Is Twitter just a way of getting footballers into trouble?

Chelsea defender Ashley ColeNo longer does the average Premier League fan, or football supporter in general turn up to a match at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon to watch their beloved side win, lose or draw and then forget about it until the following Saturday. Fans want to be kept in touch with what is happening with their club constantly, all day, and every day. It is simply part of the constitution of modern day football. Sky Sports have really been the catalysts in fuelling this culture now apparent in football, exemplified most greatly by Sky Sports News, which runs by the tag line ’24 hours a day, 7 days a week’.

The most recent exponent of this culture is Twitter. The main function of Twitter is that it is a medium in which the players can interact with their fans in a relatively safe environment. The problem is that it has become out of control. Very rarely does a day go by without hearing a negative Twitter news story and Twitter guidelines with the FA Code of Conduct highlights their concerns over it.

The problem with Twitter is that ultimately, it inhibits too many flaws. The first of these flaws is that it is too easy to Tweet. In the space of thirty seconds and four clicks on my phone, I can post a tweet. And this is dangerous when human emotion is involved. When ‘tweeting’, humans cannot be emotional. Ashley Cole found this to his detriment when he lambasted the FA following their reasons for suspending John Terry. He later said he regretted his tweet which was sent in the heat of the moment.

The second problem with Twitter is that fans, and players, are too irresponsible with it. The reality is that unfortunately most tweets are negative rather than positive. If fans mention a player in their tweet, it is more often than not to criticise rather than praise their performance. For example, earlier this week Kyle Walker revealed he had closed his Twitter account following the abuse he received from fans criticising his mistake which led to Chelsea’s fourth goal in their win on Saturday.

I would be interested to see the amount of praise he has received for his previous impressive performances in comparison to the abuse he has received in the last 3 days. I would cynically suggest he hasn’t being praised all that much. Players too, are culprits of irresponsible tweeting. I think that sometimes they forget what their main purpose for Twitter should be. In their role as professional footballers, they should communicate with fans in a positive way.

Too often players get caught up in a ‘slagging match’ with fans who are clearly just mindless idiots. Arsenal’s Emmanuel Frimpong was guilty of this in July when he called a fan a term which is derogatory towards race and ethnic origin. Too often players use Twitter as a forum to criticise authority bodies or fellow professional footballers which they must know will land them in hot water. Rio Ferdinand was a culprit of this when he labelled Ashley Cole a “choc-ice” following the trial involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. Both players were fined by the FA for their comments, and to this extent there is an argument to suggest that Twitter is just a way of getting footballers into trouble.

So can the FA just prevent players from using Twitter? Well, no. This is because Article 10 of the Human Rights Act states that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of expression’. With the risk of divulging, in many ways this ties in with the argument involving Alex Ferguson and Rio Ferdinand at the weekend. I thought it was interested to see Sir Alex Ferguson do a very uncharacteristic u-turn on Rio Ferdinand’s decision to not wear the ‘Kick It Out’ t-shirt. Ferdinand is entitled to his opinion, and I suspect that the United manager was advised wisely to retract his post-match Stoke comments in the pre-match Braga press conference.

The point about freedom of expression is an interesting one. This is because footballers believe that they should be entitled to it. And in many ways they should. The problem is that there is a great contradiction when considering freedom of expression. The contradiction lies between being able to express an opinion, and being responsible and accountable to your actions as a role model or a celebrity. It is Rio Ferdinand’s right to express his freedom, but in doing so he sacrifices the effectiveness of being a role model.

This being said, crucially there is no way of eradicating Twitter. However, is there no way of harnessing the damage that Twitter appears to cause? Are there any solutions? Well perhaps.  I believe that players and clubs should utilise their websites more. If players want to post an opinion, then why not post it through the club website? If it too controversial, then chief editors of the website can advise them against posting it. Clubs already have their own pages on Twitter. So again, an alternative suggestion is to start ‘trending’ and ‘mentioning’ their clubs more often on their tweets.

It is important to note that not all footballers use Twitter as a way of venting their discontent. In fact, the vast majority do use it to how I mentioned they should use it at the beginning of the second paragraph, which is a way of interacting with their fans on their day to day involvements with their club. In my opinion, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero is an example of how a top footballer should use Twitter. He picks up an injury at the start of the season, updates his followers weekly on his progress and thanks them for their support. It’s quite simple. In doing this, he effectively turns a negative news story into a positive one.

Additionally, there are examples when many footballers have used Twitter for good. The overriding example of this was when Fabrice Muamba suffered his Cardiac Arrest against Spurs in the FA Cup last season. ‘Pray for Muamba’ was constantly being tweeted from footballers on Twitter and that must have gone someway in giving Fabrice the confidence to come back from such a tragic state of affairs.

The final thing to add is that more than likely, Twitter will not always be around. Technology, and especially social media, is an ever changing phenomenon. It will surely only be a matter of time until the next craze comes along and blows Twitter out of the water.

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