The power and popularity of Twitter has many advantages to its average user, post your comments to a massive audience and communicate. The pitfalls of such a platform are limited if used correctly. But for those in the spotlight, including footballers, the dangers of causing trouble via Twitter are much greater.
A footballer taking to Twitter to air personal grievances, cast their opinion or make a general comment is a fresh problem that every football club owner and manager faces. A player’s comments appearing in the media have caused damage before but with Twitter the problem is a lot more direct. The uncensored tool can be used to cut out the middleman of the media and suddenly a footballer’s musings can spread within minutes.
Newcastle’s Jose Enrique thought that Twitter was the ideal location to criticise the club. Enrique tweeted: “The club is allowing all the major players of the team to go. Seriously, do you think it is the fault of the players? Andy [Carroll], nobby [Kevin Nolan] etc etc. This club will never again fight to be among the top six again with this policy.” Any user takes a risk posting about their employees on the internet, let alone a footballer who knows that such a quote will get read by thousands, re-tweeted and then eventually end up in the press. Jose Enrique has been subject to transfer speculation and his actions (although relatively minor) have done little to dampen such rumours. He also got handed a £100,000 fine by Newcastle for the outburst.
But Enrique is not the first footballer to fall foul of how not to use Twitter. Whilst at Liverpool Ryan Babel posted a picture of match referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt after a game between the two teams. Whilst the picture was suitably amusing, it landed Babel in hot water for the cyber-equivalent of criticising a match official.
Despite all the dangers of websites like Twitter they do also hold excellent possibilities for footballers. The opportunity to interact with fans or at least keep them updated is something that can be used to great success. But West Ham’s former defender Danny Gabbidon did the complete opposite back in April and took to Twitter to criticise his own fans following a defeat in a very direct rant.
One of the favourite uses of Twitter for a football fan is transfer rumours. The internet is now one of the fastest (but not always the most accurate) way to find out about the latest transfer speculation. But when players decide to get involved in transfer rumours directly, owners and managers face a major nightmare. Whilst at Spurs back in 2009 Darren Bent vented his frustration on Twitter, saying: “Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go stoke NO do I wanna go sunderland YES so stop f****** around levy.” Whilst you can assume that Bent also made such a statement (in a less aggressive way) in private, posting it on Twitter only caused problems for Tottenham. Bent eventually got his move but Twitter should not be a platform to demand a transfer.
But what can owners and managers do to avoid the nightmares that Twitter can cause? Whilst many have talked about banning or limiting players using the website, some of actually gone as far as to do that. Leeds manager Simon Grayson banned his players using the site earlier this month after striker Davide Somma posted about his injury, breaking club rules on social networking. The FA have also advised players about what they say on Twitter and warned that comments that break rules can face disciplinary action. But banning or limiting use poses problems as many footballers use the site safely and for now Twitter is an uncensored and open tool that anyone can use correctly or otherwise.
But for every footballer that uses Twitter without causing trouble, there are those or intentionally or not break FA or club rules by posting on the site. Punishments for such actions are necessary as it is no different than talking to the media and despite the fact it limits free speech, banning players from Twitter may be the only way to stop the unsettling, controversial or damaging effect a 140 character message can cause.
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