If you’re American, live in America, or have any inkling of what goes on in the big American sports, you can’t help but have a chuckle at way English football is sloppily straining to get a grip on Twitter. It’s like a movie night showing of Inception at your neighborhood retirement home. Confusion, like the odor of unattended bedpans, hangs in the air.
First, Mick McCarthy went so far as to call in a media law firm to school Wolves players on social networks, just in case any of them were on the verge of pulling the club down by saying naughty things. Mick blames Twitter for scuttling a transfer, and he won’t be having any of the nonsense that goes on there.
Maybe we should give some credit to Mick for at least realizing he couldn’t just ban his players from social media and be done with it – if he’s the one behind the educational approach. Is Mick at least making the effort to dig in his fingernails as the world passes his generation by? Maybe he might not get the Twitter, but he’s not going to be made out to be a fool by the Twitter either. Proactive is always much better than reactive.
The man dealing with Joey Barton’s social media stardom, Newcastle’s Alan Pardew, singularly blames Twitter for the breakdown in relations between the club and the midfielder. And he’s putting the onus of dealing with the problem on the Premier League. Pass that buck, Alan.
“Maybe if it wasn’t for Twitter and this instant media it may have got resolved on Monday morning with me and Joey in my office.
The problem with Twitter – we need to get a hold of this.
We have got nothing from the Premier League on how to deal with this.”
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, angry over the Twitastrophy™ Barton and other players have caused, has presented the club’s players with a legal letter barring them from tweeting about Newcastle at all. It’s the closest thing the nuclear option of banning players from Twitter altogether that any club can choose. It’s the napalm option.
Is Twitter a social media service or a infectious disease clubs must contain through heavy-handed tactics? Ashley and Pardew’s thinking is indicative of a problem much of English football has: having been in control of their message for so long because media freedoms are a fraction of what journalists in America enjoy, they’ve been blindsided by the unfettered ability of players to speak directly to the fans. Sometimes players don’t think, and do and say things they shouldn’t. Before, clubs could deal with those problems internally, issue denials and prevarications, and operate with relative secrecy almost like a government agency. Not anymore.
The combustible combination of panicking management over loss of control and their natural human instinct to resist that which is new has the problem approaching ridiculous proportions. Just to be clear, the “problem” isn’t players being on Twitter, it’s English football turning molehills into mountains with an out-of-touch mindset. Fining Joey Barton for disparaging Newcastle on Twitter is somewhat understandable; banishing him to train alone and setting him out on the curb only makes NUFC into a laughingstock.
Sunderland’s Steve Bruce did a better job of representing the general attitude of his peers than I ever could.
“I can’t understand personally, what the hell they get out of it. I can’t. I think it’s a bit of an ego thing to see who can have the most followers. That’s the big thing.
It’s been quite hysterical what’s been happening over the road, I have to say. We’ve got a few people on the social network, if that is right if that is what it is.
I think it’s like anything, with common sense and if common sense prevails then we’ve got to manage the situation. If it gets out of hand then you’ve got to stamp on it.
If it’s affecting your club and people are criticising for unjust reasons then of course you’re going to stop it.
As for telling you my whereabouts or I’ve just had my Weetabix is just, for me, farcical stuff. Maybe they have too much time on their hands.
The young society the way it is today, it’s quite astounding that it’s received so much coverage.”
Steve was doing fine until he suggested “of course you’re going to stop it” if people are criticizing for “unjust reasons.” Like Pardew and McCarthy, Bruce seems to see Twitter as one-off annoyance that can be solved by cutting players off from it completely. Instead, Twitter is just one drop in a much larger bucket. If the players aren’t tweeting, they’ll find something else. The floodgates are already open. Trying to close them now is not only impossible, it will inevitably lead to much bigger problems.
Twitter is a double-edged sword, both for clubs and players. We need only look at the experience of Darren Gibson – his account created then deleted all in a day because of the abuse he found himself subject to – to see how social media creates new and frightening avenues for communication. Players who choose to dive into the social media pool immediately find that there is no shortage of waste in the water. When you’re famous and passions for the job you do run high, breaking down the barrier between fan and player is not for the faint of heart.
Those that stick it out have a whole new world of unrestricted speech available to them. Don’t like the way the media portrays you? Jump on Twitter and “set the record straight.” Feeling aggrieved during a transfer tug-of-war? Log on and spout off about your club’s directors holding up the move you want.
It’s enough to make a manager’s, owner’s, or director’s head spin. Clubs have to fight the instinct to crash down on the whole thing in an effort to make it stop.
Players, for their part, have to be careful not to jump on their stream and cause more damage than already exists. Ashley Cole has decided that Twitter isn’t for him, likely because he knows that so much of what he might say could be turned against him by people who have already judged him. The chances something he tweets could be taken out of context or that his account is overwhelmed with the negativity the internet is famous for is massive.
The PFA, England’s players association, backs the idea that Twitter can be a unique link between players and supporters. Rather than paint with broad strokes as managers tend to, PFA Gordon Taylor sees Twitter as a positive – provided players are careful.
“Every person has got the right to speak in public so long as it is their own point of view and it does not reflect badly on their employers, the game or other personalities in the game.
If it is defamatory then it can then be used against that person in a legal manner for compensation.
It is not an easy thing, but used in the right way it can help with relationships between players and supporters.”
The uneasy relationship between Twitter, footballers, and clubs isn’t going to get any better as the numbers grow. More players joining means more possibility for trip-ups, more opportunity for clubs to overreact and more fans to turn players they follow into blubbering headcases with unrepentant abuse.
That said, an outright ban is a ridiculous idea. If English managers want to further the image that their players are nothing but spoiled children who cannot be trusted to handle themselves on the Internet, declaring Twitter off limits is would be a lovely way to do it. Should the mistakes of a few dictate the policy for everyone?
Sam Allardyce thinks so, apparently.
“Ban it. It is uncontrollable. It just gives an opening for too much abuse.
It’s a great piece of technology, but in most cases it gets people into far too much trouble.
What we’ve said is you can’t use it as regards information about the football club and anything that’s confidential.”
American sports have been dealing with the problems of Twitter for quite some time, and has mostly worked through many of the issues it causes. Now it’s English football’s turn.
It will no doubt be fascinating.