It was fun while it lasted
Please forgive me for such a self-indulgent post, but hopefully you’ll see why I’m writing it by the end.
February 2010 was when I joined Twitter. Social media as we know it now was in its infancy. Twitter was a bit like a series of Facebook statuses — because that’s what we knew. People were dipping their toes into the water and finding their clans amongst a fairly small user-base. I had the sole intention of using it for Spurs stuff, with a major focus on the Academy. At that point, I was the only person that was doing that on Twitter, and so I fairly quickly gained a bit of a following because there were so few ways of finding out information about the Academy, and I was actually going to Under-18 matches and reporting on them, both directly on Twitter and on this blog. I was watching Ryan Mason bang them in for Spurs’ U18s and tweeting about it. That dates it pretty well!
Fast-forward to 2021. Twitter is a very different place with very different rules and I have failed to adapt. In the process of failing to adapt, I have stopped getting more good from it than bad, and often that ratio is a long way off.
COYS Twitter is a particularly hostile place. It is a fractured, segregated environment, with different factions and groups — a sort of heightened version of reality. You have right-wing COYS, left-wing COYS, analytics COYS, pave COYS, ENIC Out COYS. There are two groups that I particularly want to focus on briefly, though.
Football Twitter (FT) COYS. Handles like LoCelsoSZN (sorry if that actually exists, I didn’t check). Bios like ‘I used to have a bio but Kane smashed it into the bottom corner’. A picture of a Spurs player as the avatar. Anonymous except for, maybe, a forename. These are mostly young people, often teenagers, who have been brought up on social media, who are unbelievably hardened to cyber bullying and are savagely relentless in their trolling of one another and everyone else around them. They are often deliberately insincere and flippant in nearly every tweet, using a lexicon of sarcasm to give a pretence that they’re above nearly every issue, constantly undermining each other and then over-celebrating Dubs (Ws, wins) and Ls (losses) when they’ve ‘got’ someone. To do this they use copypasta and memes so it appears harmless and frivolous. You’ll find they randomly tweet about mental health every now and again too, failing to see the complete contradiction in their behaviour.
Then there’s the Mourinhistas. They arrived in COYS Twitter with their favourite manager and they’ve not yet left. They drank the Kool-aid. They are cult-like, they are bot-like, they are single-minded and they hunt in packs. They search for tweets on their guy. They defend him with every bit of energy they have, teaming up to abuse, ridicule. They are, from my experience, often misogynistic and occasionally homophobic and transphobic. If you don’t like Mourinho you have a ‘weak mentality’ and you, the person expressing an opinion about him, are the specific reason your club did not win the league this year, not their favourite manager. I want to make it clear that some fans of Mourinho are completely reasonable. But I (and others) have been aggressively targeted by many who are not.
Anyway, as of today, 24 May 2021, I am basically a meme on COYS Twitter. I am a joke figure amongst a not insignificant part of our fanbase’s Twitter users. By now you probably all know the story of One Hundred Imaginary Trophies. You probably also know about the unconscious bias ‘episode’ that I spoke about recently on The Fighting Cock. You may have even seen the third instalment in the trilogy of my errors where I replied to my mate Bankrupt about an element of the Harry Kane interview. You can check out the quote retweets here if you have the stomach for it.
I see myself as an idiot for tweeting about any of these things. I have not learned my lessons, I am too earnest, I am too sincere; I live in a bubble and too often forget that many, many people don’t share my leftist worldview. But I don’t believe that I deserve the level of abuse, bullying and intimidation that I am now on the receiving end of on a near daily basis. I have received many threats of violence, one of which I reported to the police because it also referred to my partner and I was slightly scared for us both.
Changing tack slightly, I think one of the reasons I am targeted is that I have a verified account. Getting a blue tick was something I was quite proud of for about an hour, then, if I’m honest, it briefly became a handy tool for being noticed by people I wanted to make contact with (you get a special tab in your mentions for ‘verified’ replies only). Ever since it’s been something I have regretted very, very often. It’s something people use against me. I think people see the blue tick people as a brand — an agency using the account, rather than individual human beings. Because, I guess, lots of blue tick account are brands. I also think there’s an assumption that those with blue ticks see themselves as above everyone else. For me, it was the opposite. I found it undermining and felt embarrassed, as time went on, to have a blue tick just because I wrote a few Spurs articles for publications back in the day.
Alongside this, I think there’s a misunderstanding about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a pile-on. People often say to me ‘you put opinions out there in a large account, you have to expect people to disagree’, as if this is simply a bit of disagreement. The quote retweet culture is not about disagreeing. It’s about performatively disagreeing in a way which encourages others to perfomatively disagree. There’s a big difference between ten people replying to a tweet by saying ‘this is nonsense, you clown, shut up’ and ten people quote tweeting your tweet with the comment ‘this is nonsense, you clown, shut up’, which leads to another ten and another ten and another ten with multiple replies and likes on each. It’s particularly different when a lot of the disagreement quickly becomes abusive. Before you know it there’s a mass pile-on. This is bullying.
Quote retweet culture is troubling. I use (or, used) quote retweets quite a bit, usually to add commentary to an article or a piece of news in a way which allows people to see the source and also credits that source. But, more often, it’s used to generate clicks (‘quote retweet this with how you like your toast’) or to dunk on people — often for political views. Speaking of which, I sometimes I have to remind myself that most of what I do is expressing opinions on football, it’s really not incendiary stuff in the grand scheme of things.
But I admit that I am also, at heart, a bit of a social justice warrior. I care deeply about matters of equality and that seeps into my tweets, naturally, because as well as being WindyCOYS, someone who comments on football, I am also Chris Miller, who wants to live in a more equal society. So when I spoke about toxic masculinity to my mate Bankrupt, I was reflecting on Kane’s comment. I won’t deconstruct it here because it’s not the purpose of the article (and, frankly, I’m not keen to repeat the past few days), but if you’re interested, here’s some reading.
I have decided that it is not fun for me on Twitter anymore. Not only is it not fun, it is an actively unpleasant experience every day. Getting hundreds of people calling you an idiot, or worse, is a bit like being put in the stocks in your local village. You feel exposed, everyone’s laughing at you. Some of those people are people you respect. I try not to worry about what others think about me, focussing only on friends and family and people I care about, but it’s difficult with that sort of volume of aggressive criticism (and beyond) not to be affected. I can’t just mute a thread and walk-away — I’ve tried it but I don’t have the self-discipline; I am quite an all or nothing person and ultimately I do care too much about what other people think, which is something I need to work on.
Another observation is that the COYS community doesn’t really look out for one another anymore. I tend to get messages of support via email or Direct Messages when I’m in the midst of a round of abuse and harassment, which is always lovely and appreciated, but people are so scared about being the next person that gets turned on that they don’t call out bullies. There are three individuals on Twitter who have ultimately caused this experience to be so excruciatingly bad for me over the past few months, and they carry on unchecked. I see them doing the same sorts of things to others — their behaviour gets them likes, retweets, they gain followers.
If I could urge you to do two things differently having read this, it’s 1. to be active bystanders online as well as in-person. To let people know that you’ve seen their behaviour and that it’s mean spirited or not okay. Don’t put yourself at risk but when you feel able to stick up for someone who is being targeted, if you feel like you can say something to stop a pile-on happening, give it a go. And 2. to send people you enjoy on social media some positive vibes. One nice tweet a day to someone you appreciate is not a hard target to maintain. Those messages can help cut through the mountain of negativity.
With all of this in mind I’ve decided to stop using Twitter. I’ll still run The Extra Inch account to get podcast questions or run the odd poll here and there to get a gauge of the fanbase. And I’ll still use my personal account to follow news and politics and whatnot. But I won’t be tweeting from WindyCOYS, at least for a few months, maybe for the next season, maybe forever.
There will be some people who celebrate me no longer being on Twitter, who will take it as a victory. Literally every single one of those people could have muted me and never seen me or my football opinions ever again. That’s what I find so sad about all of this.
I’m going to use this blog more, and I’m going to put the vast, vast majority of my energy into The Extra Inch Patreon, where there is a wonderful Spurs community on Discord which is a complete antidote to Twitter. You can still also hear me on our free, weekly podcast and I’m contactable if you need to get in touch with me; details on the contact page of this blog.
Thanks to all who’ve sent me messages and checked in on me — please, please don’t feel the need to do so again, I’m honestly absolutely fine and I’d rather you put your energy into more needy causes (and sending positive vibes to people you appreciate!). Take care and COYS x