Gary Lineker on avoiding 'increasingly toxic' social media platform X

Former British footballer and broadcaster Gary Lineker poses upon arrival at the GQ Men of the Year Awards 2023 at the Royal Opera House in London, Britain, 15 November 2023
Lineker said design changes to X mean he now sees the "vitriolic side" of the platform more often

Gary Lineker has said he is using Twitter/X less often as the platform has become "increasingly toxic".

The Match of the Day presenter has been criticised in recent years after speaking out on political issues such as the government's Rwanda policy.

His comments led to a debate about impartiality rules and BBC presenters' behaviour on social media.

But Lineker says he is trying to stay away from the "vitriolic side" of the platform.

"You can't have a nuanced conversation on there anymore so I've stepped away from that side of things," he said at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch.

"Obviously [Twitter has] always been a bit of a cesspit and it's become increasingly toxic."

The presenter added the changes made since Elon Musk took over X regarding blue ticks and what users see in their feed means he now sees the more venomous side of the platform more often.

"For your mental health it's probably quite important not to read too much of that," he added.

'I know the guidelines'

X recently introduced a "For You" feed for users - a curated stream of topics it thinks the user is interested in, as opposed to the regular feed of tweets posted by only the people they have chosen to follow.

"[Before] you could just read blue tick holders or people that you follow," Lineker said. "And that's how I used to do Twitter. That changed, of course, when they gave the blue tick to anyone. So therefore you do see the vitriolic side of Twitter. There's no avoiding it."

Blue ticks were previously given to verified users so users knew a high-profile person's account was authentic. But the model changed so that blue ticks could be purchased by all users.

Last year, new rules were published for BBC flagship presenters following a row over Lineker's posts.

Following a review by former ITN boss John Hardie, the BBC said high-profile presenters should be allowed to express views on issues and policies but stop short of political campaigning.

Speaking about his own social media activity, Lineker said: "I don't think I'm constrained. I think I've tweeted now like I've always done - i.e. sensibly.

"I know the guidelines inside out, and the new guidelines actually allow you more freedom to tweet. We're allowed opinions on stuff."

Gary Lineker, BBC Sport TV Pundit speaks whilst standing next to the FA Cup trophy prior to the Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on March 21, 2021
Lineker says he has almost two years left on his current contract to present Match of the Day

He continued: "We know what it's like at the BBC… that people will say the BBC's biased this way or biased that way. But the truth is, [with] the BBC, it's thousands of people that work there.

"It is an institution that has to try to be neutral on most things and I think it does remarkably well in that sense. The bias will always be seen by someone, but the actual bias is really theirs. That is something you just get used to when working at the BBC.

"I've always tried to tweet sensibly, and I'm not a tribal person anyway. I never have been so I just look at what I think is right and what is wrong, and I'll go there."

Lineker praised the new rules, commenting: "I know the guidelines really well - I was partly involved in drawing them up in terms of I did interviews with John [Hardie] when he did them [the review]."

Despite his issues with X, the presenter said he was not deleting his account and leaving altogether as it was "a very useful platform".

"Obviously I promote [the BBC's] shows... and our podcasts, it's a big platform. I still use it for what I think is good".

A row over Lineker's posts was prompted last year by his comments comparing the government's immigration policy to the language used in 1930s Germany.

He was asked to step back from hosting Match of the Day by the BBC, but the move prompted other presenters to down tools in solidarity. Lineker later returned to the airwaves as the BBC announced its social media review.

Asked about his future with the programme, Lineker said: "I don't know. I've still got almost two years left on my contract. So it's too early to contemplate that at the moment.

"But I mean I love doing Match of the Day, but, you know, obviously what happens with... football rights and things like that, will determine things and you know, things change."

He added: "I've had an amazing life. I love working for the BBC. It's been great. I've worked for them now for almost 30 years. And in that time we had one little fallout and that's it and it was quickly overcome."

Lineker was at the event to discuss his company Goalhanger Podcasts, which produces series including The Rest is Politics, The Rest is History and The Rest is Entertainment, all regulars in the top podcast charts.

The 63-year-old said he would not accept adverts for "anything around fossil fuel, or gambling" on The Rest is Football, another podcast in the series.

"I think it concerns me a little bit in the world of football, how gambling companies target young people with free bets and this sort of thing, they entice them in. And we know that that can lead to addiction if people are vulnerable in that area."