Less than a week after the Premier League issued Social Media guidelines, it has been revealed that the Football Association of England (The FA) have given member clubs further warnings about “social networking sites”. In a letter to clubs sent two weeks ago (and subsequently leaked on Twitter so we can’t confirm it is 100% authentic), the FA provides clubs with several bullet points outlining what players shouldn’t be doing on the likes of Twitter and Facebook.
The FA state in the document that it was in response to an increased level of complaints and incidents on social networking sites from football players – the letter even goes as far as to exclusively name Twitter.
The letter – written more as a series of warnings rather than guidelines – covers the usual range of topics such as:
- - improper comments may bring the game into disrepute
- - references on personal ethnicity, race, faith, disability, sexual orientation etc. will be punished at a higher level
- - players accept responsibility for their own accounts
- - all comments are considered public by the FA
However, what is more interesting is that the document also refers to a number of issues that are less obvious and perhaps the FA has experienced more in the past few months. For example, players are warned that they may receive disciplinary action for simply retweeting improper content – thereby removing the excuse that somebody else had made the comment. Other interesting warnings include the potential repercussions for comments about match officials that imply bias, questioning integrity or personal abuse. Players are also advised that simply deleting a social media posting will not prevent disciplinary action.
The warning comes two weeks before Rio Ferdinand was charged by the FA for Twitter comments he made about Chelsea defender Ashley Cole. Clearly, the FA are worried about the growing adoption rate of social media amongst football players and are keen to ensure that players do not bring the “beautiful game” into the social media battlefield. Whilst the FA should be commended for ensuring players have clear guidelines regarding what they can and cannot do, this only solves half of the problem.
If the FA, and it’s member clubs, were serious about ensuring best practice and using social media to improve the game, then they would combine these guidelines with education. Simply laying out rules is not enough.
Instead, the FA (or clubs) should host social workshops or training for players so that they can understand everything from how to use social media, what the regulations are (both club, league and nationally) and provide examples of both good and bad social media practice. This is a difficult task and one that will continue to be challenging for clubs, however, some clubs are already seeing signs of success. Birmingham City told Digital-Football.com in an interview that they educate their players from their academy upwards.
The Midlands side go as far as hosting staged press interviews where the interviewer will have previously looked at the players social media channels in order to find anything that can be used against them. The lesson teaches players to be protective of their channels and what they say, as well as help them experience and cope with the modern day techniques of journalists.
Source: Image of the letter came from Daniel Taylor (Chief Football Writer for the Guardian) who tweeted it 30/7/2012)