OPINION: How did social media go from carefree fun to a toxic circus?

File photo dated 27/12/10 of the logo of social networking website Twitter seen displayed on the scr

Nick was told that Twitter was the future of social networking in 2010, but he admits he now doesn't use it - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

It may seem rather strange that on the day Norwich City can win the Championship title, the club won't be posting on social media about it.

In line with all other English clubs, they are taking part in a social media blackout this weekend to highlight the issue of online abuse.

I think the growing abuse online is a culmination of an issue that's been brewing in social media circles for the best part of two decades.

What was once a bit of fun and a quirky novelty has become, in some circles, an online playground for faceless bullies to voice their often outdated views where they can abuse people unchallenged without fear of reprisal or punishment.

Think back to your own social media journey and ask yourself what you like and dislike about it. Which sites have you used or not used?

The first site I used was Friends Reunited.


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Twenty years ago this year I started out as a newspaper reporter and one hot topic at the time was school reunions.

Most Saturday nights someone at the paper (often me) would be at a social club or pub covering them, asking people for memories of what they did at school etc.

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We'd turn it around and use it in print on the Monday.

The thinking was it would sell plenty of papers. It was piggy backing on the Friends Reunited idea that people wanted to catch up with old friends and see what had become of them.

Around the same time across the Atlantic, Mark Zuckerberg was holed up in his Harvard dorm writing code and working on Facebook. It kind of followed the same idea.

I dallied with Myspace around 2005, laughed at people who used Bebo in 2006 and then in the summer of 2007 I joined this new-fangled and slightly cooler thing called Facebook.

For someone then aged 32 it seemed like a great idea.

A decade since leaving university I could reconnect with people I'd lost touch with and that's exactly what I did to begin with.

I uploaded old photos and we had a laugh about them all over again. It was cordial and fun.

I went on holidays and made photos albums called things like 'Fun in the snow' or 'Vegas'. Not many other people in my family were on it but I knew I could email them a link and they'd be able to see my pictures while I was away. How novel.

I had friends round for a barbecue. I'd make an album. "Nick's barbecue". I'd tag them in it. Their friends could see it. It was all 'likes' and smiley faces. At the same time I joined Flickr and posted arty photos on there. The comments were all light and fluffy and positive.

In late 2010 I started working for a Daily Mail-funded new social networking project called Local People.

They'd had an idea that people in small towns wanted to connect to each other and talk about town life rather than just connect with their friends as had been the driving force behind Facebook.

I was in charge of the site for Bury St Edmunds, where I lived at the time, creating content, getting people talking and getting them to sign up.

I went to the Daily Mail HQ in London for a day and they chatted about social media.

"I can tell which ones of you used to work for a newspaper 'coz you're all wearing ties," one black V-necked sweater-clad Zuckerberg wannabe in charge of the course declared.

"You're probably all still using Facebook too." Ouch. I looked at the floor. Twitter was the future apparently. Facebook was for people to, ahem, post pictures of back garden barbecues.

Twitter had a directness about it. You could tag strangers you didn't know. You could tag famous people. While people on Facebook had official sites that you could follow, on Twitter it seemed you could hit them up directly. A Tweet with their handle in it would land on their phone. And that seems to be part of the problem.

Well it was for me. While I posted many stories on there with my Daily Mail job and when I wrote blog articles or when I wanted to publicise other work I was doing, it was the negativity that began to surface.

I know getting a negative reaction to something you've written on a newspaper website is nowhere near in the same league as being racially abused online, but the personal contact was something I always felt uneasy about.

What I've noticed over the past five years is that my best friends, the people I originally wanted to connect with online have stopped using it sites like Facebook. They may be happy to message in small private groups on WhatsApp but almost in unison, they vanished from the public side of social media.

We still want to share things online, but it seems that now it's done privately in closed groups away from prying eyes.

Last year with the world in lockdown I thought there was enough to worry about without having to deal with a few negative Tweets that flew my way over the course of a few weeks so I decided to delete to my Twitter account. I don't miss it one bit.

I keep in touch via Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook is now just a place I look at things for sale on Marketplace or of the Memories of things I used to post about.

Sheffield Wednesday striker Efan Ekoku
Stock pic SE 10.11.00

Nick witnessed former Norwich striker get racially abused while at Sheffield Wednesday in 2001 - Credit: Sheffield Star

Racism in football has existed for decades. I remember hearing monkey chants at Carrow Road in the 80s. I was at Hillsborough in January 2001 when a minute into the game a Norwich fan yelled appalling racist abuse at former Canary Efan Ekoku, then playing for Sheffield Wednesday. Plenty of fans around him laughed. He was swiftly ejected by the stewards.

Now you'd probably be banned for life. But you could still set up a fake Twitter account and abuse a player in the middle of the night directly to their phone if they'd had a bad game or missed a golden chance to score.

I'm not saying deleting your account will solve the problem in football and of course I support any motion to stop this ridiculous abuse happening, but if you are fed up of the abuse, the trolls andthe negative comments, or just bored at looking at people's lives you don't really have any interest in, just leave.

Back in 2007 it felt like you were missing out if you weren't on social media. I don't think I'm alone in thinking this isn't now the case.

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