Revisiting P.K. Subban racist tweets to clear Boston’s name

Greg Wyshynski
Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban has a laugh as he stretches during NHL hockey practice Friday, May 16, 2014 in Brossard, Quebec. The Canadiens host the New York Rangers in Game one of the Eastern Conference final in the Stanley Cup playoffs on Saturday in Montreal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
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Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban has a laugh as he stretches during NHL hockey practice Friday, May 16, 2014 in Brossard, Quebec. The Canadiens host the New York Rangers in Game one of the Eastern Conference final in the Stanley Cup playoffs on Saturday in Montreal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

The Boston Globe published a piece titled “How the P.K. Subban tweets became a digital wildfire” on Thursday that tracks some of the N-word laden tweets that helped spark an apology from the Boston Bruins back to the sources.

In the process, it attempts to paint the controversy as manufactured, miniscule and, basically, irrelevant in context.

It centers around a Canadiens fan named Arcadio Marcuzzi. From the Globe:

Marcuzzi saw a screenshot on @67for25, a Canadiens fan account he follows. It showed three racist tweets directed at P.K. Subban, Montreal’s black superstar, after the defenseman had scored the first of his two goals in Game 1. Malcolm Subban, P.K.’s younger brother, is a Bruins goaltending prospect.

Marcuzzi retweeted the screenshot. To accompany the retweet, Marcuzzi wrote that the n-word was trending in Boston. It wasn’t.

According to Social Sphere, a Cambridge company that researches and analyzes Internet data, there were eight tweets on May 1 containing the n-word and Subban’s name that could be considered racist. In response, there were 347 tweets, also featuring both words, that could be classified as condemnatory.

It also comes with this infographic that tracks the genesis of the Subban controversy and other “racist” Twitter activity in other cases.

It’s worth your time if you’re a fan of Internet sleuthing, but it’s an analysis that’s fraught with problems.

* Say, here’s a rather large caveat:

“Social Sphere’s analysis of the tweets came a week later, and would not account for tweets that may have been deleted in the interim.”

So it doesn’t take into account any tweets that may have been deleted in the week in which people who tweeted racist things were shamed in public and responded by … deleting their tweets.

Good job, good effort, Social Sphere.

* The story, quite bafflingly, doesn’t mention the Bruins’ statement issued after the Washington Capitals’ Joel Ward scored the game-winning Game 7 goal in 2012. The infographic does, and let’s just say it doesn’t inspire much faith in the Social Sphere research model:

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According to Social Sphere, there were eight racist tweets fired off after Ward scored.

Weird. We count 15 alone here.

You’ll notice more than a few of the tweets on that Deadspin story from 2012 have been deleted, as have the user accounts.

Again: Easy to dip into the numbers and declare all is well when the cesspool’s been drained retroactively. 

* You know, social media stretches beyond Twitter. There’s also Instagram, for example, where a user put up a photo that referenced Subban being lynched. But hey, no noose is good news when you’re trying to prove a thesis.

The Globe story isn’t without merit.  Fluto Shinzawa is a good reporter, and a lot of legwork went into this. It debunks the “N-word trending in Boston” myth from that night. It does a good job reinforcing the great news from this incident, which was how widely and loudly Boston fans criticized and called out the racist tweets.

But again: To what end? To clear Boston’s name by proving that the "n-word" wasn't trending that night, which was obviously a hoax already to anyone slightly tech savvy? To show that the “echo chamber” of social media isn’t overrun with idiots that drop an N-bomb whenever a black athlete is in the news? 

It spends a lot of time trying to identify the scope of a problem rather than simply acknowledging the problem.