Why Always Meme? Why Balotelli Instagram Reaction Is Overblown


We live in an endlessly outraged world. Some days it feels like everybody, everywhere, has outrage as their default setting. Far too much of this outrage is being shared on my timeline, and far too much of it is ridiculously overblown.

Some outrage is vital, that goes without saying. It's a vehicle for change and when meaningful things are fundamentally wrong, they need to be altered. Even if change isn't forthcoming, at least outrage breeds awareness. That kind of outrage defines our humanity. That kind of outrage is a force for good.

But what of the outrage that meets a very poorly conceived "share" by an eccentric professional footballer on Instagram? That's the question I'm asking in this week's column, in relation to Mario Balotelli's sensationalised upload and subsequent removal of a somebody else's Meme.

Was Balotelli's brainless act really worth the keyboard-busting fury that it prompted on planet internet? Or are we just so desperate for outrage we'll seek it out at the slightest opportunity, shout first and think later?

The Super Mario-themed image Balotelli shared was clearly racist - that's a given. Anytime you stereotype a group of people, positively or negatively, racism is your crime. We can all agree Balotelli should no more have shared it than the LAD Bible should have created it in the first place.

Let us reiterate that the image was made by The LAD Bible. Judge away, but don't expect the media to go on the rampage with that line - there's simply no mileage in it.

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The line everybody wanted was Balotelli. And racist. And anti-Semitism. 

Throw those in a pot and you got headlines like "Liverpool's Mario Balotelli in hot water over anti-Semitic Instagram post" from the Sydney Morning Herald, and "Balotelli in racism and anti-Semitism storm after controversial Instagram post" from the Mirror.

I could argue that Balotelli, the first black player to represent Italy and a victim of horrendous abuse during his career, has done more for the fight against racism in football than the vast majority of players he shares the world stage with. But I'm not even sure that's particularly relevant here.

The more salient point is that Balotelli, quite obviously, shared the image because he thought it carried the completely opposite message that the one that took over the headlines. It starts after all, with the rather giveaway line, "Don't be racist".

That doesn't take away the potential that Balotelli may have offended those following him, but it does find the Liverpool striker innocent of racism, and guilty only of deploying his enormous social media influence without due care and attention.

Just a modicum of rational thought tells us precisely what happened and why. Balotelli, an impulsive sort with a track record of doing daft things without thinking, glanced at this image and thought it was funny. He liked the Mario reference and he thought the Meme spoke to the beauty of diversity.

He didn't have his brain on, and he was spectacularly wrong. He quickly apologised, which was absolutely the right move. I'd even argue more good has been served by the process than if it hadn't happened in the first place - with Balotelli identifying the issue and highlighting why the Meme was racist. Lesson learned, so let's move on, and quickly.

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This outraged generation need to learn when to stop. No more talk of Balotelli getting an FA ban; no more spokespeople popping up to vent their outrage at a man who shared somebody else's Meme as if he truly subscribed to the racist message therein.

Balotelli made an honest mistake, founded on a good intention. He's not the casual racist who stands beside you at the football or might be in your living room at Christmas; he's just a man with far too large a profile to be posting things on social media without somebody checking them over first.

People will say he's a role model. I'd agree with that, but at the same time the very nature of social media appears to encourage this kind of mistake time and time again. Your friends probably make them every day, but nobody notices and the world moves on. 

The sensible conversation should be more around professional footballers and social media, and the dangers therein. Is it really a viable business decision for a club to allow a hugely valuable business asset to potentially devalue himself, and their brand, on the whim of a share?

How long before a professional footballer's entire career dies in one madly-conceived post?

We want our footballers to show personality, but overblown outrage is always waiting to pounce. As long as that's the case, we can expect them to remain largely hidden from view - presented as their advisors would wish them to, and avoiding the risk they might click share and blow up the world one day.

Balotelli is reckless, not racist. And if it's racism in football you're after, there are a thousand better outlets for your outrage than a player who's bravely fighting the cause himself.

Let's save our outrage for people who truly deserve it.

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