Thursday 14 December 2017

Jack Shafer: If I unfollowed you, it’s because you tweeted about the World Cup

Thousands of soccer fans gather in Dupont Circle Park in Washington to watch the Germany against USA World Cup match on large-screen televisions provided by the German Embassy. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Thousands of soccer fans gather in Dupont Circle Park in Washington to watch the Germany against USA World Cup match on large-screen televisions provided by the German Embassy. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
United States' Jermaine Jones heads the ball away from Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger during the group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Germany at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife
Clint Dempsey of the U.S. knocks the ball into the net to score against Portugal during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Amazonia arena in Manaus. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

At the rate I’m going, the number of people I follow on Twitter will have dropped from 640 to zero on July 13, after the last World Cup match concludes.

I’ve never been sentimental about Twitter, randomly unfollowing gassy and predictable feeds when flooded by their abundant and stupefying tweets, or pruning my list to make room for new voices. I can only assume that other Twitter devotees similarly budget their accounts, otherwise how could one keep up with the traffic?

Last month, soccer enthusiasts simplified the editing of my follow list by tweeting expansively about the World Cup. They published pre-game tweets. They live-tweeted matches. They offered post-game tweets. They tweeted about soccer fashion, about the officials’ bad calls, about the stadiums, other fans, the weather, other tweets, and more. If you’re a heavy Twitter user, you know what I’m talking about.

As a soccer agnostic, with no hatred for or interest in the game, these many tweets hold a negative value for me. So, on June 12, when Brazil took on Croatia in the first match, and fans filled Twitter with the written equivalent of a vuvuzela orchestra, I tweeted my minor rebellion: “If I unfollowed you, it’s because you tweeted about the World Cup. Nothing personal.”

U.S. soccer fans react after a missed goal opportunity during the 2014 World Cup match between Germany and the U.S. in New YorkSince that tweet, I’ve thinned my follow list by 140 accounts, down to 500. I’ve even unfollowed Twitter buddies for the misdemeanor of retweeting a benign World Cup tweet. As I write this during the United States vs. Germany match, I’m still unfollowing — so long, Carl Bialik, so long, Lizzie O’Leary, so long Tim Carney, so long, Damon Darlin, so long, Clara Jeffery, so long, Hilary Sargent, and so long, Dave Weigel!

I’ve unfollowed most every Brit I know, including my Guardian pals Janine Gibson and Stuart Millar, for their World Cup tweets. After I Twitter-ditched my good friend Bill Gifford, he used Twitter to call for vigilante action against me, urging the soccer faithful to “cc #hater @jackshafer on your #WorldCup” tweets. (I took a contract out on his life. You always wanted to die in some hot car-on-bicycle action, didn’t you, Bill?)

I’ve unfollowed other close friends, valued colleagues, academics, fellow Reuters employees, Twitter-wit NYTFridge, and others whose feeds amused or enlightened me until their World Cup pronouncements interceded.

But don’t blame me for over-reacting, blame them for over-sharing.

I, too, am a sports fan, so I understand the intensity of the soccer mob. Yet my sports devotions have never induced me into tweeting about games or matches. My opposition to sporting tweets, while deep, is not absolute. You’ve got to expect a Twitter din during college football bowl season, the World Series, Wimbledon, the Masters, the Triple Crown, the Stanley Cup, the Super Bowl, and other events. But none of these spectacles run on for a month like the World Cup.

To put my complaint in perspective, suppose the frat boys in the apartment below yours threw a noisy, one-night kegger. You could probably endure it without calling the police. But what if they held a kegger every afternoon and every evening for a month, and even when they weren’t drinking and screaming, they were singing songs about drinking? Even if you liked beer and were invited to their parties, you would not last long before calling 911.

Social media encourages writers toward conciseness and cleverness, the better to attract a larger audience. But these rules have dissolved during the World Cup interregnum. Ordinarily smart people are typing “Goooooaaaaall!!!!!” into Twitter as if other soccer fans are blind to what they just saw on TV. In an earlier era, sports fans limited their victory dancing to their own living rooms or, if exuberance swayed them, went into the streets to tip cars over and set them on fire. How I miss those good times.

The secret of Twitter’s appeal, like the appeal of other communications technologies — Facebook, text, email, the phone, the telegraph, the postal letter — is that it gives everyman the opportunity to fill the human need to say, “I am here.” Ever since the first cave-painter pressed his hand in paint and palmed his print on the rock, we’ve been finding new ways to say “I am here.” For that reason, I should probably be a little less critical of the average soccer fan’s desire to connect and commune with their comrades via Twitter. I should put my head down until mid-July, and stop my complaining.

But uh-uh. You’re free to tweet what you want to tweet, and I’m free to unfollow whom I want to unfollow. Consider this column my can of black spray-paint, aerosoling your soccer tweets into oblivion. For the time being, you’re not here.


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