Maintaining any sort of blog or website is hard work and takes up a lot of time. In that sense, Gersnet – part of the Rangers online community for over 15 years – is no different. Such sites are often personal projects but for many others they develop into collective and constructive discussions underlined by active forums and social media accounts. Not every site’s contribution is positive but thankfully the vast majority of online debate is conducted respectfully and we should never let mischief-making minorities detract from the widespread opportunities the internet offers the modern world.
For clarity, Gersnet has never been the biggest or most influential Rangers fansite but we always strive for quality over quantity and enjoy making our content available to those who fancy some mature discussion. It’s also worth pointing out that although we have minimal and non-intrusive Google ads to help with our hosting costs, we never request financial assistance from our subscribers. In the recent past, our site has also had a variety of content published in the national media with lots of positive debate on issues directly related to our club. It’s safe to say we’re proud of our achievements over the years.
With all the above in mind, when we were announced as a forum finalist in the 2014 Football Blogging Awards (FBAs), we were delighted to be part of a process that finally seemed to recognise the honest effort that goes into sites like ours – especially a peer-reviewed system such as the FBAs which worked closely with various charities including anti-racism networks. After all, even just a quick glance at our main site or forum will see well-moderated content free of the sectarian and/or cheaply offensive nonsense you may stumble across elsewhere online. Ultimately, we didn’t win last year but we’ve worn our finalist badge with pride since then.
Fast forward to 2015 and once more the organisers got in touch to encourage our participation this year. Although the self-nomination process perhaps again seemed counter-productive, the quality of previous finalists suggested a well-vetted and sensible outlook from the Awards organisers. As such, we were again eager to take part and were pleased to be announced as a finalist once more (thanks to everyone who voted for us on social media and across the FBAs site). Unfortunately, as we scanned the rest of the finalists, a very obvious problem quickly became apparent: the presence of other sites and blogs that clearly appear to infringe the spirit of what the Awards are about. At this juncture I raised my concerns with the organisers and hoped for a positive outcome. After all, how could we share a platform with discredited websites which regularly refer to and encourage the description of Rangers supporters as ‘h*ns’ and the ‘Kl*n’ whilst also publishing often inaccurate and malicious content about our club?
Thankfully the organisers quickly acknowledged the issue, apologised and conceded other similar complaints had been received. Furthermore, they initially seemed very keen to distance themselves from sites that, according to them, inspired hateful comments and wanted to avoid any negative press such associations brought them. However, the problem they informed me was that their software couldn’t remove such sites from the voting process after it had started. Now, while we obviously welcomed their apology and shared their clear concerns, the software excuse appeared weak and we asked for further comment on the Awards organiser’s official position and for more information on the voting processes. To date, they’ve declined to do so since their initial reply almost two weeks ago. Unfortunately, this is wholly unacceptable to us and we’ve now asked for our site to be removed from the Awards process.
At this point it’s appropriate to expand to those who’ve voted for us why we’re withdrawing. Despite abuse from non-Rangers fans on social media since we highlighted our initial complaint, this isn’t about censoring opinions or looking to take faux, exaggerated offence on issues related to what may be otherwise considered banter (offensive or otherwise). Neither do we have any great problem with sites infatuated by Rangers’ financial background as, for the most part, we’re confident most neutrals can tell the difference between malignant mischief-making and genuine procedural concern. Moreover, as a general rule, free speech should be promoted at all times and we’re not easily offended by the kind of terms outlawed in Scotland by the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act three years ago. Generally, it’s pretty simple not to read such poisonous content and ignore the wilder claims.
The problem we do have though is rewarding and/or endorsing such places - and via their inclusion in the FBAs, the organisers are doing this. Worse, our own ongoing participation would have suggested we were happy to help publicise sites that condone and inspire bigotry against our club and fans. Yes, their initial, unvetted inclusion may have been an honest oversight but, by failing to remove them after the fact, the integrity of the Awards is subsequently brought into clear disrepute. Gersnet cannot be part of such a whitewash.
In addition to our own withdrawal and given the Award organisers’ failure to reply further, we will now be looking to engage directly with the judges and partners involved with the FBAs. Primarily we will be seeking comment on any nominated sites that contain and/or encourage unacceptable content totally against the spirit of the Awards. FBA partners include Ladbrokes, Carlsberg and Kitbag while the website also highlight ‘Football Unites, Racism Divides’ as one of their previous charity participants.
To conclude, while some people are or may be willing to turn a blind eye to such anti-football content we’ll be much happier that our own site’s integrity is beyond doubt amongst those that have taken the time to enjoy our 15-year contribution to the more genuine debates online. That true peer acceptance and credibility means more to us than any award.
* - Words censored due to terms and conditions of news aggregating sites.