TAKING social media as a barometer of wider public opinion is a little like taking the word of the bore at the end of the bar as, well, a barometer of wider public opinion.

So, this exchange I am about to relay to you may not be indicative of widespread paranoia among Scottish football supporters as a whole, but it certainly provoked a wry chuckle as I was scrolling through Twitter on Wednesday evening.

For context, Rangers had just squeaked three points from a hard-fought match against Hibernian at Easter Road, courtesy of a penalty five minutes from the end of time, awarded by referee John Beaton and converted by Kemar Roofe.

Until that moment, it had looked for all the world that the game would peter out into a stalemate, with both sides giving plenty of huff and puff but offering little in the way of quality in the final third.

Then, Ryan Kent jinked into the Hibs area, and waited for a home defender to dangle out a foot. Ryan Porteous, showing the impetuous streak that is fast becoming a costly unwanted trademark, duly did, making contact with the foot of the Rangers winger. Beaton hesitated, as if to add to the drama, but duly pointed to the spot.

Now, most neutral observers would conclude that the referee had arrived at the correct decision. It matters not that it was cute from Kent to tempt the challenge nor that it was daft for Porteous to oblige him, it was a foul and a penalty.

The phrase ‘Penalty for Rangers’ has become a punchline within Scottish football, shorthand for the perceived bias shown towards the Ibrox team by our officials. But there seemed little doubt that this time, no conspiracy theory over Beaton’s choice of staunch Bellshill watering hole could possibly be cited as a mitigating factor in the award. Apart from on Twitter, of course.

One Aberdeen fan – though not the only Twitter user, by any stretch of the imagination – rattled out his faux surprise that Rangers had been bailed out yet again by, as he put it, ‘self-confessed Sevco fan’ Beaton. Though, and I might be wrong, Beaton has never gone on record declaring his love for the boys in blue, nor any related holding company. But let’s not pull on that thread.

The award of the penalty had proved conclusively, apparently, that the Scottish game was corrupt to the core, as Rangers never get penalties in Europe. Disregarding the six they got in last season’s Europa League, but I digress.

When David Begg, the former BBC Radio Scotland broadcaster, replied to point out that he thought it was a penalty, the author replied to say that, in actual fact, he hadn’t seen the incident.

So ingrained has the myth become that ‘Brother’ Beaton – substitute Bobby Madden, Andrew Dallas, or any other official here – rides to the rescue of Rangers when they are struggling, you don’t even have to view a penalty incident now to state with absolute certainty that it was never a penalty.

A lot of this is going over old ground, of course. Rangers are the establishment club. Referees are masons. The world’s worst conspiracy has reduced Celtic to just the 51 league titles, 40 Scottish Cups and 19 League Cups, and the earth is flat.

All the while, fans of smaller clubs chuckle, viewing the Old Firm through the same prism and convinced that they both enjoy more than the benefit of the doubt from match officials whenever they face off against their team.

The truth is, fans of any club in the country will gladly lay out for you the dossier of dodgy decisions that have gone against their side over the years. Buy me a drink and I’ll gladly be that end of bar bore myself. But on this occasion, the decision wasn’t even an error, and still we are debating the merits of it.

The whole thing has almost come full circle, with the perceived notion that Rangers are on the receiving end of soft penalties now convincing everyone but the Rangers support that any infringement on their players in the area short of a decapitation is never a spot-kick. And no doubt the next conspiracy theory will, ironically enough, come from Rangers fans as a result.

The next time one of their players goes over in the box and isn’t awarded a penalty, they will argue that the pressure being put on referees to not be seen as ‘Rangers-minded’, will result in the barometer for penalties in their favour being higher than for other teams.

You keeping up? It’s all a load of nonsense, really. Referees are human, they sometimes get it right, they sometimes get it wrong. Do they have unconscious biases due to pressure from players, managers, large crowds or even the press? Who knows?

But the facts are that Rangers haven’t even been awarded the most penalties in the Premiership this season. That accolade belongs to Hearts, who had six prior to their game against Celtic last night, to Rangers’ four. Hibs, their opponents on Wednesday night, have also had four, while Celtic are just one further back.

Rangers have also conceded two, placing them in seventh of that particular table, with Celtic and Hibs having conceded just one apiece. Motherwell are top of that crime count, having given away four. Hold on, perhaps there is a conspiracy after all, but it is against the Steelmen. I knew it.

The only things that can be said for certain then is that referees can’t all hate your team, and your team specifically, and they all can’t love Rangers. Well, that, and the fact that Beaton got this decision 100 percent correct.