The Danger of the Twitter Lynch Mob to Football Fans – Chelsea Fans Guilt by Association

The media and social media outpouring of hatred towards the Chelsea fans who are alleged to have been racist towards a passenger on the Paris Metro has again opened up the wider attitude that the media and much of the public have towards football fans.

I have watched the video, which has gone viral, and on the face of it, it shows a black male being pushed off of the Metro train a few times by some white males who have been identified as Chelsea fans. There is also singing which appears to be either identify the fans as racist or as one fan has told the media, as a song about John Terry and his acquittal of a racism charge.

Its not the video that concerns me, in due course, the police will no doubt identify those fans who were doing the pushing and the singing and apply for Section 14b Football Spectators Act football banning orders on them. These orders can be applied for in the English Magistrates Court, they are civil, and will not amount to criminal charges, and have a lesser burden of proof.

The fear is that the police will apply for orders on anyone who is identified as being near the doors of that carriage. I have appealed decisions of the Magistrates Court ordering Section 14b civil football banning orders for 3 years on fans for doing nothing more than standing in a train carriage holding a bottle of beer and wearing a football scarf. Fortunately the Crown Court usually sees sense and overturns the ban, but not before the fan has been outed as a ‘hooligan’. This can have grave consequences on their lives, such as loss of jobs, promotion, or college course, none of which they can get back when their football banning order is overturned.

Unlike the assertion of the Press, some other commentators and even the Met Police, it is not possible for criminal charges to be brought against the fans in the English courts. And therein lies the problem… None of the fans who were on that Metro carriage and who had their photo taken, will be given the opportunity to have the allegations made against them aired in court in front of a jury. Certain people are already being identified by the press as ‘thugs’ and ‘racist’ when in actual fact the video shows nothing more than them standing on the Metro train. The social media fury has turned into a witch hunt and a lynchmob, and people who have not been charged with any offences have had their details taken from their social media accounts and published around the World. Try telling an employer that the fact your name, face, and where you work is plastered on the front page of a tabloid is all a bit of a misunderstanding.

Social media is now the new judge and jury. Twitter users are calling for a 17 year old to ‘hand himself in’ after he gave an interview in which he said he was in the Metro train carriage. Worse still there are some very vile and abusive comments being posted about him, by professional adults, the very people who are taking such a stance against racist abuse are themselves abusing in another form, and that makes them no better than anyone who has carried out racist abuse.

I always inform football fans who are facing criminal charges that unfortunately, as they are a football fan, they are guilty until proven innocent, and this has never been more evident than what I have seen tonight in the newspapers, tv and social media. All of a sudden everyone has a comment on racist football fans..especially if it comes with a slot on national tv, or a photo in the national press.

One of the first things I ask fans I represent is for them to pass me their social media account details. What they may think is football banter, others may decide is offensive. I am giving that warning to all Chelsea fans tonight, if your Facebook, twitter or instagram accounts are open to the public, be sure there is nothing on there which can be twisted by the press. I have dealt with cases in the past where the family members of a fan have been threatened via Facebook for nothing more than being linked to the fan and an obvious family member. Don’t for one minute think that the populist media will not troll your Facebook account to find out what they can and use it to their advantage.

This furore will die down in a couple of days and the media will have moved onto something else, and the twitter users who have trolled the 17 yr old fan will go back to posting funny videos of cats. The damage that may be done to a fan who has been outed may not go away so easily. An employer will not overturn a suspension or a dismissal due to the fact the media attention has died down, a fan’s children will still face the prospect of cyber bullying from those with nothing better to do.

All I ask is that if you are a Chelsea fan you protect yourself and think long and hard about what you post on social media in the next few days, and if you have open accounts, it may be wise to make them private for a few days. If you are one of the twitter lynchmob, please think carefully about what you are posting as you may be ruining the lives of people you have never met, are never likely to meet, and who have caused you no harm.

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About gurdena

Social Justice Lawyer, interested in all things contentious. Specialising in criminal law, and anything criminal justice related, also employment law. Door tenant at 1 Grays Inn Square chambers. Find out more at www.alisongurden.com

One response to “The Danger of the Twitter Lynch Mob to Football Fans – Chelsea Fans Guilt by Association”

  1. SJMaskell says :

    The problem being, as you point out, that this is how the police treat us all. Guilty by association. Change that and we have a fighting chance of defending the innocent.

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