The Fear Inoculum That Is #HockeyTwitter

A person uses a laptop computer with illuminated English and Russian Cyrillic character keys in this arranged photograph in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Russian internet trolls appear to be shifting strategy in their efforts to disrupt the 2020 U.S. elections, promoting politically divisive messages through phony social media accounts instead of creating propaganda themselves, cybersecurity experts say. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Talking about sports has always been one of the more toxic conversations a person can have. Talking hockey is no different in today’s day and age. Whether someone is busting a player’s balls for not showing enough “heart” on the airwaves during everyone’s drive home. Or a washed-up “hockey analyst” saying that he could’ve made that play which the star player couldn’t ‘with his eyes closed’. Oh yeah, and if you disagree with the hanger-on, he will say, “Well, buddy, you must be a moron.” Backing it up a bit, the funny thing is his or her followers will back up their “leader”. No this isn’t the “Fooper Trooper Army”, but this online community likes to think it is. And, yowy wowy, it’s stranger than fiction sometimes. The sad part of this is it only gets worse on #HockeyTwitter.

The Fear Inoculum That Has Become of #HockeyTwitter

The tougher skinned people will spout, “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Nevertheless, when challenged with an opposing viewpoint which has some flair to its name, the predator will inevitably become the prey. Prey which can only find its haven in the archives of the internet where their inability to argue a point can be tolerated, and in some cases justified.

For those with thinner skin, the choice to remain voiceless in a spirited argument seems more and more logical. As the days pass by-and-by, the voiceless remain unheard whilst the alphas of this jungle spew what they believe to be true to the masses. Knowing that by remaining voiceless, they don’t have to have their names dragged through the mud for speaking a truth in which they believe to be true. And with any luck, others too. Furthermore, prompting others to follow in their footsteps. Therein, creating somewhat of a swing in #HockeyTwitter wherein the predators become the prey and when the popular opinion is flipped, this cycle continues.

Examining the #HockeyTwitter cycle

For instance, let’s examine Toronto Maple Leafs Twitter throughout the William Nylander contract negotiations.

After the 2017-18 season, #StandWitness seemed to love Nylander and what he could do on a line with superstar center Auston Matthews. Folks were saying that Nylander’s playmaking skills were great. They were boasting of his underlying analytical numbers; his possession metrics, Willy Nilly’s positive zone entry percentages, etc. The kid could do nothing wrong, that is unless one asked fans of teams to weigh in on the topic. Oh, how that story changed. But that didn’t matter because the “predators” threw that “silly”, “stupid” and “pathetic” narrative in the garbage and lit it on fire for the dramatic effect. To them, it didn’t matter. It never mattered. Those opposed to them were just trolls out on a stroll.

The start of it all

Fast forward to when Nylander and his agent were clawing back and forth with Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to get a deal done. Rumors circulated that Nylander wanted to get PAID. Maybe get paid a “little bit” more than he was worth, at least to some.

Those people who were praising Nylander now became the prey. The minority was fed up and their point of Nylander not being the golden boy was starting to become validated. Smelling blood, the newly crowned predators attacked like a great white sharking looking for its next meal. The result was the annihilation of Nylander’s character. That side basically said to forget what Nylander did on the ice. Forget what he could do in the future. He’s selfish, he’s taking more than he’s worth, and he’s ruining Toronto’s chances of building a contender. If Dubas was smart, he should trade him for a defenceman  And if one was not down with that take, they could “suck it”, ’cause they weren’t going to be silenced anymore.

The war that followed

And like anything with Maple Leafs Twitter, a war ensued between the ideologies with lines being drawn. A once-happy Leafs Nations that was excited about the future now argued over the merits of signing a player (Nylander) which any other team in the league would love to have. Forgetting all the promise their team would have, especially with the signing of blue chip free agent John Tavares.

As talks waged on into training camp and then into the regular season, #LeafsForever continued to drift further apart. So far apart that certain individuals were launching attacks on other user’s takes.

This phenomenon wasn’t widespread as some were calling for it to be, but nevertheless, it caused people, who once were “valued”, to become voiceless. They feared to speak, fearing the oncoming onslaught of attacks from the opposite side of the coin would render their point obsolete. And therein, creating another battle not worth fighting.

To this day, even after Nylander signed a relatively fair deal for both sides, the war wages on, and the casualties continue to increase with no end in sight. And to add more fuel to the fire, both sides of The Great Leafs Nation Twitter War are finding new ways to advance their efforts during the tiresome Mitch Marner contract negotiations.

#HockeyTwitter’s downfall

Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t only exist only Leafs Twitter or Reddit or Facebook or other online forums, it exists in every community. It is a problem that spans throughout not only #HockeyTwitter but the entire sporting world on Jack Dorsey’s mammoth of a social media platform. And the wars keep getting uglier and uglier. Personal attacks grow in numbers. Debates no longer seem to take place. Predators continue to viciously attack their prey. For the ones who have picked a side, they lead their divisions into war. For those who have takes and are not entrenched in the bloody war, remain silents for they do not wish to pick fights.

To make things a touch scarier, this online war can be brought into real life. All it takes is one person to “poke the bear” and boom goes the dynamite. That friendly conversation at the bar about the merits of Nylander’s new contract turns into a brawl where the participants end up telling the doctors who are stitching them up about how they “could’ve given it a better go thirty years ago”.

Is this really worth it?

A wise person once said that Twitter is an echo chamber for all the world’s hopes, aspiration, and fears. #HockeyTwitter renders this statement to be true, depending on who one would ask. It’s a place to shoot the breeze, give bad takes, and laugh it off with a good goof. At least, that’s what it once was. And, not to be unfair, still is for a lot of people. That said, for people really looking to give their takes and gain some credibility talking puck, it truly has become a battleground which one can in thrive in or perish in the crossfire.

This is not a problem that only hinders #HockeyTwitter. It persists in everyone’s daily lives. It’s not a bad thing in people don’t take it too far. The issue is there are some that do and when they do, it goes way too far. Threats start being issued, some are acted upon, ninety percent aren’t. Yet onlookers or on readers fear for what could happen. Some even turn a blind eye to what’s to come. Not wanting to realize that their actions online indeed to have consequences in the real world.

Is it okay that some people should fear to share their opinions online or is it another byproduct of the Twitter ecosystem?  How is it that someone who really means no harm to anyone entrenched the #HockeyTwitter fueds gets ousted as the villain for something they really have no control in?

In the end, there comes a time when one must ask themselves if this is a problem they can accept. Can this be changed or is it just the new norm – the fear inoculum that is #HockeyTwitter?

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