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The Dangers of Social Media



Saturday’s postmatch events highlighted an increasing influence in football: Social media. After having sportingly exchanged messages ahead of the match, a real life event on the pitch caused an even bigger explosion on social media. Gattuso immediately pointed out that it was time for big clubs to impose limitations on social media use for their players. But even better would be if fans would think twice about the dangers of social media use.

No one could have anticipated the backlash, especially on social media

It began with some harmless and sporting posts on social media between Acerbi and Bakayoko. It was entertaining for the fans to see, and increased the buildup to the match. At the end of the game, Bakayoko exchanged jerseys with Acerbi, which is almost a sacred tradition in football, especially if there is a special rivalry. The tradition of exchanging jerseys is one of the things that maintains peace amongst fierce rivalries and restores peace when there have been ugly incidents within a match. It would have been the perfect ending to the social media banter in this case, and was complete with a warm embrace between the two.

From there, it took a turn for the worse. Bakayoko and Kessie took the peace offering and paraded it in front of the Milan fans like a trophy. So unsporting. But when they say it was a joke and the meant no harm, I believe them. Everyone knows that Kessie and Bakayoko are the comics in the squad. They are always making jokes and doing silly things. If this had happened at Milanello or somewhere not so public as a game broadcast all over the world, no one would be talking about it. But it didn’t. It happened at a big club in a big game on live television and streaming. And it happened on social media.

Worse that it was a Milanita, ex-Milan, and cancer survivor who was targeted

Immediately upon hearing about the incident during his postmatch press conference, Gattuso publicly apologized to Acerbi and said, “The time has come for big clubs to start limiting the social media accounts of their professionals. They ought to concentrate more on training than twiddling their thumbs on their phones.” (via football-italia.net) The man has caused his own fair share of controversies, and he immediately knew that it was because of social media that this one was going to explode. He made Bakayoko and Kessie immediately and publicly apologize, too. Damage control for something that would yet spin out of control.

In hindsight, the shirt incident was never as big as the social media backlash would make it. Acerbi posted his disappointment, but after speaking to Bakayoko on the phone, posted a message on social media about 24 hours after the event: “Enough controversy, we’ll meet again on the pitch,” along with a picture of he and Bakayoko hugging. That was enough for some people, but only the beginning for the true keyboard warriors. And the players, I’m sure, have learned a lot about the dangers of social media.

How it should have ended before it began

What happened on social media reached a scope I don’t think anyone could have believed. Sure, the media covered the incident, but social media fed the coverage. Milan fans said it was just a joke, Acerbi was too sensitive, it was no big deal. Lazio fans said it was the worst thing ever, and turned to Kessie and Bakayoko’s social media accounts with racist abuse. That led Milan fans to deciding that when the sporting judges opened an investigation into the incident, that the entire FIGC were racist. This wouldn’t have happened to white players, they said. And so many unbelievably ridiculous things that weren’t even related to this event. And such incredibly dangerous accusations, the kind that actually could have legal repercussions. None of it was true, of course. But the debate on social media rages on.

Again, the incident was unsporting. At worst, the sporting judges may have fined the players to send a message and set a precedent that this was inappropriate on the pitch. They opted not even to do that. The FIGC’s prosecutor is also looking into it now, however, let’s hope he’s smart enough to do the right thing. But what happened on social media between fans was (and still is, as of this writing,) so hateful and divisive that I’m sure all involved wish that it had never happened.

Sometimes what seems like a funny idea isn't so funny to the rest of the world 

Leonardo and Maldini scolded the players about the incidents, because episodes like that are “not tolerated in a club like Milan,” citing the club’s image. Reina responded, speaking for the group, saying they would be more responsible and they would have the motto “less social, more work.” (via MilanNews.it) This is only damage control. And there is no controlling the damage in a situation like this. Social media users never cease to astound with the levels of hate, misinformation, and momentum they create from their devices. It would be impossible to predict that an image of two grown men holding up a shirt would go viral and stir up such anger and hate.

What Acerbi and Bakayoko said to one another on social media was harmless. Or it should have been. One never knows what the backlash would be on a tweet or two. The shirt incident was unsporting at worst, and combined with the social media posts, became a monster in the hands of keyboard warriors. The image can never be taken back, and not even damage control can really help with something like this. That is why what they did was wrong, even if the reason why isn’t their fault.  I certainly think that the players will think twice before posting in the future. But the real question is will the fans think twice? Whether it be a reffing controversy or something like this, sportsmanship is a foreign language on social media. Gone are the days when fans would simply support their team. Now a seemingly harmless event or series of events can incite hatred beyond belief and destroy the beauty of a match well played on the pitch. And those are the dangers of social media.


This post inspired by the music of NIN “Down In It”


Our next match is
Serie A Week 33
Parma vs. Milan
Saturday, April 20 • 12:30 CST (3:30am EDT)