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Monday, December 6, 2021

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Gary Neville and United fans know players’ social media apologies are pathetic

The word ‘manipulate’ can be defined as ‘behaviour that controls or influences somebody so that they do not realise’.

One could argue that Manchester United fans are currently being manipulated – however, they’re actually well aware of it.

Across the last decade, the power of social media has increased at a frightening rate. If you’re familiar with Cambridge Analytica – who successfully influenced the 2016 American election – then you’ll know that social media is now a dangerous weapon.

Such is the money in football, the need to control the social media narrative of the public has been ushered into the Premier League.

How surprising. That actually happened long ago, but it’s becoming increasingly brazen and supporters have frankly just had enough.

You’d be forgiven to think you were watching an episode of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian future based TV show Black Mirror when watching United’s CEO of Media Phil Lynch speak on an ‘influencer’ platform this week as he delved into the club’s social strategy.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is back under pressure as Manchester United manager. The Reds’ victory at Tottenham was soon forgotten as they fell to a dire 2-0 defeat in the Manchester derby, and saw the vultures circling around the Norwegian once again.

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The video has quickly gone viral and Gary Neville has strongly spoken out against it. After every poor performance this season, we have seen United’s players apologise on social media and Bruno Fernandes even apologised after missing his late penalty against Aston Villa. Anger has steadily risen among supporters at the posts. They want a reaction on the pitch, not hollow words.

Lynch offered a unique and rare insight into how exactly United approach the handling of players’ social media in the video. “I think it’s really just trying to understand what they want to tell and we’re here to help support that narrative,” American Lynch explained.

“How do we work with them? We pull social media fan sentiment graphs for every single one of our players and we have certain thresholds that alert us when we see fan sentiment going one way. Whether that be a personal issue, whether that be an on the pitch performance issue and when that happens we start to work with the player and his team individually to counter that.

“We do spend a lot of time on what we call social media monitoring and then we work specifically with each individual player.”

It’s not surprising that those words have angered fans who have already been reduced into a ‘product’ in the modern game. Let’s not forget that, the European Super League clubs had deemed supporters in the UK as just ‘legacy fans’ earlier this year.

That sickening fiasco duly collapsed, but this social media game from Premier League clubs is seemingly here to stay indefinitely.

“Devastating for the players this video! A senior club employee stating publicly that the club and players social media teams are attempting to control their own fans is social engineering not comms advice,” Neville said in response to the video.

“All the work Rashford and others have done is diminished by this video!”

Neville is right to speak out against the strategy. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have criminally underperformed this season and social media posts after games have quickly grown tedious. When players post in the wake of such unforgiving results, like against Liverpool and Manchester City, for example, they now actually exacerbate anger from supporters who see right through the message.

If United and the Glazers want to genuinely cultivate relationships with fans, using players’ social media in this particular manner is certainly not the answer. There are vast benefits of social media, but supporters should continue to be wary of its true power.

Apologies after games are pathetic and it’s time for a real reaction from the players on the pitch.

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