• Wiktoria Kornat

The fine line between constructive criticism and hatred in social media on women’s footballers


Social media offers us many possibilities these days. Due to their commonness, social media are also a tool used by many people for various purposes that are not always commendable. And what is closely related to it is the anonymity of their users. Obviously, these platforms have many advantages. Thanks to social media, fans can feel closer to their idols, somehow see what their everyday life looks like through photos or videos that they share with millions of their fans on platforms such as Instagram or Twitter. But nowadays, it seems that people are starting to take advantage of the mentioned possibility to remain anonymous on the Internet in order to spread hate. The power of hate might be destructive for many people. I would like to take a closer look at this aspect in the context of women's soccer and some unpleasant situations that have occurred in this environment recently. It must be honestly said and emphasized at every step that hate should not take place in women's football and any other sport. There is a huge difference between giving feedback in the form of criticism and giving it in the form of hate. The former is allowed, the latter absolutely should not be.



What's the deal with all this hate in women's football? Does this problem really exist? Yes, it exists. Women’s football has come a long way but misogyny is still not beaten. Unfortunately, we are dealing with it more and more often. We are used to reading sexist comments about women's soccer every day. The stereotypical perception of women playing soccer is nothing new. Comments such as "women belong to the kitchen" or "no one cares about women's football" can be read as replies to every news, video or tweet about women’s football. Women's football is still not taken seriously. It's hard to build something positive when all you hear is mockery, insults and sarcastic comments. And each time it is very puzzling, seeing people writing such comments. If they don't care about it then why do they spend so much time commenting on social media posts. Why do they put so much effort just to say that they don't care about women's football? But nowadays, a more toxic tendency has emerged in the circles of people focused around women's football - the constant divisions among the fans. While the rivalry between the clubs is understandable, the verbal scuffle between the fans and belittling others is not conducive to creating a friendly environment and friendly fan bases focused around women's football. I'm convinced that every fan of women's football cares about its development and gaining more and more popularity and recognition. But we will not be able to move forward if we turn against each other.


Fans' reactions and emotions accompanying Alex Greenwood's decision


Greenwood's announcement at ManCity

Alex Greenwood left Olympique Lyonnais this summer and moved to Manchester City. The news of this transfer caused a lot of negative emotions and comments towards the player. This is due to Alex's previous clubs’ affiliation. In the past, she has represented clubs such as Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United. People with even the slightest idea of ​​football will quickly realize that Greenwood has played for clubs that are each other's biggest rivals. The emotions of the fans accompanying the fierce rivalry between clubs are understandable here. Nevertheless, a lot of abuse in the comments, often very sexist, and calling her "a snake" seem to exceed a certain limit of decency. Undoubtedly, you can disagree with some decisions. Emotions are understandable, emotions such as anger or disappointment are part of football. But we are only humans and these emotions certainly can be expressed in some other way. Of course, each player must be aware that people react differently and must understand that people will comment on his/her decisions. This is adult life, so you make your decisions and take responsibility for your choices. Especially when you are a public figure, you must be aware that people will talk about you. Greenwood herself admitted that she's aware of the fact that she disappointed a lot of fans and she understands their frustration. I want to make it clear not that it is okay to comment on someone’s choices, to give your opinion about something but any attack or assault is too much, and it shouldn’t be tolerated. I'm going to emphasize it over and over here. The abuse Alex Greenwood has received is wrong and must not be allowed. This is not the way we should treat people regardless of their choices.


The rivalry between clubs is understandable. Moreover, it is even needed, because it fuels this hunger to watch football and support your beloved team. But, after all, we are only human, we don't like to be labelled. If you have any humbleness in you, you should never support treating any human in this way. A certain line has been crossed here. Everyone can express their opinion, but there is a huge difference between concepts such as hate and feedback. Here, unfortunately, the whole situation turned into hate but it didn't have to be that way. We could have avoided it and we should try to avoid such situations in the future. We don’t need an enmity in women’s club football. We don’t need it at all. We want to create a friendly environment around women's football. We want women's football to gain recognition. Meanwhile, people turn others against each other. People comment on Twitter, and others retweet it and start the wave of hate. It shouldn't go that way. The anger of some fans is understandable, but it is probably not the proper way to let off our emotions. There’s no right to judge people, especially without knowing them personally.


Some comments that appeared on Twitter

Naturally, it might be difficult to control emotions in certain situations. The fact that we humans react emotionally to some information simply shows that it matters to us. I don't think it makes any sense to compare women's soccer to its male counterpart. But this time I just need an exception from the rule and I will try to make such a comparison. First of all, we must understand that women's football is still in the phase of dynamic development. This is just the beginning. We are already seeing positive signs of an increase in the popularity of women's football in the world, such as an increase in the global viewership of women's football on television or more money being invested in this sport. Nevertheless, for women's players, the chances of earning a good salary, playing for a top club, winning prestigious titles and being in a professional environment are much lower than for men. Looking at it from this perspective, and referring to Alex Greenwood's situation, can we really blame the English international for the decision she made? Footballers must make sure that they will be able to play at a high level. The situation is a bit different in women's football. Of course, everyone should have the same right to play, but we are aware that opportunities and wages are not the same in men's and women's football. They differ drastically, which results from all the profits they generate because nowadays sport is also an investment that influential people want to profit from. Greenwood probably got the chance to play and grow at a big club and just accepted it. Although it must be admitted that in the context of her previous clubs which she represented, it was viewed as a very controversial decision by some people. Alex Greenwood was the captain of Manchester United and she led the team to great success in their rookie season right after the club was formed. Manchester United got the promotion to the FA WSL in their first season in competitive football, but after that, Alex Greenwood decided to leave and try in Lyon. Now that she’s back, but to the other side of Manchester, people hurled a lot of insults at her. It all comes down to the aforesaid rivalry between clubs, but it also comes down to understanding the difference between hate and criticism.


The difference between criticism and hate


Criticism is criticism. It can be cultural or non-cultural, it can be smart or stupid. But the purpose of criticism is to try to influence the opinion of the person being criticized or the audience of the discussion. The intention is a very important element here. Hate, unlike criticism, is not about changing someone else's opinion or making the world a better place. What is the purpose of hate? Hate aims to evoke negative emotions in the addressee or the audience. For example, I want to make other people dislike the person I don't like, so I'll write something that will make them feel bad about him/her. Maybe they'll hurt him/her now. It sounds familiar, doesn't it? Sounds like exactly what happened to Alex Greenwood on social media. This is the dissatisfaction of the fans turning into a spiral of hate that got out of hand. Regardless of what causes hatred, it is always distinguished by intention. Haters hope that their offensive comment will get a lot of likes. The difference between criticism and hate lies precisely in the intention. Hatred is not only vulgarisms and direct insults. Hatred is any statement whose purpose is to make someone hurt. We now very often see haters trying to explain their behaviour. "This is not hatred, this is criticism." As I mentioned before, there is a thin line between them. Nevertheless, insulting someone in public is always hate and can never be viewed as criticism.


Spanish youngster, Claudia Pina, in the heat of criticism


A very similar situation happened to Claudia Pina. Although the wave of criticism that fell on the young Spanish footballer was not as large as what happened to Alex Greenwood's, some patterns of behaviour and content in the comments on social media were very similar. 19-year-old Pina has moved on loan from FC Barcelona to Sevilla. She has been associated with the Barcelona club since the age of 12 when she joined them from Espanyol’s youth team. In an interview with a Catalan outlet, she said that she would love to see Barca winning UWCL and being a starter for them. She said:

“My dream is to be able to return to Barca one day and be important.”

Spanish youngster received a lot of hate from fans embittered by her words. In this case, we are not dealing with such a fierce rivalry that exists between the aforementioned two Manchester clubs, hence the reaction of the fans to the ambitious plans for the future that young Claudia Pina is dreaming about is very surprising. And in this situation, the emotions of the fans accompanying the entire transfer move are understandable, but the way of expressing them is just not right. There were quite a few comments on Twitter about Pina, fans saying she "doesn't represent them" or that "she can go to hell". Certain fans could be angry that Pina mentions her willingness to play for the other club. But the fan's disappointment about Pina's words could be expressed in the form of constructive criticism rather than a wave of unpleasant comments flooding every mention of this transfer move. You can't say "go to hell". Pina's answer was misinterpreted here. She was asked what's her ambition in the future. It doesn't have anything to do with her present club, Sevilla. It is understandable to express your dissatisfaction, but it is incomprehensible to give meaningless feedback in the form of the aforementioned comments that Pina had to deal with. Fans certainly expect Pina’s commitment and dedication to the new club, it's natural, but the way they express their emotions is important here. Constructive criticism can certainly have a greater impact on a person than pointless insults. It might sound like a minor detail, but it makes us realize that there's a big difference in the way of giving feedback. You can express your opinion in a non-harmful way instead of provoking others. The intention plays a huge role here. When you criticize, your intention is to influence the person. And when you spread hate, you are not trying to change the other person's opinion, you just want to make that person feel bad and useless.

Claudia Pina during the presentation at her new club
“Female football players are always nagging about the poor economy. Perhaps they should apply for funding from the disabled association. Women’s football = disabled sports.”

This is a real quote from VG’s debate forum from 2009. These words were spoken. Unfortunately, comments like this one are still a very sad reality of women's football. Although we see a significant improvement in terms of development, investments, and viewership of women's football, such comments have always accompanied this discipline and it is very unlikely to change in the future. We've probably got used to it by now. Nevertheless, women's football will develop despite unfavourable comments and many sarcastic, immature opinions. But what I wanted to stress in this article are the divisions and verbal scuffles between fans in social media, mentioned at the beginning. This is a factor that will never be beneficial in terms of the development of women's football. This issue of divisions and barriers is not conducive to creating a friendly environment focused around women's football. Obviously, we support various football clubs and there is a strong rivalry between some of them. But in the end, we are only human. We are to be united more than divide, we are united by the love for football and this should always be put first. We all think differently and has every right to express our opinion. But instead of hatred, we should at least try to focus on constructive criticism and useful feedback. The line between constructive criticism and hatred is very thin. The crossing of this border is often unnoticeable by a person, especially a person who is under the influence of emotions. Therefore, it is worth thinking twice before expressing or writing an opinion on the Internet. It is also worth taking into account the fact that on the other side there is a human who has feelings. It is also worth considering the purpose of your actions. If its purpose is only to cause pain to a person, it might be worth reflecting on yourself. The only valuable way to give feedback is when you want to influence the other person. Giving feedback in the form of constructive criticism and not hatred is a sign of a person's maturity.


Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated.

Stay humble.