Stephen Cleeve: Abuse makes me question the use of social media

06:00 19 February 2022

Social media gets mixed press – it can certainly be used as a voice for good, but many see it as a dark place that should be avoided at all costs.

The only social media I use significantly is Twitter, but I’m looking at the pros and cons of doing so, as you can’t put a price on your own peace of mind.

Tommy Widdrington was punished by the FA, but even accepting donations to help pay his fine drew criticism on Twitter
– Credit: Ian Burt

When the team and manager were recently fined by the FA, a few Linnets fans asked if they could contribute; they simply wanted to help and right what they saw as an injustice. Small acts of kindness like these are truly appreciated by myself and other club members. A nice guy gave me £20 after our last home game and others emailed me, asking how they could help. We created a donation page in the club’s online store and I posted a tweet simply saying that if anyone wanted to help, please follow the link.

Within minutes I was attacked by a few rival clubs, a small number of our fans and a mix of all sorts of wrecks and jetsams who thought they were going after me instead of watching TV with the family.

There were also a small number of sensible responses from those who tried to correct the abuse stating that I was not asking for donations, but providing a mechanism for those who wanted to donate to do so.

On Facebook, where I rarely post, one or two of our fans thought it was right to attack me more and another couple thought I should quit. There were also some clever fans who tried to explain the reality of what I said. Of course, many of the complainers have an ax to grind, they want to attack our club in any way possible, so they adapt the story to their own narrative. Very few, if any, come out to support The Walks team on a game day.

Football fans can understandably get upset when there’s no news from their club, and I’m talking about all clubs, not just ours, so I’m trying through my account to answer questions about a wide range of topics (many come direct messaging) and generally available. However, now may be the time to revisit this strategy.

I don’t always use social media to inform or discuss every point as it’s not always the right format to use. Often my program notes cover areas in detail because they are long enough to do a point justice and cover it in a meaningful way. Today’s program notes against Bromley, for example, cover issues raised by some fans about players they think ‘we should have looked at’ who were signed by rivals and rather than answer in a few words, I can explain everything more fully and away from a hostile environment.

My tweet that sparked this latest furore reveals some interesting numbers. It has been viewed on Twitter 267,258 times; it got 12,627 reactions, 196 people commented on it (mostly negative) and 24 fans liked it, so I could look at the numbers if I was in an optimistic mood and figure that 196 more comments 267,000 views isn’t really that much. I haven’t communicated with many users, but the few I have communicated with, once they figured out the situation, dropped their original position; but is it worth all the background noise and headroom just to get a message across?

Peterborough chairman Darragh MacAntony engages with fans and you could say his stance is more aggressive than mine towards those who disagree with his statements and another twitter user is Andy Holt, the chairman of ‘Accrington Stanley.

I love both of these guys, but reading the grief coming their way from various users makes you realize why more presidents aren’t as open as they could be.

I’m not trying to stifle debate, but using abusive words, which the vast majority do, makes you less likely to participate in a conversation. In the real world, I like people who have similar opinions to me, and I also like people who have opinions different from mine. Just because my point of view on a subject may be different from that of another does not mean that I am civilized or that I am friends with that person. I use Twitter to inform, connect, and explain, but that certainly doesn’t give someone else the right to abuse me or someone else to do so.

Most of the fans are happy when you hang out with them and I’m always happy to be with them, I try to meet as many as I can on home game days. There are several solutions that could solve my online dilemma, ranging from refusing to get drawn into debates or opinions, to a self-imposed ban, or simply blocking those willing to fight.

Fans are the lifeblood of all football clubs and most of them make me proud to be their president. Life has been tough lately for many fans and I know soft targets like myself are an easy way to vent their frustrations.

What I find interesting is that several fans have donated money to the club to help pay the fines, but they did so anonymously, without discussing their kindness on social media, as they don’t didn’t want to get involved in the many online arguments. they just wanted to support their club.

These supporters are the reason why, when I go through difficult times at the club, I continue to work to try to find solutions. We want to put smiles on their faces and however I deal with the social media issue, I will always be there for them.

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