May 14, 2021

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MARTIN SAMUEL: Social media is a serpent consuming its own tail and it is time to cut it off


Hana Kimura was a Japanese professional wrestler and a star of the Netflix reality show, Terrace House, a twist on Big Brother. She took her life last year at the age of 22.

This week, a male from Osaka, whose identity has been kept secret, was fined 9,000 yen for cyber-bullying including a string of messages that Kimura found distressing and affecting. ‘Is your life worth living?’ she was asked, and ‘When will you die?’

In the days before her death, Kimura was clearly troubled by the relentless negativity swirling around her. ‘I don’t want to be a human any more,’ she posted. ‘It was a life I wanted to be loved. Thank you everyone, I love you. Bye.’ 

Japanese wrestler Hana Kimura killed herself after struggling with negative messages online

So that’s the worth of a human life on social media: 9,000 yen; or converted to sterling, 59 quid. The maximum fine in Japan for the offence of making public insults is £66. Kimura’s tormentor did not even get the full sentence. Meanwhile, for those requiring a little additional perspective, Instagram has an estimated worth of £72.5billion.

And there, perhaps, is the logical end to sport’s own cycle of online abuse, hounding and summary retribution. It just hasn’t happened yet. That we know of.

Claude Callegari, a 58-year-old Arsenal fanatic and formerly a regular on Arsenal Fan TV, died this week, after a cryptic post announcing he ‘would disappear soon to see my mother then you can all be happy’. It can be presumed from his tone that whoever he was addressing had not been wishing him well.

The family issued a statement late on Thursday night suggesting he died of natural causes. Yet Callegari may have been more fragile than his robust online presence suggested. On July 1, 2016, Essex Police appealed for help in finding him. Callegari had last been seen at 11.30am on Thursday. This was at 8am on Friday. Most adults can go a night without checking in before anyone notifies police. Yet the statement read: ‘Our officers and his family are extremely concerned for his welfare…’ suggesting issues.

‘We haven’t spoken to Claude since the end of the season but we were aware of some of the disgusting trolling he’s been recently subjected to,’ said his colleagues at AFTV. That day, Callegari made contact with his family. All’s well that ends well.

Claude Callegari, of Arsenal Fan TV fame, passed away this week days after posting that he 'would disappear soon to see my mother then you can all be happy'

Claude Callegari, of Arsenal Fan TV fame, passed away this week days after posting that he ‘would disappear soon to see my mother then you can all be happy’

And then, on July 12, 2020, Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1. Callegari was one of the voices on the AFTV live stream and when Son Heung-min was substituted in the 89th minute he could be heard saying in the background, ‘DVD’s going off…’

This is a common slur aimed at Asian footballers playing on the stereotype of selling fake merchandise, particularly films. As Son is the most high profile Asian footballer in Britain one imagines he hears it more than most. And, for a YouTube channel with significant sponsors, partners and a million subscribers, it is wholly unacceptable. After a failed attempt at mitigation – it was first claimed the comment was intended to make fun of Tottenham for selling merchandise of rare victories over Arsenal – AFTV sacked Callegari.

He reappeared as Claude and the Bansta’s on his own YouTube channel. A fraction of the following – around 63,000 – but enough to draw the attention of those who live to bait.

And this was Callegari’s world. He chose it. In many ways, he fed it too. AFTV rose to prominence for the rants that followed every defeat under Arsene Wenger. One might even argue the poisonous mood inside the Emirates was in part their work.

Even so, whatever happened next, there is something pitiful in Callegari’s last message. Something that speaks of a man unable to control the monster he helped create. Something of Sweepyface about it.

Thierry Henry has come off social media because of unchecked racism and bullying on there

Thierry Henry has come off social media because of unchecked racism and bullying on there

Sweepyface was Brenda Leyland, a 63-year-old divorced mother living in the Leicestershire village of Burton Overy. She was a university graduate and churchgoer, with a disguised and spiteful secret life, obsessively trolling Gerry and Kate McCann. She was obsessed with the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine – criticising them.

Much of what she wrote was horrible until one day, after a Sky News investigation into online trolling, she was confronted in the street by their reporter Martin Brunt and his camera crew. Now, it was Sweepyface who had the hounds of online hell on her trail. She fled to a Marriott in Leicester where, three days later, she killed herself. And then the mob turned on Brunt, for provoking this.

Social media is modern society’s ouroboros, the serpent perpetually consuming its own tail. Callegari and his mob went after Arsenal managers – online tributes and highlight reels this week all included a clip of him grabbing the microphone and shouting ‘it’s time to go!’ about Unai Emery after a, wait for it, 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace – and then the mob went after Callegari after the DVD comment and on and on until, well, here we are, awaiting another coroner’s report. Robbie Lyle, head of AFTV, said Callegari found lockdown tough. ‘I remember him saying he’d been in bed for three weeks because he’d forgotten to take the medication,’ Lyle explained.

Thierry Henry came off social media this week. Arsenal’s players are talking of following him. Gareth Southgate, the England manager, says he will discuss a social media blackout with his players during this summer’s European Championship. It is far from the worst idea, particularly as the picture he painted of a modern post-match dressing room was terrifying.

‘If you spoke to every manager in the country,’ said Southgate, ‘one of their biggest concerns is that after a game players are scrolling through their phones. It’s a vulnerable time, they are tired, fatigued – and what voice are they listening to? Companies in charge don’t seem to be controlling it at the moment.’

Gareth Southgate said bosses are concerned about players going on social media after games

Gareth Southgate said bosses are concerned about players going on social media after games

Yet controlling what? Those moments spent reading timelines in the aftermath, who is in control of that? Not Mark Zuckerberg. Not Jack Dorsey. You. By all means ban social media, but never forget whose name, whose identity, is on that account whether sender or receiver. Yours. It is in your power to block, to ignore, to withdraw, to count to 10, to apply context, and return to a life that every Sweepyface, every tormentor cannot invade.

This applies to mainstream media too. These days, how often do you read that an organisation or an individual has been ‘slammed by fans’ and the reality turns out to be four tweets by anons with about 17 followers between them?

Yet the person in the centre of that confected storm is made to feel as if the world has gathered, with burning torches. It might as well be one table, in a pub. Sometimes less.

A front page story in a national newspaper alleging fury some years back was based on a single negative tweet about Andy Murray. Imagine writing that same report, but the source was a bloke on his own, mumbling into his fifth pint in a corner of the Red Lion one Friday. ‘Bert, a 48-year-old unemployed plasterer, said…’ We give social media far too much credence.

This is why it ends up killing people like Kimura. This is why managers are worried when they see those anxious eyes seeking approval after the match is done. In those moments, it feels the globe is against you. Not trolls, not creeps, but worthies, people whose opinions truly matter.

It is easy to forget who is in control. It’s not them, it’s you. Leave them to goad each other. Take a deep breath. Look around. See the reality. Feeling doubtful? Feeling anxious? Feeling blue? Switch it off.

Referee equality? Hold men and women to the same account

Rebecca Welch is the first female referee appointed to an EFL game. She will take charge of Harrogate versus Port Vale on Monday.

‘I think it’s important that people who are fortunate enough to be in my position can show people that this can be done,’ she said. Quite right. Except will this actually be the case? Recently, there doesn’t appear to be as much of Sian Massey-Ellis on our screens. As a Premier League assistant referee, and a very good one, she would expect to be on camera in the aftermath of any controversial decision. Yet in some recent matches, Barnsley vs Chelsea in the FA Cup, for instance, there seems to be a reluctance to detail her involvement.

At Oakwell, she looked to have messed up for Chelsea’s goal. When Tammy Abraham scored, she was well behind the play and he appeared substantially offside. There was no VAR. Replays then showed Abraham was just on. Yet a smart call, or a little fortunate, it made no difference. There was no mention, no shot, of Massey-Ellis in the interim.

And there are some nasty people out there. One imagines the best intentions are at work.

Yet if Welch, Massey-Ellis, and all the other trailblazers are to inspire, they must be visible. And that means giving them the freedom to be right, or wrong, just like the men.

Rebecca Welch will become the first female to referee an EFL match next week

Rebecca Welch will become the first female to referee an EFL match next week 

Ireland’s Kenny is desperate

Stoke boss Michael O’Neill was nine years in charge of Northern Ireland, so no doubt has great sympathy for international coaches. 

When he says that James McClean was injured and only supposed to join up with the Republic of Ireland squad as a ‘safety blanket’, we can believe him. 

Instead, McClean played 40 minutes of the competitive games as a substitute, then 84 minutes of a friendly with Qatar. That says just one thing about Ireland manager Stephen Kenny: he’s desperate.

Coates’ billions to be applauded not scoffed at

Denise Coates was paid £421million as joint chief executive of Bet365 last year, and you know you’ll be hearing a lot more of that in the coming days. 

Then again, who would you rather have on your daughter’s wall? Cardi B, or a woman whose ideas transformed an industry, who is always the smartest in the room and is confident enough to draw £1.2billion across the last four years, without a moment of self-doubt or apology. 

Pays her taxes and donates millions to charity, too. Coates should be a feminist icon.

Roy is right… Mason’s a gem 

‘There are a lot of idiots out there,’ said Roy Keane of those who don’t appreciate Mason Mount. It was the same with Frank Lampard, his mentor. He was like litmus paper. Never trust the knowledge of anyone who thought he couldn’t play.

Mason Mount is a very talented player and Roy Keane was right to slap down his critics

Mason Mount is a very talented player and Roy Keane was right to slap down his critics

It’s time to boot out Boothroyd 

Managing England’s Under 21 players is not, as Aidy Boothroyd would have us believe, an impossible job. And if that is how he finds it, the position is not for him. 

‘They will learn from this,’ said Boothroyd after his team had been eliminated from the European Championship by a late goal from Croatia. 

Equally, as the man who switched formation to a back five after 89 minutes before conceding, maybe he needs to learn, too. Somewhere away from the future of English football, preferably.

Tuchel’s great… but it doesn’t endorse policy 

Chelsea are at home to West Bromwich on Saturday, so we can predict another three points for Thomas Tuchel. And when they come, no doubt there will be further endorsements for the managerial revolving door at Chelsea. Look at what they have won with this incessant upheaval, this desire for change. And it’s true. Chelsea have been very successful, and Tuchel has done an outstanding job.

Yet we also presume change would not have occurred any other way. That no manager would have righted the ship given time, as Sir Alex Ferguson did frequently at Manchester United, as Pep Guardiola has at Manchester City. It is taken as read that this downward trajectory would continue, even though events in a parallel universe are never proven, merely imagined.

Tuchel's made a great start but who can prove Lampard wouldn't have turned things around?

Tuchel’s made a great start but who can prove Lampard wouldn’t have turned things around? 

Why Southgate should pick four right backs for Euros

The problem with England’s squad for the European Championship is that Gareth Southgate cannot pick four right backs just because England are very strong there. That is the perceived wisdom anyway. But, actually, he could. Indeed, it might be argued what is the point in picking four strikers just because that number represents convention, if two couldn’t be trusted to start anyway?

Of England’s right backs, Kieran Trippier operates as a surrogate left back, Kyle Walker can play centre half in a three, while Trent Alexander-Arnold could be a battlefield promotion into a holding central midfield role, certainly if given reasonable time in the friendly matches. This would allow England to pack the forward midfield area which is a real strength. Indeed, 4-1-4-1, would arguably be England’s best set-up against anything but the leading teams, when two guards would be needed in a 4-2-3-1 formation. That way England could play Phil Foden and Mason Mount behind Harry Kane, with Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish wider. When both Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson were needed, one of the four would have to drop out. Who? There is plenty more time for this debate. As it stands, and presuming several returns to fitness, my 23 would be:

Pickford, D Henderson, Pope; Maguire, Stones, Coady, Shaw, Alexander-Arnold, James, Walker, Trippier; Rice, Mount, Foden, Lingard, Sterling, Grealish, J Henderson, Maddison, Sancho; Kane, Rashford, Calvert-Lewin.

England should take four right backs to the Euros, including Trent Alexander-Arnold (above

England should take four right backs to the Euros, including Trent Alexander-Arnold (above)