Sport

Are footballers using social media responsibly?


TEST ARTICLE 22/02/12

Andy Alston, Content Editor

Social media has become an integral part of society as we know it, with more and more people signing up to networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to keep in touch with friends and follow the lives of the rich and famous.

However, there are an increasing number of footballers using online resources to voice their opinions and interact with fans – with many unaware of the consequences that their remarks can have.

Jack Ross, former footballer and now Communications Director at Professional Footballer’s Association Scotland (PFA Scotland), believes that social networking tools can be beneficial for players if they are used in the correct manner.

He said: “I think there’s no doubt they can be, in terms of the interaction the players have with supporters and vice versa. I think it’s beneficial in terms of increasing a player’s profile and allowing them to express their opinion in their own way. Prior to that, the only way a player’s opinion was ever heard was through a newspaper and the written word can sometimes be construed in a different manner than it’s meant.”

There have been a number of high-profile cases where players have been fined, disciplined or even transferred due online comments and Ross feels that players are often unaware their comments may have consequences. He said: “I think it’s a difficult thing to grasp at times that your comment is instantly available to almost an infinite number of people, it’s quite a difficult thing to get your head round. By and large the percentage of younger players that use it will be higher because they’ve grown up with it so there’s a continual educational process.”

Ross has made steps towards ensuring that players are aware of the dangers of what they post with the introduction of social media guidelines set by the PFA.

“I think it’s an educational thing because it’s exploded onto the scene,” he adds. “There are clubs who have their own social media policy, whether or not that’s being pro-active or reactive would depend because sometimes it is reactive due to a player who has got into problems. There are rules set by the Judicional Panel that mean players will be punished if they make any comment that’s deemed to bring the game into disrepute.”


Ross is well-equipped to give his take on this trend, as he was the first to embrace the concept of interacting with supporters online when he published a weekly blog on the BBC Sport website two years ago. Upon reflection he admits that he was unsure about going ahead with the project initially.

He said: “I think for me it was quite a unique situation because this was before Twitter and it was really strange at first. Negative comments about, not necessarily what you were writing, but comments about performance or previous clubs and so on was unusual.

“Initially I had conversations with the BBC about whether or not I was happy to have that facility because you could have a blog without a comment section on it.

“But for every negative there’s a whole number of positives and there are a number of people who have a genuine interest in football and what you’re writing. You have to be thick-skinned at times and it’s the same nowadays on Twitter.

“It was different and I questioned at the time whether or not I was comfortable with it. It demonstrates that there are good communications to be had between players and supporters.”

While Ross had a positive experience using social media he concedes that some players may not be so fortunate, saying: “Unfortunately nowadays I think the perceptions of players, sometimes highlighted by the media, is wrong because the average player is actually a pretty decent guy.
“There are plenty of them that have decent opinions and with a decent level of intelligence, not necessarily in an academic sense, and they have good opinions on the game. The average supporter would be interested in hearing them and discussing the game with them because they both share a passion for football.”


With the rise of club message boards where fans can interact and share opinions about the affairs of their team Ross revealed that more and more players read what supporters say about them online: “I did read message boards at times during my career, I think probably every single player has done so as well,” he said.
“The boards are difficult because they’re not a forum where you can have a debate. I don’t think as a player it’s a wise thing to register and then try and talk. Probably the occasional player has done it in the past but they’re likely to come up against people that are just looking to antagonise others.

“I think there’s a number of players who have considered signing up because you read stuff that’s just nonsense online. If it’s criticism about performance then you’ve got to handle that, it comes with the territory, but when it’s nonsense that’s difficult to deal with at times.

“I never had a problem with people on message boards saying I was rubbish, that’s just personal opinion whether that’s from one fan or 50 fans, that’s just an opinion on your ability and you can never change that. I think it’s wrong when it crosses the line to personal abuse and it often does and it’s doing so more and more now.

“I’ve never agreed with the term ‘If you pay your money you can say what you like’, You pay your money and can have an opinion on performance – not a problem, but I think there’s a line that’s been blurred in recent years and I think that’s the case on message boards as well.”

Many newspapers are directly quoting players from social networking sites in an attempt to create scandal and generate excitement and Ross has stated that players are beginning to curtail what they say online.
“Players are starting to realise that journalists are beginning to use it because, rightly or wrongly, they’ll use it as a resource because it’s an easier way for them to do their job,” he said.

“I think as a professional athlete you have to be aware that your behaviour is sometimes scrutinised more than others so if you’re using social media it’s no different, especially the higher profile you are

“If used properly it offers the players opportunity to show that they have decent opinions on the game, something that’s been lacking. Players opinions are rarely sought and yet they are the ones who play the game and the ones who have the biggest experiences because they’re on the pitch, week-in-week-out.,” he stated.

Jack is hoping that players continue to use social networking and are able to have the same freedom of expression in the future.

He said: “I think the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. People like the interaction and it’s something that potentially has gone awry in the game, but there has to be caution exercised because players have to be aware that their behaviour will be scrutinised more than somebody whose job is not in the public eye.”

With the social networking craze unlikely to fade away anytime soon, it looks like the way supporters consume opinions about football is about to change.

Social media breaks down the barriers between fans and players, but footballers must be aware of the consequences before embracing the concept. If players can use the tools correctly then they can enhance their image and attract new fans to their club to promote the sport as a whole.

To read more of Alston’s articles visit http://www.andrewalston.net.

You can also keep up-to-date with Alston on  Twitter  @andyalstonf1

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