Why Fife Flyers’ players were right to call out social media abuse

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Twitter may well be a worldwide platform for communicating, but it’s not one favoured by many sportsmen.

Lots of players have accounts set up, but rarely use them, which makes it all rather pointless when clubs refer to them by their Twitter handle. Every summer, ice hockey fans hit the follow button faster than a flying puck, and tag them into tweets that, I suspect, go completely unread. Welcome to the world of communication in 2019.

Some players have Twitter set to private so they only communicate with people they know.

Most don’t bother.

So, interesting this week to see two Fife Flyers players, Carlo Finucci and Rick Pinkston, highlight, and challenge, the issue of online abuse.

They called out people who’d posted comments ranging from the cheap digs to downright horrific abuse.

Pinkston took issue with a fan’s comments on his performasnces for Flyers, playing while injured. and Finucci highlighted the case of an NHL player who was told “I hope you get HIV.”

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That may be an extreme case and a country mile from the “hey! you sucked tonight” trash talk, but Carlo was right to call it out as “brutal” and how words can wound.

“No need for this type of abuse. Sadly it happens at all levels and some can’t handle it as well as others” he tweeted.

And that second part – about its impact – is key, because the greatest lie ever told was that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.”

Words can cut deeper than any knife, but leave no visible scar.

They can eat away at someone’s self worth, crush their self belief, and destroy their own quietly held hopes and dreams.

As the late, unbelievably talented but deeply vulnerable Robin Williams once said: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

And, be in no doubt, social media is causing untold damage to the online generation which, I fear, we have yet to fully comprehend.

Schoolchildren today have no escape from the abuse of the bully as it flows around Snapchat, What’s App groups and all platforms. I’ve seen it happen.

Social media has changed how we communicate. The language is harsher, the abuse corrosive, and the exchanges much more aggressive. As society becomes more polarised, I see more and more people using language, and a tone, they would never dream of using in a face to face conversation

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook call it engagement. Much of it is witless, moronic, soul-destroying rubbish. As journalists we quickly learn to follow the rule to never to read the ‘below the line’ comments where your work is shredded, misunderstood, mocked, and your reputation trashed – and if you are female, then the depths of grotesque misogynistic abuse which come your way are truly staggering. It pours out like sewage every single day.

But, hey, we’re told we have thick skin and should deal with it. Sticks and stones.

Same goes for hockey players. Tough guys. They fight, they battle, they are warriors on ice.

Wrong.

Confidence is a huge component in every sportsman’s armoury. Some have it in abundance, others struggle to hold on to it when times are tough or their form has shaded.

Imagine going on line to be told you suck, you should be sacked, you are a waste of a pair of skates. Imagine reading that every time you logged on after a game, and again across the week as you prepare for the next match.

And don’t even think of hurling the term ‘snowflake’ – another word that needs to be removed from our lexicon.

It is ironic that, at a time when we have gained more understanding than ever about mental health, we, as a society, allow social media platforms to belch out toxic racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic abuse by the minute.

No-one needs it. Everyone has the right to live their lives – online and in the real world – without it.

I enjoy the debate and interaction of Twitter, but I have two golden rules. 1) I don’t waste time on witless idiots and 2). I never get embroiled in a war of words. Life is too short to indulge either.

Mute and block are my weapons of choice, with a bit of humour thrown in to disarm the permanently angry brigade just looking to vent.

As a fan on Twitter, you are free to criticise or comment on any hockey player, coach or team, or even a sports journo – but you don’t get a free card to hurl abuse.

And if you truly don’t understand the difference, allow Carlo and Rick to explain. In person.