Twitter, racism and the Boston Bruins

WATCH: Members of the Boston Bruins react harshly to the so-called Bruins fans who sent out racist tweets directed at PK Subban

NOTE: The following post contains language that readers may find offensive. Discretion is advised. 

MONTREAL – When Boston Bruins fans took to social media to vent their frustration at the team’s first loss against the Montreal Canadiens, it got ugly.

First this happened:

Then this:

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Then this:

It was really trending
The tweets were ugly, profane and if they didn’t directly reference the colour of Subban’s skin, they used the hashtag of the n-word as emphasis.

Influence Communication, a Montreal-based company that specializes in media monitoring and analysis, noted that there were over 17,000 tweets containing the word “Subban” and the n-word on Thursday night.

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“It was really trending last night.”

While Ève Couture, a director for Influence Communication, acknowledged that there were numerous examples of shockingly racist comments featuring the Canadiens’ defenceman, she noted that when given closer analysis, the social media reaction was not as xenophobic as it would first seem.

Although many, like the one with Subban’s face photoshopped onto a piece of feces, shared by a Twitter account with a man in blackface as a profile photo with just 30 followers, were possibly meant for a limited audience, the nature of social media saw the trend amplified as more people shared and commented on tweets.

“Many of the tweets were denouncing the racism,” she said, suggesting that context was very important – like this tweet on the same subject over a month earlier.

A word map created by the company showed that the words most often linked to the n-word on Thursday night were “Subban,” “Bruins,” “Boston,” “s**t” and “racist.”

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A word map that shows words connected with “Subban” on Twitter on May 1, 2014 after the first NHL playoff game between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. Courtesy Influence Communications

Other words included “score,” “strong” and “ashamed.”

Couture noted that the word was shared in a positive way as well.

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Social media and sentiment
Werner Kunz, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Massachusetts Boston, also suggested that just counting the number of tweets containing a word does not provide a reliable perception of sentiment.

“This kind of case shows right away, that while there is political correctness, people don’t think twice before tweeting something,” he said.

“There’s so many ways how we express stuff on social media, especially on Twitter, as it’s very abbreviated. Just counting the ‘n-word’ is one way to get an idea, but not the full picture.”

“What it shows is that while there are some people in Boston that think like that, the majority are not so much in favour of this.”

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“As someone living in Boston, I have never experienced anything like this,” he added.

“It’s a little bit surprising that this happened in the first game.”

Official reaction
The Boston Bruins have officially distanced themselves from the social media actions of the team’s fans with a statement:

“The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.”

It’s not the first time that the Bruins have had to apologize for racist slurs from team fans. In April 2012, the team released a similar statement after fans tweeted racist comments about Joel Ward, who scored the winning goal for the Washington Capitals.

“The Bruins are very disappointed by the racist comments that were made following the game last night. These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.”

Historical precedence
“It doesn’t take much to resurface, it’s just people venting but it’s ignorance, racism and hatred,” said Michael P. Farkas, the president of of the board of directors for Black History Month.

“Funny that, just after seeing what happened with the Clippers. It shows we’re hypocritical, we’ve got a serious problem.”

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Farkas, who also happens to be a serious hockey fan himself, said that the sport has a history of being a tough game to get into if you’re a black player.

“Don’t forget, it’s coming from a league that used to say ‘if only he was white, he’d be on my team,” he said.

“It was a racist league. Hockey was never a black sport. Black people weren’t [considered] strong enough to play hockey, that’s where we’re coming from.”

He also noted the irony of the fact that the first black player to be signed to the National Hockey League, Willie Eldon O’Ree, was a winger for the Boston Bruins from 1957 to 1979.

25-year-old left wing Willie O’Ree, the first black player of the National Hockey League, warms up in his Boston Bruins uniform, prior to the game with the New York Rangers, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, on November 23, 1960. AP/The Canadian Press

As for what he thinks the Habs will do after the social media uproar?

“They’ll pay it no mind and just play the game.”

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The sentiment is echoed by the mayor of Montreal. Denis Coderre, who also happens to be an avid Habs fan, often live-tweeting games, had this to say on Friday: “They [Boston Bruins’ fans] can get our answer by the number of goals we’ll score.”

Watch: Montreal mayor places wager with Boston mayor

Many Bruins’ fans were sharing their distaste with the racism displayed on Twitter Thursday night by firing back with their own tweets on Friday.

And fans in Montreal? They too had a strong message to share.

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