When you click on the follow button of a Premier League footballers’ Twitter account you never can be sure of exactly what you are following. The profile picture might show the face of said player, the account might also tweet the odd image of said player at the wheel of his new supercar or posing with some pop star backstage at a concert, but can you really be sure that the account is in fact controlled by said player? In Victor Anichebe’s case, yes you can. He doesn’t.
It’s a suspicion that’s long been held of top tier footballers that their Twitter accounts are in fact not theirs at all. Anchibe confirmed this suspicion by committing the ultimate social media faux pas after Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday. “Can you tweet something like… Unbelievable support yesterday and great effort by the lads! Hard result to take! But we go again!”
Of course, you should know by now that following footballers on Twitter is a futile exercise. Clubs can’t stop their players using social media, they discovered that some time ago to their pain, but they can control what message is delivered, completely compromising the fundamental essence of the medium.
The entire appeal of sites like Twitter is that it provides a direct line to public figures, like Premier League footballers, for those who wouldn’t normally be afforded such a privilege. But are fans really getting that when clubs or agents or whichever brand pays enough money are dictating what is being tweeted?
There was once a time when footballers were genuinely interesting on Twitter, before PR agencies and club press officers got a grasp on social media. Wayne Rooney is the perfect embodiment of this. While he once tweeted things like, “Mr Bean. Funny” and “Mate mate mate mate mate,” also telling Piers Morgan to “shut up u egg and get out of cowells hole” and warning one critical fan that “I’ll put u asleep within 10 seconds u little girl,” now his account is little more than a PR feed. It’s most certainly no longer controlled by the player himself.
Rooney and his Twitter account is reflective of how footballers now use social media. Players should indeed be wary of the pitfalls of the medium, illustrated by the case of Burnley striker Andre Gray who was handed a four-match retrospective ban for tweets made four years ago. But that doesn’t mean that they should hand over the log-in details to a PR person. This is just another symptom of modern football.
Perhaps Twitter should regulate this. Premier League players should be stripped of their blue verification ticks if they cannot prove that they are in fact in control of their own account. They should be forced to provide photographic evidence of them typing their messages on their smartphones, like how politicians running for election are photographed voting for themselves just to prove they are engaging in the democratic process. Footballers should be held to the same standard.
Alternatively you could simply unfollow every footballer on Twitter. Imagine a world where Rooney has fewer followers that’s a thing). By failing to even tweet their own tweets footballers are showing the utmost contempt for their own fans. Was Anichebe too busy after Saturday’s game at West Ham to come up with and tweet his own message? Did he not have enough time on the five-hour team bus journey back to the northeast?
Of course, the alternative might be even worse. Give Premier League footballers full control of their Twitter accounts and your timeline will be flooded with pictures of ‘cheeky Nando’s’ and new pairs of garish trainers, usually with some sort of personalisation just in case it is in any doubt as to who owns the trainers. Maybe it’s better that PR people and press officers have the log-in details after all.