A fistfight in the virtual world

A greeting for your most adored celebrity or an appreciation for your favourite sportsman, either seem just 140 characters away. Even for lashing out at someone — and ultimately losing it — being twitter-happy seems to be the way. By N. Sudarshan.

‘The Big Rip’, a cosmological hypothesis first published in 2003, said that the size of the ‘observable universe’ is continually shrinking. V. S. Troitkii of the Radiophysical Research Institute in Russia even said that light once travelled a million times faster than it does now and this implies that the universe is shrinking.

True or otherwise, it’s for the scientific community to discover. But, for today’s tech-savvy man the unmistakable evidence of a shrinking universe — not in the literal sense — is seen in the virtual world of social media. A greeting for your most adored celebrity or an appreciation for your favourite sportsman, either seem just 140 characters away. Even for lashing out at someone — and ultimately losing it — being twitter-happy seems to be the way.

Of late, these ‘twitterati’ have seamlessly moulded into the persona of ‘crickerati’ and vice-versa. For fans, this has either resulted in something entirely comical or utterly distasteful. Two such instances took place in this year’s IPL.

First S. Sreesanth, now in the dock for some of his other antics, tweeted his way into trouble by saying that the incident where Harbhajan Singh allegedly slapped him five years ago never happened. Australian David Warner, in the immediate aftermath of the spot-fixing scandal expose, launched an astonishing attack against two of Australia’s senior cricket writers, Robert Craddock and Malcolm Conn. He took exception to an article written by the former about corruption in the IPL and was enraged to see his photo published next to the article in the print edition of News Ltd.

But why was Twitter the chosen one in these cases? For some time now this has been the pattern. Kevin Pietersen did it. So did Virat Kohli. This is an age where fans’ access to sportspeople, at least in India, is near-zero. On the players’ part, even if they intend to interact, it is generally impossible to do it in person.

It is here that Twitter as a platform comes as a win-win for both. In a world of niches where fans are really keen on only certain famous people and always harbour hopes of finding ways to talk to them, Twitter makes it extremely simple. On the other hand, for the celebrities it acts as a promotional tool. A case in point is Serena Williams, who dedicates an hour every week to interact with her fans on Twitter in what is called ‘Serena Friday’.

But the flipside is that Twitter has bred a culture akin to being trigger-happy. You shoot and then think — words in this case — as there is always an option to delete your tweets later. A visit to Sreesanth’s and Warner’s handles now won’t display any of their rants. Apologising later seems to be the norm, but they make sure they are heard.

The fact that the tweets go viral in a matter of minutes doesn’t seem to strike them. The platform might be more personal than other social media networks, but its consequences are often far reaching. Ask Sreesanth and Warner now, they would readily attest to this.

The primary reason why the sports bodies and heads allow a life for the players on social media is to interact with fans constructively. Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland, even after the Warner incident, insisted that social media remained a key tool to engage with fans.

Where others have resorted to gagging the players from being active on these platforms during tours, Sutherland said, “Part of our strategy is to put the fans first and for them to have a closer and better relationship with our players.”

But at a time when opinions are made and reputations broken in a flash, a social media policy seems to be the way forward. Sutherland did admit that as days pass by it would be appropriate to have one. As Andrew Strauss said after the Kevin Pietersen fiasco, “It does a really good publicising job but players can find themselves in hot water occasionally. There’s a line they need to tread.”

TWITTER TRAIL David Warner tweets (@davidwarner31):

“Wow @crashcraddock1 some smart journo who thinks he can bring Down people. Well done CHAMP!!”

''Shock me @crashcraddock1 talking shit about IPL jealous prick. Get a real job. All you do is bag people. #getalife''

Craddock’s fellow journalist Malcolm Conn’s response:

“@davidwarner31 cricket is a real job? Please. Most people pay to play. Million dollar cricketers milking the IPL are hardly the best judges.”

Warner to Conn:

“@malcolmconn are you still talking you old fart, no wonder know one buys your paper.”

“@malcolmconn keep writing paper talk trash for a living champ only thing you will ever do.”

Conn to Warner:

“@davidwarner31 You lose 4-0 in India, don't make a run, and you want to be tickled on the tummy? Win the Ashes and get back to me.”

“@davidwarner31 It's becoming increasingly obvious why Brad Haddin was brought back as vice captain. Your lengths behind in that race.”