Gary Lineker, the Match of the Day host whose solitary tweet led to dozens of fellow BBC presenters and staffers downing tools for a weekend last year, has said he barely uses X (formerly Twitter) anymore as it has become “increasingly toxic.”
The former England international soccer player, who has generated plenty of recent headlines due to his social media use, told a gathering of journalists that changes to Elon Musk’s platform including subscribers being given blue ticks if they pay a fee has led him to virtually quit X due to his mental health. He described himself as being in a “purdah” period on the platform – the term for when political parties’ communications are restricted in the run-up to a general election – and said this has “nothing to do with the BBC.”
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“Obviously [Twitter has] always been a bit of a cesspit but it’s just become increasingly toxic,” Lineker told a Broadcasting Press Guild (BPG) event. “You can’t have a nuanced conversation on there anymore so I’ve stepped away from that side of things.”
Lineker declined to say whether new X boss Musk had “wrecked” the platform but said the changes regarding blue ticks and columns that offer up tweets from people he doesn’t follow means he now sees its “vitriolic side” all too frequently. “For your mental health it’s probably quite important not to read too much of that,” said Lineker, adding that he has instead found more time to read and listen to podcasts.
He scotched the idea that he will leave the platform entirely, stating that “the BBC love me on there because I promote their shows.”
Lineker was appearing in front of the BPG almost a year after his tweet comparing the government’s immigration policy to that of 1930s Germany. He was stood down from Match of the Day that weekend but the move led dozens of others to down tools in solidarity, nearly spelt the end for the Director General and triggered a high-profile reckoning that led to an overhaul of the BBC’s social media guidelines.
Reflecting on the debacle and responding to a question from Deadline, Lineker described the situation as a “lover’s tiff” between him and the BBC, adding: “I think it was a little bit unfortunate but we are fine again now. I’ve worked for the BBC for 30 years and we had one little fallout.”
Lineker’s tweeting since March 2023 has therefore been under the microscope and he has caused controversy since with posts criticizing a Conservative lawmaker and a retweet calling for Israel to be banned from international sports events, which he subsequently deleted due to his misreading the post.
Incoming BBC Chair Samir Shah recently told the UK’s Culture Committee he believed Lineker’s posts mocking Conservative politicians appeared to break the new guidelines forged by former ITN boss John Hardie but, while defending Shah, Lineker stressed today that his judgement had been incorrect.
“But he wasn’t in the role at that point and I think he was put on the spot a bit,” added Lineker.
“I’ve always tried to tweet sensibly”
Lineker said he “knows the new guidelines inside out” and that they “allow more freedom to tweet,” while he hit back at his critics – and critics of the BBC more generally – who lambast his and the broadcaster’s lack of impartiality.
“If people read into something you’ve said on social media then they will see bias, but the bias is actually theirs,” he said pointedly. “I’ve always tried to tweet sensibly and am not a tribal person. I just look at what is right and what is wrong.”
Lineker compared critiques of the BBC to people who complain about their team being low down the running order on his soccer highlights show Match of the Day. “No one ever complains about someone else’s team but of course they will claim bias against their own team,” he added. “It’s the same in politics.”
Using another soccer analogy, he later said that BBC impartiality is akin to how the controversial Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system is constantly being tinkered with to fans’ chagrin.
“One week they [critics and the press] will set a high bar [on impartiality] and the next week a lower bar and they’ll always be adjusting, adjusting, adjusting,” he added. “But we get the responsibilities and do our absolute best. None of us are worrying about [impartiality] unduly.”
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