Twitter & tweets, banter & abuse ... all in week one!

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Allan Crow on Twitter, hockey and the difference between banter and abuse.

Social media has changed the way we communicate and given us direct access to the famous, the great, and the good - I’m a huge fan and I tweet both for my newspaper @fifefreepressed and for myself @fifeneebs.

But there’s a dark underbelly to having the ability to fire off an instant comment or observation just by touching the ‘post’ button, and clubs, including Fife Flyers, really have to get their heads round it.

The EIHL has started and come up with a ‘no tweeting’ rule within defined timespans before and after games. Obviously tweeting while on the powerplay is a no-no even the dimmest hockey player gets. Well, most of them ...

Whether there is a one or two hour block is neither here nor there - the aim is to try get people to cool down before tweeting or responding to the trolls and wind-up merchants whose natural home is online where they can be as tough and as mighty as they are utterly feeble and anonymous in real life.

Last week saw the first spat of the season as Garrett Zemlack took some abuse from a couple of Fife fans. A couple being the definitive number out of several thousand who were at the rink last weekend.

He handled it perfectly - banter’s fine, but this was OTT and he blocked them. That is exactly how you deal with idiots on social media.

Twitter is also very good a self-policing. Trolls will be criticised and reported, and people who perhaps engage brains after tweeting and post something that is as witless as it is offensive get the same treatment.

It happened in this instance too with fellow fans quickly condemning those who posted the abuse.

But Twitter is also a public forum - one comment can quickly go viral through re-tweets, and so it was only a matter of time before someone in the hockey media passed comment, but don’t shoot the messenger.

I don’t seek to minimise the banality and stupidity of the original posts or the potential they contained for causing genuine hurt and upset, but they were nothing compared to the vile attacks young diver Tony Daly endured during the Olympics (‘‘you let your father down’’ they said knowing full well he was still grieving for the loss of his beloved parent) or the utterly horrific abuse Robbie Savage had to read shortly after his own father passed away (‘‘Is he decomposing yet, Robbie’’ asked one troll. Sick beyond words.)

So, I’m not entirely sure why Fife Flyers official Twitter feed felt the need to issue a public and, presumably, authorised rebuke.

I have no doubt it was well intentioned - a ‘‘c’mon guys cut the abuse, stick to the banter’’ sort of approach, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t necessary.

This wasn’t a flaming war - which happen on forums and on Twitter/Facebook. This was a very sharp, short exchange which many may have seen but only a few commented on - and it was dealt with by all concerned.

Flyers’ tweets simply sparked a forum debate which also got its knickers in a right old twist - those who remained puzzled at the club’s tweet were probably left scratching their heads as some suggested banning the abusive posters from the rink! By page two I think we were verging close to the ‘‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em’’ type action. And so it went round and round and round ...

If anyone should have been having their say it was Zemmer’s new club, Braehead, who do have a duty of care to their employees, but since the goalie’s own posts suggest he wasn’t too perturbed - or he simply chose to rise above it (and staying classy is always a good move in these situations) - they let it go. Fife Flyers’ official tweeter should have followed suit.

But here’s the nub.

Flyers aren’t here to monitor or regulate my Twitter account or anyone else’s - only their own.

If I post something they find unacceptable they can block me. They can also report me and action can be taken.

They can refer it to my bosses as I clearly identify who I am on both my Twitter accounts, and I may be asked to explain myself.

I have no problem with any of that. It doesn’t stop me from commenting or holding a robust view on any given topic, but there are clear differences between debate and dialogue, and downright abuse. Simple common decency tells you that.

After Sunday’s wee fight I tweeted ‘‘Ryan Watt asks Danny Stewart to dance - oh dear. He gets his tatties, as they say.’’

It was re-tweeted a number of times which, as anyone on Twitter will tell you, is always nice to see. It’s part of the network’s USP.

To me it was a wee bit of banter, laced with an expression you’ll hear rinkside some match-nights (I love the phrase!), and clearly folk agreed - but what if they hadn’t got the joke or the intended light-hearted nature of the comment? What if Ryan’s mum or other half had taken offence?

Would I have had been publicly chastised by Flyers for bringing the game into disrepute? For mocking two pro sportsmen doing what has to be done in a hockey game?

Now there’s a tricky grey area to skate into ... but by taking Zemmer’s abusers to task that is exactly what they did.

As more people move on to Twitter - user numbers are expected to match those of Facebook - there will be more contentious issues and online spats. Some will almost certainly involve hockey fans and, possibly, players. The conflict is inevitable.

Those who post abuse, and those who indulge in trolling - a particularly insidious form of bullying - should always be rooted out and held accountable for their actions, and I would expect Fife Flyers to act if any player or official became the victim of such actions.

Zemmer’s response will probably be to come here and stand on his head next we play them. If so we can blame those whose abuse inspired him. Cheers lads - you may just have cost the club a win.

And maybe that underlines the golden rule of posting on any social media or forum - think before you send! Engage that big muscle between your ears.

I genuinely hope the fans on Twitter enjoy the banter and the conversation, and make the most of getting to talk one to one with the guys they watch on hockey night.

The positives far outweigh the negatives.

That’s why we all tweet.

And there’s a beer to anyone who can summarise all of the above in one tweet of 140 characters ...

And of course you can tweet me your responses! @fifefreepressed @fifeneebs