On 5 October 12:51pm, Chelsea left back and England international Ashley Cole Tweeted to his 382,000 followers what he thought of the FA in the wake of the judgement in the John Terry case in which the FA had questioned Cole’s evidence given in the criminal trial. Within one hour of the disparaging Tweet, it had been re-Tweeted over 19,000 times, prompting Cole to delete it and issue a public apology. Cole was charged by the FA and subsequently admitted to the offence that his Tweet was improper and/or brought the game into disrepute. Cole then received a record fine for such an offence of £90,000.
This incident continues a series of footballer Tweet own goals which has caused football’s governing bodies in the UK to consider introducing guidelines in order to regulate social media and prevent misuse by players.
Manchester United defender and England international Rio Ferdinand was charged by the FA for Twitter comments made about Ashley Cole. Jack Wilshire also experienced a Twitter embarrassment when he reportedly received a warning from UEFA, football’s governing body in Europe, after jokingly Tweeting that he had a bet on a team mate scoring in a European match. UEFA were quick to remind the player of the appropriate disciplinary regulations that prevents players from betting in UEFA competition matches. Wilshire has since closed his Twitter account.
With the reputation of players, clubs and governing bodies at risk, various social media guidelines and rules have been considered and adopted in order to address the issues and attempt to teach players about the negative consequences of improper social media.
In July The Premier League issued social media guidelines to all players. The guidelines focused on a number of areas including the benefits of using social media to engage with supporters, understanding the potential audience of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and recognising that it is possible to commit offences online via social media.
Advice was offered on the endorsement of brands, goods and services, while confidential information about team selection, injuries or tactics is prohibited from being disclosed on social media activity.
However it seems that some players have either turned a blind eye to this or are unaware of the guidance set. The Cole decision has prompted the FA to release a public statement that it is considering including a provision in the FA code of conduct solely dealing with the use of social media in the game and we are to expect new regulation imminently.
The merits of such regulation will be judged on whether it manages to balance effectively the negative and positive effects of social media in the game. It should not be forgotten that the majority of football players who are on Twitter have used it in a beneficial way including to promote charitable causes and their own personal brands. Perhaps one of the most innovative utilisation is from Joey Barton who has previously used the option of Twitter’s paid promoted Tweets allowing him to expand his reach and increase self-promotion and publicity.
The concern with new regulation is that social media shouldn’t be too regulated irrespective of the industry as it can affect the freedom of expression of individuals. The key to the success of the regulations will be how it provides for clear and appropriate regulation of improper use in light of the benefits of social media in the sport of football. Appropriate education to players in social media should also be at the forefront of recent developments.
Jack Jones is an Associate at Sheridans. He works with a number of media and entertainment clients ranging from creative and digital agencies to app developers and computer games brands. He specialises in advising on general IP and commercial work, with a focus on technology and brand management
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