals who haven’t the courage to make their foul remarks to someone’s face and hide behind the relative anonymity afforded by social network pseudonyms. And with a billion plus social network accounts to monitor we shouldn’t expect the networks themselves to do anything but passive monitoring. We might occasionally persuade the networks and the Internet Service Providers to deactivate the accounts and cut the connections of the worst offenders, but those offenders would soon set up new accounts from new IP addresses.
Better, surely, to simply ignore them. Don’t follow them on Twitter. Don’t retweet their posts – even if only to mock their narrow-mindedness from our lofty, liberal perches. Certainly don’t dignify their comments with comments of our own. Make them social network lepers. Deny them the oxygen of publicity, as we might have said in the old media days.
So here’s my social network manifesto…
Black footballers do a Joey Barton. Gay footballers come out of the closet and start Tweeting so we can follow you and show by simple force of numbers that the overwhelming majority of us – football lovers or not – are decent human beings. Stephen Fry has more than a million followers on Twitter and is a national treasure.
Don’t just let your footballing feet do the talking. Let your tweets do the talking too.