How to loose your job in 140 characters or less.
The consequences of twitter-tattle are being hotly debated in the media with celebrities, politicians and sportsmen alike getting their fingers burnt following inappropriate tweets. Twitter offers celebrities an un-regulated outlet for their thoughts, subsequently providing fans with spin-free news and access to their unedited innermost thoughts. Twittermania is fast becoming a publicist’s worst nightmare, and organisations are being forced into the role of disciplinarian, acting as Sylvester to the celebrity’s Tweetie-pie in the social networking playground. But should celebrities and sportsmen face consequences for their tweets or should anything said in cyberspace stay in cyberspace?
For the FA, 2011 is already proving to be a twitter-tastic annus horribilis. Aldershot Town midfielder/striker Marvin Morgan saw in the New Year with a Twitter ‘die’ rant aimed at fans after he was booed following his substitution against Hereford: “Like to thank the fans who booed me off the pitch. Where’s that going to get you! I hope you all die!” Morgan later apologised but was subsequently fined and placed on the transfer list.
The following week, Liverpool forward Ryan Babel fell foul of Twitter etiquette and became the first footballer to be charged with improper conduct following his mocking of referee Howard Webb on the site. Babel posted “…they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke. SMH (shake my head)” accompanied by a doctored image of Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt in response to his handling of a disputed first minute penalty in the match between Liverpool and Man United which resulted in a 1-0 defeat for his team.
Ryan Babel’s doctored photo of Howard Webb; posted on Twitter Jan 2011
Governing bodies such as the FA and the ECB, who have previously issued fines for similarly unsporting behaviour, are increasingly enforcing disciplinary action upon sportsmen in such situations. Both organisations banned players from using social networking sites during the FIFA World Cup 2010 and The Ashes 2010 respectively. This microblogging ban was initially put in place to ensure that locker room secrets and game tactics were kept under wraps, but more recently issues of libel seem more likely to be at the forefront of any future cyber sanctions.
Media law expert, Robin Thompson, describes the social networking community as “a world in which ordinary people have access to the rest of the world without any training or without a sense of responsibility” (Metro: 11.1.2011), claiming the free speech ethic and instancy afforded by the internet is too progressive for current libel laws. His claims are indicative of the growing cases of libel generated by online indiscretions which are leading to an influx of apologistas; celebrities forced to post apologies for their improper comments…some however are more heartfelt than that from Ryan Babel; “Sorry Howard Webb”.
But surely the notion of being reprimanded for your thoughts contradicts the entire notion of instant blogging. Twitter, like other social networking sites, was constructed to offer a means to publicise one’s innermost thoughts, regardless of who agreed with them. Views regarding twitter regulations come into contest and become more about the division between personal and professional posting. Some are of the opinion that what is written regarding personal affairs should remain unedited; anything relating to one’s profession should be in accordance with its ideologies. A sportsman commenting on something professional should adhere to the views and ideals of the governing body.
The indisputable force behind the twitterati, both tweeters and followers, is ever increasing and consequently could be viewed as an important device to publicise and generate publicity for sport. An encouragement of positive and morally correct cyber posting is being championed by progressive sporting organisations. Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, shares this view of social networking sites as an important source of promotion, “It is your job as international players to promote the game and be the best you can for the game. And if we can use social networks, if that brings people closer to the game, brings people through the gates to play, then that’s what it is all about…. you won’t see us banning our players from doing that sort of stuff.” (http://socialmediainfluence.com/2010/08/24/sportsmen-and-social-media-the-lessons-for-business/)
Twitter censorship not only applies to sports’ tweets, but to celebrity endorsement or twit-vertising, if you will. Following the appointment by Range Rover of 40 celebrity ‘trendsetters’ to tweet about their product, the new Evoque 4×4, in exchange for a free vehicle, celebrity promotion of a product or brand within the twittersphere has come into contention. The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) has reiterated its advertising code in response to celebrity tweets which seem to endorse a product. The code states that tweets regarding a product/service which has been paid for – either in goods or cash – fall under the ASA’s regulation; advertising must be clearly marked so as not to dupe consumers.
Brand promotion within the realms of Twitter demonstrates the power of the celebrity tweet, arguably making it a perfect vehicle for advertising, but the Twitter ideology of instantaneous blogging comes into question when celebrities are plugging brands and products. I for one would much rather read a heartfelt celebrity rant.
The main appeal of Twitter remains in the candid snippets which offer an insight into celebrity minds, not an edited revision pre-approved by the PR department. So the argument remains for freedom of speech and unbridled sincerity in a tweet. After all, how much harm can a 140 character post cause?
As a parting note, I urge any sportsmen considering jumping on the cyber blogging bandwagon to take a moment before twitter-tattling or tweeting their response to the latest match. Before putting finger to keyboard, consider how it would feel to lose face and apologise to the estimated 18 million twitter users (http://mashable.com/2009/04/28/twitter-active-users/) and assess how much they value their contract as it seems tweeting is becoming a crime, and no crime goes unpunished. Surely it’s only a matter of time before someone oversteps the mark and loses their job in 140 characters or less….Twitter addicts be warned!