Only a Game - Twitters, tweets and twacists...

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There’s a bit of the Jekyll and Hyde about Twitter. On the one hand it has revolutionised the way human beings communicate but on the other it has given rise to horrible abuse, racist taunts and intimidation.

Earlier this week, 21 year-old Swansea University student Liam Stacey was jailed for 56 days after he was successfully prosecuted for posting racially aggravated tweets about Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba.

Muamba had just suffered a cardiac-arrest during his team’s FA Cup clash with Tottenham Hotspur when Stacey took to Twitter and the racist tweets began.

Stacey’s appeal was rejected and on Friday his sentence was upheld by a judge.

So, this leads me to ask the question, why, even in the days and hours after Stacey’s conviction have individuals continued to use Twitter to incite hatred?

Aston Villa revealed on Friday that their 32 year-old captain Stiliyan Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia.

Bulgarian international, Petrov, is a former Celtic player and used to play alongside Neil Lennon.

Lennon is now manager of Celtic and after hearing that his former team-mate had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia he logged on to Twitter to express his feelings.

Lennon wrote: “Stillian [sic] has the heart of lion and as part of the Celtic family he deserves all our best wishes and support.”

Almost immediately after Lennon had passed on his message of support to Petrov someone with the username @stephencalderwo replied by implying that he would prefer it if it had been Lennon who had been diagnosed with the illness as opposed to Petrov.

Neil Lennon and Fabrice Muamba are not the only people in football who have had to endure online vitriol and hatred.

Last year an U19 Cowdenbeath FC footballer apologised for tweets he made about Rangers fans on Twitter.

Michael Fleming, then 17, described the supporters of the Glaswegian club as ‘huns’ in several tweets and even went on to describe Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere as a “wee orange b******”.

Rangers players Maurice Edu, Kyle Bartley and Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty have all had to endure sectarian and racist abuse on Twitter.

The individual with the username porschebox3283 said of Bartley, who is black and on loan from Arsenal, that he hoped that he crashed his car on the way home from training. The rest of what porschebox3283 said is to offensive to print.

Last week I was asked by my editor to write an eye witness account of what happened at the Brandywell during and after Derry City’s Setanta Cup Sports clash with Linfield at the Brandywell. I felt that what I wrote was a true reflection of what I witnessed.

My piece went live on the Derry Journal’s website so I decided to tweet a link to the page on Twitter.

Many Linfield and Derry City fans contacted me via Twitter to say that they disagreed with what I had written. The majority of the exchanges were courteous, civilised and insightful.

However, several individuals claiming to be Linfield supporters contacted me and proceeded to bombard me with abuse.

One individual tweeted: “yo u f****** b****** how about u right [sic] about what actually happened at [sic] tell both sides of the story u useless c***”.

Later on another Tweeted: “you’re a liar. Your article is a lie filled piece of propaganda that goebbels [sic] would be proud of and your grammar stinks”.

I have absolutely no problem with people disagreeing with what I say or write (in fact, I encourage it) but it must be carried out in a civilised and mature way.

It’s hardly the sign of tempered response when someone starts insulting you, calls you a liar and compares you to a minister for propaganda in Nazi Germany who openly supported the extermination of Jews.

Whether it’s Celtic or Rangers, Derry City or Linfield or the colour of a person’s skin, some people feel that they can say whatever they want on social networking sites.

Whilst the sentence handed down to Liam Stacey was divisive and caused a huge level of debate I can’t help but feel that only way to stamp out racism and sectarianism on social networking sites is with a zero tolerance approach.

It’s unacceptable to think that you can racially abuse someone online. Would these people walk up to someone on the street and abuse them for being a Northern Ireland supporter or for being black? The answer is that they wouldn’t do it. The sooner people realise that if they carry out such racist and sectarian attacks online then they must be prepared to feel the full weight of the law on their shoulders.