Learned to talk and say whatever I wanted to…

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In spite of preparing research papers on social media, in spite of an intrinsic understanding of it we claim that we’ve honed, in PR there is a fundamental naked terror of social media. A terror that our carefully planned and well thought out press or social media campaign will be hijacked – woe betide the person who comes up with the wrong hashtag, the wrong piece of communication, the creator of “Cosby Meme”, the person who decided to have Gary Lineker hold up those hijacked selfies for Walkers Crisps, the person who communicates intrusive tweets about pizza into social communications about domestic violence. When something goes wrong in social media, there is a temptation to split it into “us” and “them”, as though social media wasn’t a construct of people but some dark, unpredictable force that is mysterious and bizarre. There’s usually a dark ugly reference to “the internet” spat out by someone in the post failure debrief. And that’s above and beyond the disaster that befalls a client who sends out the wrong tweet – that tweet can be from 3 years previous, but suddenly it’s front and centre, and we mutter about “the internet” again, never the person who tweeted it, never the thought process behind the ugly tweet. It’s always that horrible, dark internet…we would have got away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky retweets etc etc…

I thought a lot about this week – Twitter in particular (where I do a lot of work) can be a horrendous dark ugly place, but it can also be incredibly supportive. It’s the same organism that in the same breath can find a missing person, or engage for charity, while making the repugnant comments to Julie Di Caro and Sarah Spain that resulted in the jaw dropping “Mean Tweets” video or drove former Manchester United player Darron Gibson off Twitter within one hour of joining. The worst of Twitter is unquestionably dark, disturbing and misogynistic, but it’s worth reflecting on two things: firstly, as media shifts towards opinion and becoming an aggregator of stories (like The Age seems to be becoming) they are more and more likely to use these tweets and promote them in stories. A Dave Hughes tweet was used as the backdrop for a story in the Herald Sun about the Saudi Arabia national anthem “snub” – the line between “keyboard warriors” and old media is thinner than ever. The publicity and self-awareness that comes from a player knowing about a, quote, “vile tweet”, is just as likely to come from reading it on an old media site as reading the tweet itself. Secondly, the idea of tabloid like the Herald Sun (part of the Murdochian set of media values) criticising “vile criticism” is rich and ironic. After all, while Twitter is hardly at times the centre of intellectual public discourse, you can insert your own moment of Herald Sun insensitivity at this point of the reflection…

In the wake of the Alex Fasolo story where he walked away from the game due to depression, and Mark Robinson’s insensitive tweet, several players took to old media to pen articles or do radio interviews on the pressures of dealing with social media and how it impacted negatively on their ability to play football or even enjoy football. Jon “Uncomfortable” Ralph interviewed former Melbourne player Matt Jones, who spoke of his negative experience on Twitter and fear of making an error lest Twitter blow up. Daniel Menzel wrote in the Geelong Advertiser and Hamish Hartlett on a radio interview made mention of the need to delete social media applications such was the vehemence of “direct feedback” from fans. Both Dane Swan and Chris Dawes used the specific “keyboard warriors” phrase in their interactions. The general vibe of the pieces were similar – keyboard warriors who “had no idea” and “had never played” were abusive on Twitter to the point of driving people out of the game. Jones interestingly spoke of players seeking positive affirmation

What was missing from all these pieces was “old media” self-reflection. There’s little question the toxicity of social media is a significant factor in player anxiety and some people want to conflate a terrible game of football with some kind of abhorrent crime that they have to scream and threaten about (just as a random example, I’m sure Nathan Buckleys Twitter feed hasn’t been fun at times) but the constant drift towards “narrative” in AFL coverage has meant old media are instinctively critical of the merest hint of player mis-behaviour or a missed shot at goal. See Garry Lyon calling West Coast “Mummys Boys”, Mark Robinson ridiculing poor performance on the Tackle, On The Couch showing horrible defensive efforts “from the Lab”, the criticism of players pay packets, the “worst on ground” votes on Triple M (replete with chortling about “low hanging fruit”), the trade machine, the talk of finishing players like Riewoldt and Montagna up…

Without this self-reflection from “old media” (radio, newspaper, magazine etc) the circle of what causes players to not enjoy the game is incomplete. I remember several years ago a soccer magazine editor pondering whether we had made a serious miscalculation – that the reason players weren’t keen to do interviews anymore without “supervision” or be themselves was because of the daily “drip” of transfer speculation and rumour. The editor surmised that the daily rumour mill was more toxic than the big tabloid exclusive in many ways, because while the firework show went away once the big tabloid exclusive lost impact, the rumour mill and day-to-day narrative never stopped. We’ve discussed before the fact that media is drifting away from news and moving into the full-time opinion business, and that creates a need to discuss everything that happens in minute, excruciating detail. Every action is debated for no reason, except to fill in time. Not just form, but off field behaviour, body language…filling in time…getting you to click…comment…think about anything but the scores…

Players dealing with mental health issues, anxiety and depression would be well aware that media members can carry agendas, can be vindictive, can chastise, can come up with vendettas dependent on who gives who what interview. The classic example? When Damian Barrett and Dane Swan did an interview on the Footy Show in 2013 and Mark Robinson criticised the interview and brought up a lot of old rumours and discourse about Swan in a less than subtle fashion. If Twitter is “vile” and insulting, what of old media? What of its methods? What of its moods? What of its ever-increasing need to get you to click and engage? It’s also interesting how old media will distance themselves from their own comments section – they write the article, then distance themselves from comments published on their own website. It’s a classic move. And when players read THOSE comments? On their own website, that have been moderated and printed? “Oh that’s keyboard warriors” – the comments section underneath the Nathan Lovett-Murray story were disgusting…who printed them? Who moderated them? Who allowed them to be printed? Who’s to blame for that?

In every single case above, for all the sludge of the chastised “keyboard warriors” that the players mention, it’s relatively easy to find an equally damaging moment from “old media” towards the same players – Chris Dawes? Mark Robinson on SEN in 2016 said “he was gone/his football career was in trouble”. Matt Jones? Every single “mid-season review” from 2016 (the Age, the Herald Sun etc) had him on the “gone” list. Dane Swan? You’d be lying if you said the innuendo around his “lifestyle” came entirely from keyboard warriors. Hamish Hartlett? A trade rumour every week last year, most of which was pure guess-work, and none of which came to fruition. What’s genuinely more damaging – keyboard warrior abuse or “the #1 newsbreaker in the game ™” saying your career is finished or using anonymous sources to say you are getting traded live on a TV show? Jon Ralph thundered on SEN that young players should delete social media saying “there was no benefit” to it. Fine. But then what? After you delete social media, what’s left? The sturm und drang of the Ralphs, Robinsons, Barretts and Dunstalls, critiquing, criticising, poking, finishing you up. No one doubts Twitter can be a negative experience, but without a full reflection on this topic from “old media”, on how they talk, cover and debate football, how they have become Patrick Dangerfields mentioned “judge, jury and executioner”, they leave themselves open to hypocrisy, in muttering and condemning a random tweet without thinking about themselves.

After all, if a “keyboard warrior” had typed what Mark Robinson did, the media would have been critical and condemning – splitting old and social media as to absolve themselves in old media of responsibility for player mental health, that needs to be monitored and discussed as often as possible. It is, after all, finally good to talk…

  • Pretzels

We’ve touched on the fact that one of the developing strands this year in the media is a sense of floundering – with a lot of time to fill and not much going on but (gasp) games of football, there’s been a palpable sense of time to fill and kill. To the medias ongoing disappointment both Rodney Eade and Nathan Buckley have started winning games, leading to a strange Mark Robinson column in the Herald Sun which amounted to “well, Nathan Buckley might win games, he might lose some, but we don’t really know…so…here’s a column about that!”. Into the maelstrom has stepped Alan Richardson into the coach getting fired spotlight, almost the victim of a default checklist. The media has had several mis-fires this year in trying to create clickbait and interest – notably with Gary Ablett, with Scott Pendlebury, with Buckley, with Lyon, with Eade…each time, the person involved has responded with a win or a star performance. Now they are trying to retire Nick Riewoldt and fire Alan Richardson. In an even season, their predictions are becoming pellets and darts, desperately hoping something sticks. It’s almost the theme of the season: woe betide the next player to commit a genuine indescretion. They’ll be criticised almost by default to the nth degree.

With so many shows devoted to hating football/talking football and so many news botherers left with not much to do, in stepped Brendon Goddard. In the interest of full disclosure, obviously as a St Kilda fan Brendon isn’t my favourite player, but if you missed it, at half time in the GWS game Brendon in frustration knocked on some pretzels off the table. It was pretty childish, and lest we say, typical Brendon. Dyson Heppell glared at him, and that was it. A moment of petulance forever captured…

What it wasn’t? A “furore”. Cameron Mooney, not always the ideal team man and prone to emotional outbursts, even went as far as to call it “selfish” and pathetic…

Mooney, himself an emotional player who occasionally let them spill over, lashed Goddard’s actions.

“I reckon that was pathetic,” he told SEN’s The Run Home.

“I know he is an emotional person, but to walk in there and smash that all over the floor wasn’t on.

“You could see the rest of his teammates, including captain Dyson Heppell, thinking ‘what the hell are you doing’.”

So this is where we are at with media – struggling for content so much that hitting pretzels onto the ground is now a selfish act and worthy of commentary. A “furore”, a “selfish act” – setting aside many examples of “emotional” outbursts from Mooney (again, old players do as they say, not as they did) to discuss the smashing of pretzels with solemnity and outrage, it shows we really are struggling…

No wonder Mark Robinson is desperate for “a scandal”…

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