Cult followings and Chelsea’s problem with online abuse.

No to hate and online abuse
The players making the message clear: No to hate. | Credit https://www.chelseafc.com/en/news/2021/03/18/chelsea-fc-launch-no-to-hate-campaign

Intro

Chelsea have enjoyed a rollercoaster of a season this year. From the highs of top four qualification and reaching a Champions League final to the brutal lows of Frank Lampard’s final weeks in charge, the only thing consistent has been the inconsistency. ‘Glorious Unpredictability’ as a certain Mark Worrall might say. Still, one thing has that has been ever-present is Chelsea’s problem with online abuse.

This has been highlighted in recent weeks after individual errors in crucial, must win games, but it is something that has been extremely prevalent throughout all of the season. Players like Mason Mount, Kepa Arrizabalaga, and Jorginho have been some of the main victims of abuse, but they are certainly not the only ones.

I think it’s fair to say that all online abuse is not okay. So, what role do social media cult followings play in it and why do we hold some abuse to different standards?

Mason Mount and Jorginho

For example, Chelsea recently lost to Arsenal in the Premier League by a score of 1-0. The performance was abject, but you could say the defeat essentially came down to an individual mistake. Jorginho was put under immense pressure by Arsenal and a sloppy Kurt Zouma pass. He then played the ball back to Kepa, nearly scoring an own goal and in the end, gifting the lead to Arsenal.

After the match, there was understandable frustration from fans, and some criticised Jorginho and various other players for getting in a mess while playing out from the back and ultimately costing us the three points. Unfortunately, as it often does, the criticism soon turned to abuse.

A quick scroll through comments on Instagram unearthed people telling him to “F*ck off”, “Get out of our club” and even to “Kys” (Kill yourself).

Other than this obviously being abhorrent behaviour, another big problem I have with this is that it often seems accepted by certain parts of the Chelsea fanbase. It is rarely called out and when it is, it’s often used as a justification to abuse other players.

Mason Mount is another who has suffered horrendous online abuse, mostly by supposed “fans” of Chelsea as well. The difference is, when Mason Mount gets abused, we don’t let it slide. He has been protected in the media and online by real Chelsea fans and rightly so. It’s just important that we keep the same energy for everyone.

Okay, Mason Mount is the golden boy and will always hold a special place in Chelsea fan’s hearts. He is Chelsea born and bred and naturally will always be loved more by fans than a player brought in for a transfer fee. Still, whether or not you rate a player like Jorginho, the abuse cannot be tolerated and should be treated the same way.

You can still criticise, you can still hold a view that he is not the man to anchor Chelsea’s midfield, but there must be a degree of respect. He is Chelsea’s vice-captain, is trusted by the manager, and has shown a professional attitude ever since joining the club.

It’s a horrible division that has been developing in this club’s fanbase over the past few years. There are cliques of fans who appear to hate each other so much that they end up taking it out on favourite player(s) of other fans. It’s been steadily getting worse over the years and while the good form brought in by Thomas Tuchel has certainly pushed it out of the spotlight, it only takes a couple of mistakes or poor performances for it to rear its ugly head again.

Why has it ended up this way?

So how did we get to this point? The double standards around player abuse are unfortunately just a symptom of the increasingly divided nature of Chelsea’s online fanbase. You aren’t allowed to just support the team anymore; you have to rally around an ex-manager (take your pick of which one) and relentlessly obsess over an individual player. Nothing bad must be said about this individual and any criticism should be taken as a direct assault on your character. It’s kill or be killed out here!

I don’t like to come back to Maurizio Sarri too much as the whole topic has been done to death. I personally liked him as a manager and feel he was harshly treated, but I think it’s fair to say that his time at Chelsea played a part in this aforementioned divide. By the end of his tenure, we had ended up with two incredibly vocal groups on social media. Neither of these properly represent the fanbase as a whole, but they managed to make up a huge part of our online space.

Both groups have amassed cult-like followings and absolutely hate each other. They align themselves to certain players who they feel represent their footballing ideologies and it’s no surprise that with the emergence of these groups, we saw an increase in online abuse. Just to get a further idea of what we are dealing with here, within these sections of alleged fandom, it can sometimes be seen as a rite of passage to get blocked on Twitter by players or staff they don’t like. Go figure…

Mason Mount receiving online abuse due to his relationship with Frank Lampard
LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 03: Mason Mount and Frank Lampard of Chelsea celebrate after their sides 2-0 win during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge on March 03, 2020 in London, England. | Credit: Robin Jones/Getty Images

I think a big part of the problem is people start to judge the player based on the fanbase that surrounds them. For example, many people have had negative experiences dealing with hardcore Jorginho/Sarri fans and as a result, come to dislike Jorginho. Vice versa for Mason Mount, Frank Lampard, and co.

It truly is mind-numbingly stupid and if you ask me, and both sets of fans are often as bad as each other. While everyone is entitled to their views, these two groups constantly going at each other’s throats on social media has made it miserable for many. Most people are just normal supporters who want to support their team and discuss all things Chelsea with fellow like-minded fans. This makes it especially frustrating when any conversation about certain players immediately descends into name-calling and abuse. It’s childish and needs to stop.

It also creates a difficult situation if your two favourite players at the club are Mason Mount and Jorginho but perhaps that’s just a ‘me problem’.

What can be done?

There is never going to be an easy fix to a problem like this. Policing social media has been an issue ever since its creation and it is not going to be solved overnight.

However, I do feel that one of the best ways to combat social media abuse is by raising awareness and letting people know that as a fanbase we will not accept it. To their credit, Chelsea have been vocal in their condemnation of online hate and released social media policies earlier in May to try and fight abuse. The social media boycott last month to combat online abuse and discrimination was also a good start but I still feel that more needs to be done.

It’s important that when we see online abuse, of any player, we call it out and report it. It’s not fair on the players and could have a serious effect on their mental well-being. If we keep ignoring the problem and buying into cheap rivalries, it will just keep growing. Some will inevitably believe that they can get away with saying whatever they want on social media as there is no consequence.

@DeanMears explores why the social media blackout matters, and why it still matters.

It would also be nice to see social media companies taking a harder stance on the issue as well. Twitter doesn’t seem to care when people break their terms and conditions, and accounts get away with saying all sorts of horrible stuff without facing sanctions.

It should go without saying, but when you make a death threat, you should have your account suspended and should be reported to the police. Also, when you make vicious personal insults, there should be consequences to your account. I’m not going to claim to know the exact strategy needed but it’s still something that needs to be looked at more by the likes of Instagram and Twitter.

One thing that we can all do is to try and be objective with our judgements of players. Trying to stay out of tribalism on social media can be hard but it’s the best way to take away its power.  The group of fans surrounding a player is not the player and there is no need to think otherwise.

Rounding Up

I tweeted about Jorginho being unfairly criticised the other day and one of the first responses was “Jorginho is just a waste of space. Mount is a superstar”. It really irked me and felt like a classic example of Twitter at its worst. Why the comparison? Why is it one or the other? It is possible to praise one player without dragging down another. Equally, you can like two players. Shock horror I know.

This is all to say, If you start allowing your opinions of a player to be influenced by a vocal minority of antisocial fans online, you aren’t going to have a great time. You will get dragged into this social media civil war that seems to have been raging on for the last few years and in short, you will become part of the problem.

Before you tweet a player directly, just stop for a second and think about how they will react if they read it. It takes no effort and could make a huge difference in stopping online abuse. Just remember, criticism is okay, abuse is not. Simple as that.

Sources:

https://www.thefa.com/news/2021/apr/29/stop-online-abuse-20210429

https://www.chelseafc.com/en/news/2021/05/04/chelsea-fc-releases-social-media-policy-to-help-club-and-fans-fi

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/56942511

Written by @CFCExtra

Edited by Jai McIntosh @jjmcintosh5


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