A few years ago, Charlie Brooker – creator of the brilliant Black Mirror and a former Guardian columnist – hosted a show for Channel 4 that counted down the greatest video games of all time. A sucker for those sorts of things, not to mention a bit of a gamer in my youth, I tuned in with great interest. There they were: Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart, Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter II, GoldenEye, Call of Duty … on it went until it was time for Brooker to reveal the No 1. “What could it be?” I wondered. I was not ready for the answer, because the answer was Twitter.
A baffling choice and I can’t remember Brooker’s logic for why Twitter was best of the lot. But I do remember his argument for why it was definitely a game, which was that, ultimately, the aim of people who use it is to collect as many followers as possible. Nobody wins Twitter, but everyone plays it, trying their hardest to be among the most popular, influential, important people on there.
It’s something that stuck with me and turned over in my head whenever I logged into my account. What is the point of this? What am I trying to achieve? Am I, as Brooker suggested, desperately seeking attention? The answer I came to is yes, I am, so I decided to log out once and for all.
Yes, that’s right, I’m off Twitter. Sober for a little under three months and loving it. I left during the World Cup and because of the World Cup, having decided to disengage as much as possible with a tournament whose very existence led to sick forming in my mouth. But it had been a long time coming and fundamentally for what we can at this stage call Brooker’s Law; that every tweet, to varying degrees, is a cry to be noticed.
A big opinion. Look at me. A hot take. Look at me. A six-part thread. Look at me. An eight-part rant. Look at me. This job I’ve got, this award I’ve won, this photo of my cute daughter on the swings, this photo of my cute dog on Whitby beach. Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me. On it goes, as relentless as it is nauseating.
I was just as bad, what with my wry quips, silly puns and pictures of beer and bridges from trips to watch Liverpool play in Europe, all with the aim of chasing those likes and retweets. I knew what I was doing and kept on doing it until, finally, I stopped. On a Thursday. In late November.
Attention is a human craving, one that’s incredibly addictive, which is why social media thrives. It can be hard to kick the habit and that is why I knew I had to go cold turkey in regards to the only platform I was on. No half measures such as deleting the app from my phone and pretending I wouldn’t just log on via Google. No, the account had to be deactivated. Get out quickly and emphatically. My sense is few of my followers noticed what I did, which pretty much summed up my time on Twitter, too.
But that’s fine because my decision to quit Twitter was based on factors beyond a need for recognition. More broadly, its descent into hell under Elon Musk – or as the comedian John Oliver described him: “A man who answers the question: ‘What if Willy Wonka benefited from apartheid?’” – and because of my increasing unease with being part of “Football Twitter”.
It’s been a nightmare of noise for some time, exhibiting the racism, sexism and homophobia you get on other parts of the site, while also providing its own uniquely tribal flavour, which can be stupidly childish as well as searingly nasty, seen starkly in the abuse those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough are subjected to. Then there’s the increasingly tiresome scourge of whataboutery.
Has football discourse always been this way and the difference now is we can see it laid out in front of us, 280 characters at a time? Or have things changed as a consequence of the polarised times we live in? It’s probably a bit of both and sadly there is little sign of things becoming nicer, kinder, any time soon. You can mute and block as much as you want, but such are Twitter’s algorithms and the way things are shared, some of the sewage will always wash up on your shore.
I’ve walked away from Twitter before, including 11 years ago when I received abuse from a gang of trolls so vicious it led to me getting the police involved, but this time really does feel like for keeps. I’m not missing it in the slightest and the impact on my job has been minimal – turns out it is possible to be a sports journalist without reading and writing tweets. More importantly, the benefit to my mental health is clear. It’s not that it’s necessarily improved – life ensures my state of mind is always a bit crap – but no more timeline-scrolling has undeniably meant it not getting notably worse.
Concerns over his mental health is why fellow Liverpool-supporting football writer Henry Jackson has also given consideration to coming off Twitter. “It has become a far nastier place,” he says. “People are so opinionated that they can never be wrong and it all feels so tribal, not just between rival fans, but among those of the same team. Start tweeting about Jordan Henderson or Naby Keïta to lots of Liverpool-focused accounts, for instance, and all hell will let loose.
“It can be damaging to be on Twitter, especially when you’re sensitive and take criticism to heart like I do,” he says. “There’s enough negativity in the world without social media adding to it.”
As Jackson stresses, there are positives to Twitter, in his case being somewhere he can plug articles and “allow my personality to shine through”. That’s also the case for others and it’s where I made friends and came across important and stimulating journalism, as well as important and stimulating debates. Then there was the fun stuff, such as podcast recommendations and Josh Pugh sketches. For many, the sense of community is also important, which in relation to “Football Twitter’” means people connecting with a sport that can otherwise feel unwelcoming to them, for various reasons.
So good luck to the good folk who continue to use Twitter. I wish you well. But for now and the foreseeable future, I’m done. No more attention-seeking and abuse. Account deactivated. Game over.
#Football #Twitter #nightmare #abuse #attentionseeking #walked #Soccer