Social media is a wonderful thing.
It connects us with our heroes, it allows us to communicate instantly with like-minded people, it provides us with a way of keeping in touch with family and friends in far flung places.
However, there’s another side to social media that threatens to ruin the fun for everyone. A world of pitchforks and gang mentalities; of racism and personal abuse; of bullying.
I witnessed the thin edge of that wedge this past week after making what I felt was a fairly innocuous comment about the performance of one of Kilmarnock’s star men – Youssouf Mulumbu. After Killie’s 1-1 draw with Hearts, I tweeted that Mulumbu had “a shocker all night” and that it was his “worst performance for us”. It received a handful of likes and a couple of retweets and I went to bed none the wiser about the shitstorm that was a-brewin’.
Mulumbu had a shocker all night, easily his worst performance for us. Topped off by a ridiculously stupid decision to push Lafferty for a penalty – bailed out by Jamma.
— Kilmourinhock Fan (@russabercrombie) February 27, 2018
When I woke up the next morning, my name was all over the Daily Record, the S*n, the BBC’s gossip column, social media and fan forums. Mulumbu had chosen to reply to my tweet, which is his right, and suddenly a pretty anodyne everyday comment had became ‘news’.
Mulumbu replying to me and putting across his view is one of the amazing things about Twitter. Whilst we may disagree on his performance midweek (I could dig out his pass completion stats but I won’t be that petty…) we are both entitled to discuss it. It’s part of what makes football such a wonderful, madcap sport. We all have opinions on the clubs we love, the players we idolise or despise, the owners we can’t wait to see the back of.
Yes I am human being and I make mistake some time !! Negative negative negative but u didnt notice the pass on Brophy goal 🤷🏾♂️ I usually don’t comment but sometime🤦🏾♂️💆🏾♂️💆🏾♂️
— Youssouf Mulumbu (@mulumbuofficial) February 28, 2018
My opinion on Youssouf’s performance on Tuesday night was very meek in comparison to a lot of what is said on Twitter and beyond, but seemingly my biggest mistake was the choice of target. If I’d joined in with the barrowload of hate aimed towards Rory McKenzie every week then nothing more would have been said. Should it be any different because I happened to criticise a fan favourite rather than someone unliked by a large percentage of the Kilmarnock support?
Mulumbu is a professional footballer, who performs in the public eye. As a result, his and the performances of his team-mates and colleagues around the globe will be critiqued by fans and pundits alike. If being told that he “had a shocker” was the worst thing anyone has ever said about him after a game then I envy him greatly.
If you search my Twitter handle for the word “Mulumbu” you will not find another negative tweet about him. All you will come across is a sea of positivity and adulation towards a guy that normally is head and shoulders above the rest of our team. The fact he’s “too good for Killie” shouldn’t make him exempt from criticism.
Since all this happened, I’ve received countless messages of abuse, threats and accusations, including one lovely gentleman telling me to “kill myself”. A few years ago, when my mental health was at its poorest, this would have affected me for weeks. I’d have read into every personal comment in minute detail and went over it in my head for hours at a time. And therein lies the issue.
When we communicate online, especially on Twitter, we are more often than not doing so with someone we know next to nothing about – other than the way they come across on the internet. We know nothing of what is going on in a person’s life at the time, how well or otherwise they might take personal comments or abuse. When someone dishes out personal abuse or insults online they click send and think nothing more of it – often not realising the hurt or pain those comments may be causing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone else for getting swept up in this pitchforks and perceptions mindset at times. However, if we all try to be nicer to each other than we might still have a Twitter in ten years time to debate the performances of footballers et al.
Being told I’m “not a real Kilmarnock fan” (my bank balance would disagree) and being called “Ruth Davidson’s long lost twin” (fairly accurate) is nothing in comparison to what has happened to others who have had their comments blown apart all over the internet. Jon Ronson’s wonderful book ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ tells stories far more shocking and damaging than my own, but having experienced a small share of the vitriol the internet can muster I not only worry for the long-term sustainability of platforms such as Twitter, but despair about the sanitisation of football if my comments from Tuesday are suddenly deemed unacceptable.
Fans should be able to pass comment on a player’s performance, players should be able to give it back, but that’s where it should end. Idiots like me, who couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo, should be allowed to make whatever points they like about a player’s performance on the field – and you, the player or fan who disagrees, should be able to say I’m talking nonsense.
Once we decide to take an everyday footballing comment, however, and round on the person making it for their appearance, their weight, their race, their sexual orientation, their religion or anything else that makes them who they are, then we’ve gone too far.
P.S. – Youssouf – I still love you big man.