The Roker Ramble: Twitter Can Be Great, But Be Careful...

Is Twitter all it's cracked up to be when it comes to football?

Well, it's that time again, when I'm given free reign to talk about pretty much anything I like. Admittedly, this isn't always good for you dear reader, but, there's a big footballing world out there, aside from Sunderland AFC, and every now and then we like to remind ourselves that it exists.

So, I hear you ask, what does the title of this piece refer to? Well, let's get straight into it, shall we?

Twitter is, without doubt, a wonderful thing. If it wasn't for the power of Twitter, then you wouldn't be reading this right now. Partly, because you probably saw it arrive on our Twitter feed, but mainly because, over a year ago, Simon Walsh asked on Twitter if anyone would like to join his site. If I hadn't been signed up, then I would have missed out on the whole adventure.

It also opens up avenues that were previously closed. Cast your mind back by a few years. Sports journalism was a different beast entirely. In the days that we now live in, journalists are accountable for whatever they write, immediately. Gone are the days when you picked up the paper, read it through, and perhaps shouted your frustrations at the dog if you didn't agree with what was written. Now, the dog lives a life of luxury as you dig your phone out of your pocket, get straight on to Twitter, and tell one of the esteemed writers that they are biased ****s. As bad as that sounds however, it does also, of course, work the other way around. People would rarely find the time to get out a piece of paper and pen and write to the newspaper to register their approval, so at least now we have an opportunity to easily congratulate people on their work.

Transfer rumours are another situation that Twitter has changed immeasurably. Cast your mind back to an old Roker Report podcast, where we discussed rumours from the past, and you'll remember Simon talking about Ariel Ortega's supposed move to Sunderland. Rather than see something on the BBC gossip column, or spreading like wildfire on Twitter and other internet sources, rumours were passed along supporters through word of mouth in the pub, and the occasional phone call when things seemed to be progressing. It meant that, although not necessarily more accurate than they are now, they were at least more rare. In the age that we live in, once the transfer window opens, clubs are linked with players galore. Before the window 'slammed shut' at the end of August this season, Sunderland's own official website had a list of well over 50 p layers that the club had been linked with. All it takes now is one person to create the rumour, pass it on to enough people, and it will spread through Twitter in a number of hours.

Which brings me on to my main point.

Although Twitter is a good medium for picking up gossip, it should be treated with extreme care. Unfortunately, there are people on the internet that seem to enjoy making up malicious rumours for fun. The problem with Twitter is, that these rumours can spread quickly, and people will retweet what they think is fact, when really all they are doing is helping to spread the word of one bulls*itting keyboard warrior, who is sitting smugly in his room at his parent's house as his work flies to all corners of the UK, or in some cases, the world.

The last six months or so has been ripe for such garbage.

At one point this season, Sunderland defender Titus Bramble was forced to log on to Twitter to reassure fans that, despite what was being said around the internet, he actually hadn't been killed in a car crash. What is says about the society that we live in that someone had to actually make a public statement to say that, despite popular belief, they are actually alive, is something for someone else to discuss. However, it just shows how quickly something can get out of hand if people insist on retweeting things that they see without questioning it.

Probably the most high-profile case of this came when Steed Malbranque cancelled his contact with Saint Etienne only a month after signing it. No-one from the club came out to say what had happened, and there was also silence in the French press from Steed himself. However, the internet, not content with waiting for the truth to come out, decided to believe a rumour that some wise-cracker started about Steed's son being seriously ill. To make matters much worse in this case, journalists also picked up the story, as did the official Sunderland site. No-one thought to check if it had any truth to it, and, miraculously, no-one thought to check whether Steed actually did have a son. The keyboard warrior that came up with that rumour must have been as chuffed as the cyber-nerd that created the lovebug virus way back when.

The reason I chose this topic for the Ramble was something that came to my attention yesterday, and I'm sure you'll have seen it at one point or another. I listened to the Doncaster v Barnsley match yesterday, and was shocked when, an hour or so later, I saw a rumour being banded around Twitter that the Tykes fans were chanting 'Where's your baby gone?' at Billy Sharp, who tragically lost his young son at only two days old. As I said, I was shocked, as I heard nothing of the sort on the commentary, but can understand that you can't hear everything on there. All the while, the rumour was gathering pace, with several 'big names' in Twitter retweeting messages. Then, Billy Sharp came out to say that he had heard nothing of the sort, and was enjoying ongoing 'banter' with Barnsley fans throughout the game. Still the rumour grew. Barnsley fans were bring branded as 'sick', and several requests were made to the FA for punishment to be dished out.

Until today. When it was confirmed that it wasn't true, and was someone making it up.

It might seem like common sense to say this, but don't believe everything that you read on Twitter. If it is something that has you instantly interested, have a look into it before retweeting things to your followers. It only takes one big name, with thousands of followers, and the whole network is swamped with utter poo that has left some sad child laughing his little cotton socks off.

Twitter is a magnificent tool, and has helped me to get in touch with people in the public eye that I would have never stood a chance of talking to in the past, as well as providing me with a good few friends who I would love to actually meet in person one day.

However, it can also be an equally dangerous tool, used by idiots and keyboard warriors to spread stories that don't contain a scrap of truth. Just make sure that, before you tap retweet in the future, you have a good look at what it is you're passing on first.

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