RADICAN’S TAKE: Tony Khan needs to escape the negative rabbit hole that is social media

By Sean Radican, PWTorch columnist

Tony Khan comments on All Out event in 2023
Tony Khan (photo credit Wade Keller © PWTorch)


AEW president and booker Tony Khan is known to engage in negative discourse on Twitter/X, especially when it comes to critiques of his booking or other decisions he’s made as the head of AEW.

Is Khan a victim of the generation he grew up in? Perhaps. Khan grew up watching independent wrestling, reading insider newsletters like Pro Wrestling Torch and The Wrestling Observer, and following the wrestling scene closely.

The era of the hardcore fan exploded in the 2000s when Khan was in his early 20s. Companies like ROH became massively popular to hardcore fans and, during this period, message boards became popular, especially fans who watched wrestling overseas in places like Japan through tape trading and followed multiple independent wrestling companies in the U.S. who taped their shows and distributed them on VHS and DVD for people to watch at their homes.

The discourse on these boards, even with moderators, tended to veer towards negative discourse between wrestling fans no matter what the topic was. It wasn’t all negative, but a lot of it was toxic.

The toxic discussion on wrestling message boards saw people disagree with one another about wrestling topics and it would often take dark turns that you would not normally see if the conversation were taking place between two mature adults in real life. People with varying points of view would attack each other personally while standing up for a wrestling company or a point of view they had about a wrestling company.

I know from personal experience that these message board interactions felt like a brand new reality in another dimension. I took my fair share of abuse on message boards and I would in turn lash out at others at times over the silliest disagreements that in hindsight seemed like they meant the world, but they didn’t.

Two or three people insulting me and my work with Pro Wrestling Torch on a message board could feel like hundreds and even thousands of people coming after me at times. I spent way too much time focusing on these comments, searching for my name in threads, and engaging people in heated debates on these boards.

As message boards faded away around 2010, Twitter began to rise in popularity. Twitter was a place where negativity was amplified even louder. I had learned to take criticism of my work in stride, but I spent a lot of time on Twitter as the years went by. Twitter became an all-in-one place for wrestling news and discussion.

As time went on, Twitter with the power to amplify negativity way more than any message board, became a tool where people inside and outside of wrestling were tried like convicts and accused of doing despicable things.

This eventually became known as cancel culture and, in some cases, truly bad people were called out and positive change occurred. However, on the flip side, many people were accused of doing things they didn’t do and had their reputations stained forever because of a hasty “consensus” on Twitter.

In addition to Twitter being a place where people were “canceled,” it was a place where people insulted wrestlers and wrestling writers with a whole new level of disrespect. Accusations about people became truths in the eyes of many on the platform even if there was nothing true about what they were saying.

If you spend too much time on Twitter, you can think that the mean things people say and try to do to you are real. I decided to disengage and spend less time on Twitter a couple of years ago; in that time, I have learned that the negative things people say and do while hiding behind an avatar don’t matter.

It is simply a waste of time for any public figure no matter how big or small to engage in such negative discourse, but because of how real the slights and insults can seem, I can see why it is difficult for anyone to disengage from the platform, which continues to get more and more toxic, especially under Elon Musk, who has rebranded Twitter as X.

You rarely see positive things amplified on Twitter (which most people still refer to it as despite the name change). It has fostered tribalism amongst hardcore wrestling fans. Nearly every discussion I see on Twitter is about WWE vs. AEW no matter what the topic is being debated.

I also see writers from various websites goaded into ridiculous engagement. They are engaged by people who are angry and looking for an outlet to vent, so they make up some ridiculous accusation about a wrestling writer or influencer and their reward is the engagement with that person.

I know from experience that engaging trolls didn’t make me feel better. Yelling at someone on social media about a wrestling topic never made me feel better either. I also know how hard it is to believe that Twitter isn’t real life.

Tony Khan spends too much time on Twitter. People in his company who have his and the company’s best interests in mind firmly believe this. He regularly likes and reacts to comments during Dynamite and Collision when they’re live on air.

For someone with such a large amount of responsibility, between his roles with Fulham FC soccer club in England and the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL along with being the president and booker of AEW, Khan should have minimal time to engage in wrestling discourse online, especially discourse that’s clearly planted to get a reaction out of him.

Khan’s latest run-in on social media came on Twitter today after the USA Network account reacted to a post made about the upcoming Seth Rollins vs. Jinder Mahal match for the WWE World Hvt. Championship. “What was the cage match rating?” their post said.

That post, embedded with snark, was a reference to Khan pointing to AEW drawing positive show reviews on the Cagematch website recently during a media Q&A session as a sign the company was trending in a positive direction. Cagematch compiles show review scores online and each show receives an average score out of ten from visitors.

Khan, who has been trying to keep the AEW vs. WWE war active during interviews and online, responded to the post on Twitter indirectly at first.

“A double standard @730hook 28-1 career record, on winning streak calls out the Champ, a logical challenge sparks online outrage Jinder has literally lost every single match he’s in for the past year, immediately gets title shot, where is the rage #AEWDynamite TOMORROW on TBS,” wrote Khan.

Khan could have ignored the post from USA Network and shrugged it off, but he took it as an opportunity to try to score points against people on Twitter who complained about Hook being granted a title shot against AEW World Champion Samoa Joe after Hook issued a challenge last week.

Khan left out of his response that Hook got most of those wins against inferior competition and, for much of his run, has been associated with Danhausen, who is a comedy act. Khan wasn’t done there, though. Next, he directly quoted USA Network on X.

“A moral victory for USA is one win more than their World Title challenger Jinder Mahal has in the past 364 days… because it’s been literally a full year since he won a match, wrote Khan. You really put AEW in our place getting Jinder Mahal in a big match on your tv show. Do it more often.”

Mahal responded on Twitter. “Who tf is Hook?” he said. The post was later deleted.

Khan not only took a shot at WWE, but he also took a shot at Jinder Mahal by sarcastically saying WWE should put him on their show more often, implying that Mahal is an overall negative to the product.

The replies to Khan’s post were filled with examples of underserving wrestlers in AEW being granted title shots with several people pointing to how MJF was gifted his title shot by his former stable The Firm at the All Out 2022 PPV when the firm interfered in the Casino Ladder match and Stokely Hathaway climbed the ladder and handed him the poker chip to grant him a future shot at the AEW World Championship.

Khan’s comments on Twitter drew the attention of Eric Bischoff, who quoted Khan’s post on X about Hook’s record with a clown emoji. The two continued to go back and forth on Twitter, throwing insults at each other. As the leader of AEW, Khan should hold himself to a higher standard than he does and conduct himself as a leader online, but today Khan once again engaged in negative interactions about his company and WWE when he didn’t have to.

Tony Khan is not a bad person from what I know and from what other people have said about him. He’s a nice guy and I’ve always had good interactions with him, but as the public face and leader of AEW, he’s failed by getting caught up in discourse that doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter what Eric Bischoff or the person running the USA Network account on Twitter think about Tony or AEW. They don’t impact Tony’s company and they don’t impact him personally, either. I learned the lesson long ago that social media isn’t real and no matter how real it may seem to Tony, it won’t make an ounce of difference to his bottom line to engage trolls on Twitter.

You very rarely see leaders of large organizations respond to negativity online. Ignoring social media is something that should be a given for anyone in Khan’s position of power. Khan should be setting an example for everyone under him in AEW by not reacting to people looking for negative attention on social media.

It is a hard thing to do, but it would be one of the best things Tony could do moving forward. When AEW was founded, the company had the support of hardcore fans because they saw AEW as representing the anti-establishment and AEW represented hope to fans looking for something different from WWE.

AEW’s success since it launch shows there’s an audience for a different brand of wrestling, but along the way, AEW lost its cool factor. At the Worlds End post-event media Q&A, Khan said that he thought AEW represented punk rock in the pro wrestling landscape. Is there anything punk rock about crying about the critiques of your product on social media? That’s a question Tony ought to ask himself.

The way Tony has presented himself as the face of the company brings about many questions about his ability to lead and maintain the respect of wrestlers and staff under him. When answering a question about female safety in AEW in relation to online reports and social media posts in recent days attributing actions by him behind the scenes to the departure of one-time AEW wrestler Kylie Ray back in 2019, Khan answered the question while wearing Toni Storm’s big puffy black hat and sunglasses. Khan might not have intended it, but his demeanor during the scrum was extremely disrespectful to the women he employs.

It took a long period of time for an AEW staff member to interject themselves and remove the hat and sunglasses from Khan at the Q&A session. Khan would benefit from someone behind the scenes aiding him in his leadership role, whether it be preventing him from bringing unwanted negative attention to AEW or answering serious questions about female safety behind the scenes in AEW.

Khan’s actions at the post-Worlds End media scrum were disconcerting enough. Today further eroded my confidence in Khan to effectively lead AEW going forward without him making some changes. Whether it is someone he hires to help filter his decision-making process when it comes to how he presents himself on social media or whether it’s just him coming to the realization that it is alright to not engage with trolls on his own, something has to change.

It took a long time for me to come to that realization, and it wasn’t easy. Now Khan needs to ignore trolling comments no matter who they come from. Responding to them only put him and AEW in a negative light.

Contact Sean at pwtorchsean@gmail.com.

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