By Andrew Kennedy
Acting in the moment, decisions taken impulsively and wearing your heart on your sleeve are just a few of the things which make football great. As numerous players have found out, however, the same logic does not apply when using Twitter.
Indeed, as Rio Ferdinand discovered on Monday, the nature of the social networking site enables off-the-cuff comments to be blown out of proportion and come back to haunt you.
The Manchester United defender retweeted and, in turn, endorsed a message from a follower referring to Ashley Cole as a “choc-ice”, after the Chelsea defender’s decision to testify in defence of John Terry during his recent trial for alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand.While the 33-year-old may have avoided the police investigation faced by the person who wrote the original message there have still been repercussions for the centre-back, with the Football Association charging him with "bringing the game into disrepute by making comments which included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race".
Up until now, the former Leeds United player had demonstrated how to use Twitter to its maximum effect - amassing over three million followers and successfully promoting his own personal ventures after becoming one of the first footballers to dive into the online phenomenon.
Now, it is clear that no matter how savvy the user, even the smallest mistake will be laid bare for all to scrutinise in a matter of minutes.
Of course, with a sober mind, it’s clear to see Twitter’s merits outweigh its perils.
The likes of Joey Barton - vilified throughout his career for his on and off-the-field activities - has partially rebuilt a soiled reputation through the social network, successfully channelling the negativity that often flows in his direction into interest in his opinions.
Vincent Kompany has also used Twitter to interact more closely with fans, often publishing pictures of the Manchester City squad on tour, while expressing his views on issues wider than football, such as the recent conflict in Syria.
Another player to have toed the party line and refused to be wound up by jibes from followers is Michael Owen, with the former Manchester United man reacting with humour to criticism and also launching competitions for fans to win signed shirts.
However, misguided tweets will always be latched on to, and Ferdinand is not the first to have fallen foul of online networking etiquette.
Emmanuel Frimpong was charged by the FA for using a derogatory phrase earlier this week, while controversy arising from Twitter has proven not to be solely a Premier League problem, with Greece triple jumper Voula Papachristou and Switzerland footballer Michel Morganella both expelled from the London 2012 Olympics in recent days for publishing racist messages.
Yet players not only must tread carefully with their own views, but also be prepared to ignore unprompted torrents of abuse. Following England’s Euro 2012 exit at the hands of Italy, Ashley Young was exposed to racist tweets, while 21-year-old student Liam Stacey landed jail time after mocking Fabrice Muamba just minutes after the Bolton man suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch in March.
Twitter may give players a platform to talk to fans - but for a minority of supporters, the medium also blurs the lines between what is said in the safety of our living rooms and what is deemed socially acceptable to the outside world.
The solution? There isn’t one. Hence the problem. Clubs could screen their players’ tweets, but no doubt such action would lead to an advertising reel for associated sponsors and fans would feel as disconnected from their favourite stars as ever before.
Those with mass followings must take the pitfalls with the positives and, in future, count to 10 before jumping to the bait laid before them by those who can hide behind the obscurity of an avatar.
HAVE YOUR SAY
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