There is a lot to like about social media.
In the past, I’ve written about how social media has helped me in producing this magazine. Virtually everyone associated with the sport — players, manufacturers, writers, photographers, promoters, instructors, etc. — is connected to one or more social media platforms. Availability and responsiveness certainly makes my job easier and allows me to get information and feedback right up to the point of the magazine making its way to the printer. That kind of immediacy and timeliness is incredibly valuable. (Particularly so to a serial procrastinator like me!)
Obviously, social media also serves as a valuable, if not always dependable, news source. Where we used to have to go look for news, now it finds us. Just think of how many news stories have been shared as they were happening solely because of social media.
On the other hand, social media, because of its tendency to be a clearing house for unfiltered thought and opinion, can be every bit as destructive as it is beneficial. The same platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even Website discussion forums — that allow people to share information, to develop a voice, to become activists, and/or to simply say hello, are all too often used to disparage others, tear down ideas and generally spew vitriol.
There’s a lot of the latter happening in pool’s corner of social media. And those who engage in that kind of commentary clearly don’t realize how much damage they are doing to the sport.
Billiard discussion forums have long been veritable wastelands of mean-spirited, uninformed and pointless drivel. Oh, sure, there is plenty of healthy discussion on a variety of topics, but even a thread that starts as something as simple as a congratulatory remark seems to eventually find its way to knocking and name-calling.
Facebook is generally less offensive, in part because of the transparency involved in posting comments. But even the “social network” can be surprisingly nasty.
Top pro Mike Dechaine recently announced (not surprisingly, on a billiard discussion forum) that he was stepping away from the sport, possibly for good. Over the years, Dechaine has been a lightening rod for controversy. As a result, he has been the subject of continual ridicule on social media. In his announcement, Dehaine admitted that “being a topic of discussion has made me crack.” No one will argue that many of Dechaine’s wounds have been self-inflicted, but the fact that constant beatings on social media could impact someone’s decision to leave the sport is disheartening, to say the least.
The even bigger picture that few seem to see is the impact on the game’s future that is affected by the constant tearing down of our own sport and the people who are involved in the game.
If anyone wonders why companies outside traditional billiard circles don’t seem to want to associate themselves with pool, let me give you an idea of just one reason. I guarantee that when a corporation or marketing agency begins its research into the value of a sport or activity or cause, it spends much of its early research time monitoring that potential partner on social media. That is fact.
Now, say you’re a marketing agency representing a potential sponsor. Your client’s name will be tied to and associated with pool. So you look online — on Facebook and on billiard Websites — and all you see are people bashing the sport, bashing the players, bashing tournament formats, bashing equipment…
Starting to get the picture?
That marketing firm is derelict in its duties if it doesn’t go back to the client and advise them to “stay as far away from this sport as you can!”
In some ways, social media has supplanted “smoke-filled poolrooms and gambling” as the sport’s biggest deterrent to outside sponsorship. I know for a fact that the scenario described above has impacted sponsorship in another sport similar to billiards.
That’s not to say that every post on the sport should be seashells and balloons. Spirited discussion is always a good thing.
I just hope the next time some oh-so-smart, oh-so-clever person who considers himself or herself part of the billiard community prepares to rip a player or a promoter on social media, he or she gives at least a moment’s thought about the bigger picture.