Why Hector Bellerin is wrong about ArsenalFanTV

Speaking at the Oxford Union, Hector Bellerin made some interesting observations about ArsenalFanTV. Has the Arsenal full back hit the nail on the head, or is he missing the point. Well as is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Not true fans though?

Bellerin’s accusation that the people behind ArsenalFanTV are hustlers, and not true fans epitomises the disconnect between elite footballers and the people who support them.
First things first, let’s look at what he said:

“I don’t think there are players that actually go on the internet to watch ArsenalFanTV”

“It does sometimes pop up in your timeline. I see it sometimes. I have friends who say, ‘oh, have you heard what that guy on ArsenalFanTV [said]?’

“It’s so wrong for someone who claims to be a fan and their success is fed off a failure. How can that be a fan?

“I think they’re just people hustling, trying to make money their way, which everyone is entitled to do”

Popping up in the timeline

The first thing that struck me about Bellerin’s comments shouldn’t have been that surprising. Like most young people, Bellerin is consuming digital content in a very typical way. As he says, it isn’t a case of seeking out ArsenalFan TV, but more a case of it being unavoidable.

We often forget that elite footballers are human beings, and on top of that young ones. It shouldn’t be surprising that they are navigating social media in a very mundane way.
The combination of being an Arsenal player, and a man in his early twenties must make Bellerin a prime candidate to be exposed to such content. It is the algorithm rather than any sense of curiosity that makes ArsenalFan TV unavoidable for someone in his position.

The collision of football and social media has lead many to the conclusion that footballers should steer clear of the trappings of platforms like Twitter. But you must ask yourself, is this a reasonable demand given how embedded it has become (rightly or wrongly) in our society.

Delight or disgust

Unfortunately, it appears although the very design of certain platforms are a recipe for a negative experience.

Whistle blowers from Silicon Valley, such as Tristan Harris have been lifting the lid on some of the more insidious features that keep us hooked to our devices.
Harris has spoken very eloquently about the attention economy, which drives the design of these platforms. In one of his Ted Talks, he explains that the aim of the game is to keep you on a site for as long as possible. The easiest ways to do this is by showing you content that will either delight or disgust you.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to produce and find content that will stir up feelings of negativity. It’s why so much of news is negative, and why you’ll rarely come across something on your feed that is simply vanilla.

This is why ArsenalFan TV is so successful. You’re either someone who agrees with the outraged fans, or someone who finds them ridiculous. Either way, like it or not they have your attention.

In this sense Bellerin is correct. ArsenalFan TV have been able to profit from bad results, which unsurprisingly inspire the most outrage and therefore garner the highest number of views.

But does this mean that Robbie & co are not true fans?

Hustlers or fans?

Robbie is clearly an Arsenal fan. He has stated on many occasions that he wanted to give a voice to a variety of fans. His actual opinions and demeanour on camera is positive and optimistic. On the flip side, a supporting cast of more aggressive characters have contributed to the huge viewing figures because of their negativity.

Once again, does being negative mean that you’re not a true fan?
One of these side character is called DT. When Gary Neville invited ArsenalFanTV to the SkySports studios, DT revealed that he had spent over £70,000 watching Arsenal since their last title victory.

Surely such an investment would afford you the privilege of being labelled a fan?
Football fans were berating and abusing players way before the invention of fan channels. In many ways ArsenalFanTV has perfectly captured what it is to be a certain kind of football fan.

One who’s passion and aggression would seem strange to anyone not part of this tribal tradition. What’s clear is that Bellerin most certainly finds himself on the outside.
And this detachment undoubtedly adds fuel to the fire. ArsenalFanTV’s success could well be attributed to the fact that they epitomise this ever-widening gap between players and fans.

On their day the current Arsenal team could have you fooled into thinking they’re the real deal. But too often they embody the idea of footballers as multi-millionaires that simply don’t care enough.

Their shortcomings may actually be more to do with their manager than their spirit, but feelings of frustration echoes by pundits and fans often resides in the idea that this team simply doesn’t have enough commitment, desire and heart.

Bellerin goes on to say that he would listen to negative feedback from a coach, but not a fan. That once again is fair enough. ArsenalFanTV hasn’t exactly positioned itself as a channel that you’d go to for tactical analysis.

However, it reflects true fan culture in a digital age. If their not crossing a line, I’m afraid that saying Hector Bellerin played shit doesn’t make them fake fans.

In fact it’s quite the opposite.


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