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EXCLUSIVE It's time for players to shut their social media accounts


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James McClean of the Republic of Ireland has  this week highlighted the ongoing abuse he has received on social media

James McClean of the Republic of Ireland has this week highlighted the ongoing abuse he has received on social media

James McClean in action for the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

James McClean in action for the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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James McClean of the Republic of Ireland has this week highlighted the ongoing abuse he has received on social media

I never got online abuse. Because I was never on social media. I’ve never had an account with Twitter or Instagram. I don’t have time for it, I have a life that I am happy to lead and I don’t feel the need to share every minute of my life with everyone else, so that exposure on social media never appealed to me for a second. I like walking my dog every day, I don’t need other people to ‘like’ the fact that I do that.

I have nothing but sympathy for James McClean, and his family, for what he has been through. Not just this week, but over the last few years.

But if it’s not working for you, why do you stay on it? I don’t think it’s a platform that footballers need. Social media can serve a purpose, but you also have bad people on it who are going to have a go at someone, whether that’s because they are black or gay or Irish or whatever their issue is, and footballers are easy targets.

Not everyone online is going to like you, it’s inevitable that some people will be nasty to others online. And for me, the simple answer is: don’t go on social media.

I know it could be argued that doing that is giving in, letting the bullies and the nasty people win. But they do win every time they are highlighted in the media.

I am convinced that the people who made those disgusting comments about James McClean and his family online knew well that it would make the newspapers and the TV the following day. They are winning as they know there is no comeback, that Twitter and Instagram won’t come after them.

So my feeling is to let those people live their lives, and have their hate, online. They have no intention of promoting a healthy way of life, a positive story, they are just bad people who live their lives a certain way. So let them at it.

Footballers and athletes, and celebrities in general, feel they have to be on social media to promote themselves, to boost their profile. But I never saw the point. If the social media companies are not going to run it properly then, as a former player, social media is not the right place for a footballer to be. There should be a better platform to promote your career or your brand or your beliefs.

There are bad people online, so if you don’t want to be associated with them, don’t sign up for it in the first place. You can’t be a target of hate on social media if you’re not on it in the first place.

The other side of what’s happened to James – being threatened or abused in the street or in the shops when he’s out with his family – is very difficult to cope with. I don’t think I was ever in a situation where I feared for my safety, or for that of my family.

All through my career I had people say things to me, in the pre-internet days people thought they had a right to speak to you and say whatever they wanted, and they don’t expect any comeback. That’s happened to most footballers. But James gets more than most players could ever imagine.

James is very proud of where he’s from, he has his beliefs but not everyone shares his views so they will come back at him and social media makes that even worse as people are far braver there than in person.

There have to be consequences for people who abuse or threaten James, or any footballer. The people who make those threats should be identified, should lose their jobs, should be in court. But I fear that won’t put an end to it. The people who put out all that hate will end up teaching it to their children, and on it goes.

I have lived in England for most of my life now and, in terms of any abuse, I just never listened to it, it never bothered me. I never had what I’d consider abuse because I was Irish. I have had a good life in England, England’s been good to me. I don’t go to the shops in the morning expecting someone to call me ‘Paddy’.

On the other side of it, having lived in France for five years, I hear French people all the time go on about “the stupid English” and make comments about English people.

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James McClean in action for the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

James McClean in action for the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

James McClean in action for the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

My experience is that it’s non-existent now, but then again, I’m not James McClean and I haven’t seen a lot of Irish footballers coming out to say they’ve had it. I haven’t heard of it happening to Robbie Brady or Jeff Hendrick – maybe it does but I haven’t heard that it’s there. It’s clearly happening to James.

From the age of 17 to 35, when you are a professional footballer, every aspect of your life is judged by people you don’t know, who don’t know you. Everyone feels they can comment on you. My approach was always, if you took it all on board, if you listened to, or read, every comment that was made about you, you’d never go outside your door.

So I would never really listen to what people said about me. I went out to play football on a Saturday and that was my focus, I was grateful if people said ‘well done’ and didn’t care when people criticised me, because you can get dragged so low if you let the criticism, the hate, get to you.

There should still be a limit to what you can say on social media, but there doesn’t seem to be, which is why my approach is to stay off it.

James can be protected at matches and more should be done to root out any people who abuse him. Getting letters and messages sent to his house or his club is very serious and very worrying and has to be dealt with.

I can only imagine how frightening all that is for James and his family. He’s entitled to feel safe going about his work, or his life, like anyone else.

But for me, social media has nothing to offer as the social media companies don’t really want to help. So why give the likes of Twitter the benefit of your business, all your traffic, when they have no interest in helping you. It’s time to switch it off.

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