As reported this week in The National Post, a University of Regina Ph.D. candidate spent time exploring some 850,000 tweets by Toronto Blue Jays fans to debunk the “notion that fandom has a magical ability to unite people.” But does the social media truly tell the whole story?
Katie Sveinson, who presented her research to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences yesterday, compiled her research throughout the Toronto Blue Jays 2017 season, focusing on the “dysfunctional relationships between fans of the same team,” according to the National Post. It challenged the idea promoted by the team and its sponsors during the prior two seasons that baseball brings people together. To the contrary, her results indicate that “Blue Jays fans have created their own hierarchies, debasing each other based on knowledge, behaviour or commitment to the team.”
Read the article here.
It’s hardly a revelation to anyone who’s used the platform that there are toxic, judgey (judgy?), opinionated people on Twitter. And just because they have one thing in common with other users, say being fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, that doesn’t make them automatically better people. In essence, that’s what this study is saying. But the study focuses on those people, and the dysfunction they create.
She based her study on tweets using @BlueJays or the hashtags LetsRise and BlueJays, which emerged during the 2015-2016 seasons – and, combined with the timing of the research, requires a few points:
- Using @BlueJays within a tweet means that the person is actually addressing the tweet at the team. That being the case, those tweets aren’t technically from one fan to another, but from a fan to the team. And I think we can all agree that the relationship between a fanbase and their team might be very different than the one between two fans.
- Who uses those hashtags? I rarely do. And a very unscientific poll I just conducted indicates that lots of other people avoid them as well. I’m more of a #RuMar #GoJaysGo girl, myself.
- Who is more likely to use @BlueJays and/or team-sponsored hashtags in a general tweet? A new Twitter user or someone who doesn’t tweet much. And in three years of writing and tweeting about the Blue Jays, I can tell you that 95% of the garbage replies hate tweets, etc. I get from Jays Twitter come from people with less than 100 followers who have maybe 200 tweets at best. That is also one of the hallmarks of bot accounts, but let’s not even bring them into the mix.
- She conducted this research during the 2017 season – which let’s face it, wasn’t the greatest season in the history of the team. Coming off of two successful seasons, after a lengthy drought, Twitter was AWASH with bandwagon fans who expected the 2015 team and not say, the 1995 one they got. That leads me to believe that the amount of vitriol on Blue Jays Twitter was higher than perhaps it had been in the past.
- Because of the recent winning seasons, you had and immediate conflict between long-time fans who followed the team during the difficult times and new fans used to only seeing it “rain” day-in and day-out.
The Other Side of Blue Jays Twitter
I started following the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. November 2014 to be exact. I came over on the Russell Martin bandwagon, not the winning team bandwagon that followed the next season. At any rate, I fall right into the time frame of coming into two winning seasons followed by a less-than-stellar one.
The environment I entered was quite the opposite of the one Sveinson describes in her study. I was welcomed by long-time Toronto Blue Jays fans with open arms. They answered questions, chatted about expectations for the upcoming next season and even invited me to come and write about this team I was just getting to – albeit very eagerly – know. Newbies, like myself, shared common discoveries and experiences that those folks who have loved the team for decades took for granted. And often we inspired those long-timers to take a new look something they found to be commonplace for so long.
When I visited Toronto to take in a series that July, I got tons of recommendations for restaurants, places to stay, sites to visit and bars to patronize from Blue Jays Twitter. Moreover, readers and Twitter “friends” (those folks with whom I tweeted regularly but didn’t know outside of the platform) alike arranged meet-ups with me at the games and beyond. In short, they couldn’t have been nicer. And that continues to this day.
Follow the Golden Rule
That isn’t to say I haven’t encountered my share of team trolls throughout my deep-dive in Blue Jays Twitter. But, compared to the number I encounter related to other baseball teams, the number is decidedly less. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, I don’t know.
Is there a hierarchy related to Blue Jays Twitter? Sure. But there’s one related to pretty much every subject that can be explored in depth on Twitter. What I found was that if you are honest, respectful and humble, the majority of people are more than willing to engage and exchange regardless of how much you know or how long you’ve followed any one team. And if you find that there are people who aren’t equally honest, respectful and humble, well, that’s what the “Block” button is for.
My goal here isn’t to criticize Sveinson’s work – I’m excited to really jump into her research and get a deeper understanding of what she’s uncovered. It may actually contribute to a project about social media I’m launching next month. My point is, her findings may indicate that while Blue Jays Twitter is sometimes a dumpster fire and sports aren’t always a method of unifying people, both can create opportunities to form relationships that far surpass the length of a standard baseball season.
Featured Photo Credit: Blue Jays Twitter
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Joy Frank-Collins is a Communications professional who got her start writing as a journalist at a daily newspaper in southeastern Ohio. She was born in Reds country, but “found” baseball watching the 1986 Mets win the World Series. A long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan, she added the Blue Jays as her AL team the day they picked up Russell Martin. She lives in Marietta, Ohio, with her family, who all share her passion for baseball. She loves the suicide squeeze, a crisp 6-4-3 double play and catchers. When not obsessing over baseball, Joy likes to work out, travel and drink wine.