Alan Pattullo: It's just as well Twitter was not around in Duncan Ferguson's time as Rangers show way in push for social media reform

Recognition of the significance of yesterday’s date in Scottish football terms quickly inspired the thought that it’s a small mercy there was no social media around when Duncan Ferguson headbutted Jock McStay during a game at Ibrox.

Referee Kenny Clark confronts Rangers striker Duncan Ferguson following a headbutt on Raith Rovers' Jock McStay. The notorious incident took place 27 years ago this week

That incident occurred 27 years ago yesterday. The fall out was bad enough for all concerned. Had Twitter, Facebook and co been around, Ferguson would have been put on trial and found guilty or otherwise by the time he left Ibrox following the 4-0 win over Raith Rovers.

Clips of the incident, hashtag bigduncsforthepokey, would have gone viral. McStay, who was felled by the tall Rangers striker as they tussled for the ball, would have been victimised to an even greater extent in the aftermath. People would have jumped on his Celtic leanings. It would have been unedifying in the extreme.

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But social media is here now, for better or, as increasingly seems the case, worse. It’s not possible to simply unplug it. The value of social media to clubs is clear. Even the Spurs-Dulux story that blew up this week is now suspected by some cynics to have been concocted to ensure maximum coverage after someone with access to the paint firm’s account ran amok on Twitter. Meanwhile, it’s understood that Rangers have earned as much as £100,000 this year already from social media advertising.

It is therefore a big step for clubs to implement a complete social media boycott in response to online abuse of players and staff. Such is the deluge of material being posted every second, it’s possible you might not have noticed the week-long social media boycott by the players and management of Rangers came to an end at around 7pm on Thursday.

This was timely as it was shortly before Slavia Prague were sent crashing from the Europa League by Arsenal. Nevertheless, Rangers players seemed to resist the urge to post clapping hands emojis to celebrate this karmic event.

After all, it was one of the Czech Republic club’s players who started the ball rolling when he aimed a racial slur at Glen Kamara. But it’s now become more than about the odious Ondrej Kudela, the perpetrator. As the Rangers midfielder has himself stressed, it’s also about more than Glen Kamara.

It’s become about social media and an army of faceless online abusers. Of course, it should be noted that Kudela was not sitting in a room hammering out racist abuse on a keyboard when he committed his offence. It’s not the fault of the social media companies that such ignorance exists.

But they are often the messengers, hence Rangers’ discussions with Instagram and Facebook earlier this week. A full boycott by Rangers remains an option. That would represent a big step given the revenue implications.

It was reported earlier this week that the Ibrox club had registered nearly 10 million social media engagements in March, more than every major American football and baseball franchise.

Clubs need social media just as traditional media now needs it. It’s also a lifeblood for supporters who want to interact with clubs, players and other fans. But the dark side of this easy access has become all too plain to see. If Rangers really can affect change in this area, then this season won’t simply have been about stopping ten-in-a-row.

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