Leeds' social media team should have been cautioned over Karen Carney tweet

Leeds United FC’s social media team was caught badly offside when its tweet about comments by TV presenter and former England player Karen Carney predictably led to a social media pile-on and horrendous abuse.

Sports journalist Karen Carney deleted her Twitter account after receiving abuse on the platform
Sports journalist Karen Carney deleted her Twitter account after receiving abuse on the platform

The 2019 Women’s World Cup had a transformative impact on the profile of women’s football – but it had a far wider effect in giving greater opportunities to female sports journalists commenting on the men’s game.

The days when coaches such as David Moyes could get away with threatening to slap a female reporter or questioning the temerity of another for daring to ask a difficult question appear to be a thing of the past.

These days panels on most live football shows have a female pundit, with Alex Scott, in particular, gaining a high profile as a result.

Sadly, her appearances have seen her name regularly trending as trolls and bigots attack her on social media and have resulted in her needing therapy to cope with the abuse and even death threats she has received.

So it’s come as a surprise to see how Leeds United has handled its own social media storm over the past week, after it appeared to mock Karen Carney for her comments regarding the club's 5-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion.

Carney, who won nearly 150 caps for England, suggested that Leeds’ high-energy style may lead the team to burn out as the season progresses.

Official football club social media accounts have evolved from simply posting results and links to an official website to being a two-way communications channel with fans – and the best ones get the right balance between formality and humour.

But the Leeds social media team got it very wrong when it mocked Carney’s comments and then failed to realise the gravity of its error.

As always, it’s how you respond to a crisis, rather than the crisis itself, that does the real damage. 

Even if it had not been apparent in the first place, the Leeds hierarchy must have realised the damaging effects of the Carney mockery as thousands of trolls attacked her for her views.

It didn’t take long for other sports journalists to express their concern at the tweet, which failed to take into account the daily abuse women football journalists receive and how the post could be interpreted as an invitation to pile on. 

Club owner Andrea Radrizzani could have responded by acknowledging the consequences of the post and apologising for the distress it had caused. Admitting a mistake is rarely a sign of weakness when a crisis strikes.

He chose, however, to compound the problem by defending the tweet, despite the widespread criticism the club received in light of the abuse Carney was suffering as a consequence. 

It smacks of a lack of empathy and damages Leeds’ reputation as a result, which has been burgeoning since their return to the Premier League.

The fact that Carney has now, regrettably, had to delete her Twitter account underlines how wrong Leeds got this.

The club issued a statement condemning the abuse she suffered – notably NOT on Twitter, where the initial post appeared – and reportedly invited her to its training ground for an exclusive interview opportunity ahead of an FA Cup tie.

A better course of action would be for Radrizzani and the club staff, from the top down, to undertake training to fully understand the importance of getting the right tone in their external communications and reflect on the mistakes they have made in order to avert problems like this occurring again.

David Alexander is the managing director of sports PR agency Calacus

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