The vitriolic online abuse directed at Mayo players, as well as the county in general, in the wake of our latest All-Ireland final defeat has received a fair bit of airtime over the last few days. While this is welcome, the root cause of this problem – the unmoderated baying that people are able to engage in with impunity on social media platforms – remains an intractable one.
That said, it’s good that the issue is getting some overdue notice. Mayo GAA first drew attention to the problem in the statement they issued the other day (here) and this was followed today by an intervention from GAA President Larry McCarthy – a report on that is here. He was absolutely on the money when he said the following:
Critical evaluation of match performance is fine, and expected, but overly harsh scrutiny of amateur players is unjustifiable. It is inexcusable when it moves beyond the realm of what happens on the field.
Those sentiments chime very well with my own thinking in terms of what’s acceptable for people to post here on the blog and, thankfully, most who do are well aware of this and act accordingly. A minority don’t, of course, but these were fairly easy to deal with since the Tyrone defeat.
I got a chance to air my views on online commentary when I spoke yesterday with Keith Duggan of the Irish Times. His piece in today’s paper, which also includes some interesting input from former Mayo player John Casey, is here.
I’m biased, I know, but the Mayo News is the best place for local coverage on this issue, with excellent pieces on it by Ger Flanagan and Billy Joe Padden (paper and digital variants out today). The latter quotes former Tyrone manager Mickey Harte who once said that when you win an All-Ireland that doesn’t mean you did everything right and when you lose one it doesn’t mean you did everything wrong. Mickey is well placed to know, as he won and lost deciders as manager.
This is a really insightful angle, one that shows up much of the online debate for what it is. The world isn’t black and white, instead it’s all a jumble of messy grey. This point is so often lost on the anger-fuelled online commentariat, which is all too often in a rush to apportion blame and to hunt down the guilty party. But, of course, life’s not like that.
Just because we lost the bloody match, this doesn’t that it’s a particular person’s fault, nor is the result necessarily related to other supposed failings that can be dragged up for further examination. Football games are won and lost for all manner of reasons and our defeat by Tyrone was no different in that respect.
But back to the online abuse and what might be done about it. One thing I think may be relevant, which I mentioned in that Irish Times article by Keith Duggan, is that there’s now a law on the Irish Statute Book that deals with this kind of behaviour. This is the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 and it’s available to view here.
Section 4 of the Act is worth a look. This makes it an offence for anyone to publish a “grossly offensive communication” about another person where such a communication “seriously interferes with the other person’s peace and privacy or causes alarm or distress to the other person.”
You don’t have to look too far to find plenty of examples of online communications aimed at Mayo players and management in the wake of the All-Ireland final that would meet that threshold. Neither would you have to have any advanced detective skills to identify some of the perpetrators.
It shouldn’t have to come to this and, of course, issues about jurisdiction would inevitably prevent prosecutions in some cases. Making an example of some of the worst offenders would be a good start, though, and it might make others think twice before engaging in the same kind of behaviour.
It won’t solve the problem – there is no easy solution to this one – but it would at least show the trolls that the shot they’re taking at others may not after all be a free one.