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25th Jan 2018

Liam Miller deserves better than to have his health dragged through the rumour mill

Carl Kinsella

For the second time in three months, social media’s stomach lurched with the news that Liam Miller had died. For the second times in three months, it turned out to be a lie.

Former Republic of Ireland footballer Liam Miller, 36, was tragically diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at some point in 2017. We don’t know exactly when, which is perfectly appropriate.

The news that he was sick broke in November 2017, the morning after a night when Twitter timelines, Facebook newsfeeds and WhatsApp group chats were overrun with rumours that the Corkman had either passed away, or had only days to live. The footballing community, from casual fans to former teammates, was swept up in the tornado of misinformation, and it took the intervention of Miller’s former Hibernian teammate Tam McManus to set the record straight.

On Wednesday night, somehow, after seeing his friend’s own life and death publicly dragged through the rumour mill once last year — McManus somehow found himself doing it all over again. Out of the blue, social media was again in mourning for a man who had not died.

On Twitter, McManus wrote: “Again rumours about Liam Miller passing away are completely false. Don’t know what these ghouls want to achieve by spreading absolute lies. Idiots. He is not doing great but is continuing to fight it with everything he has. Give him and his family a bit of respect.”

“I shouldn’t have to [refute the rumours], it’s awful. Very unfair on his family at an extremely difficult time for them. Wish people would get their facts right before posting damaging things publicly about someone dying.”

Whether Wednesday night’s rumour was started maliciously or misguidedly doesn’t really matter too much. In the end, the result is the same — Liam Miller, as well as his loved ones, were left battling not only the cruelty of disease but also contending with the unthinking blunt force of social media’s least considerate.

By looking at the messages that have been posted “in tribute” to Miller, it is easy to see that they all come from a place of kindness. However, it is the kind of behaviour that is only permitted by a deep-seated naivety. By following the dangerous instinct to leap before you look.

To not only believe a baseless rumour, but to publicly give your thoughts on the death of somebody without a single statement made by a hospital, his family, a former club, or even a trusted press source is foolish, hurtful, and most of all, needless.

Think about it. If you heard from a stranger that one of your old friends had passed away, you might call his family to pay your condolences — but you wouldn’t do that before you knew it was true. The first thing you’d do is ask somebody who would know for sure. In fact, you’d probably speak to several people about it. You’d take your time to verify and understand the news before taking any action.

On two separate occasions now, hundreds of tweets have been published on the matter of Liam Miller’s health without a scintilla of evidence. However well-meant the tweets are, none of the authors have asked themselves “Is there any reason to believe this report is true?”

How many of Liam Miller’s friends and family will spend tonight fielding text messages and calls about whether or not their son, their brother, their father, husband or friend has passed away simply does not bear thinking about. That it’s the second in three months is enough to make your stomach turn and pray that you’re never put in that position.

In this instance, fans have proved themselves far too quick to tweet and far too slow to do their due diligence and give Liam Miller the dignity that he deserves.

No matter how easy it becomes to publicly speculate as to the status of somebody’s health, human dignity should never be relegated to an afterthought. The feelings of Liam Miller and all those who love him should be paramount, above the impulse to add one’s voice to social media’s already deafening noise.

Someone once said that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put its pants on. Imagine how fast lies can travel now that they’ve got social media’s engine in the bonnet. While social media struggles with its belt buckle and its shoelaces, it’s more imperative than ever that we keep our common sense fully dressed — before unfair sagas like the one Liam Miller has been subjected to become commonplace.