Social Media and football

The Premier League has issued club guidelines on social media in the run-up to the 2012/13 season.

Many controversies have emanated from footballers using social media – mainly Twitter – ranging from Wayne Rooney offering to fight an insulting Twitter user, to Rio Ferdinand’s ill-judged ‘choc ice’ comment,  to Arsenal’s Emmanuel Frimpong using the phrase ‘Scum Yid’ in a reply to an abusive Tottenham fan.

Frimpong, of course, overstepped the mark, although there needs to be another aspect added to that debate; one of semantics. ‘Yid’ is a racial slur but people, it is clear, don’t recognise that as such anymore. It is a derogatory term for anyone who has an association with Spurs rather than Jews, to football fans.

It was a distasteful remark in response to an abusive remark but Frimpong should have known better and – you’d hope – didn’t put too much thought into the tweet. The problem here though isn’t Twitter, it’s the person using it. Frimpong, among many other footballers, is incredibly dense (resisting the urge to hashtag that); instead of focusing on the punishment for him for putting it out on Twitter, educate him and others to stop him from even thinking of using such a term as an insult.

But the way in which the Premier League and the FA deal with furore over Twitter comments is only one side of the coin: the way they view social media’s impact on the sport is incredibly lacklustre.

Those in football say that social media brings football closer to the fans. Whether fans want to be closer to uneducated, boring human beings is another matter entirely but, the point is, it gives fans something in a sport where fans are the audience and players are the performers and there’s a definite divide between the two.

That divide is there because footballers – of the Premier League variety, of course – are completely devoid of reality, on the whole. No matter how many times Rio Ferdinand says he’s just a normal bloke who does normal everyday things, the fact of the matter remains that he earns an extortionate amount of money every week and, though promotion on Twitter, has been able to earn even more – or at the very least build his brand – with his 5 Magazine and t-shirts.

That could all now stop, with the Premier League stating that advice has been offered “on the endorsement of brands, goods and services”.

But the Premier League’s view on social media and the fact that they think interaction with fans is not natural and has to be practically forced not only shows that they still don’t really understand the medium, they also don’t understand the audience. They say it allows fans to follow and communicate with players; they can follow, yes, and footballers are more than happy to talk at fans but rarely talk to them. Very few footballers at the top, it appears, check their mentions columns.

It is true, however, that Twitter has shown a more human side to certain players the Premier League point to Wayne Rooney – that loveable human being – as an example of this. Rooney tweets sparingly now and, aside from the odd update on which song he’s listening to, rarely says anything of interest.

Also cited as examples of good Twitter use are Clint Dempsey and Joleon Lescott, and to that list should be added Stuart Holden (now not a Premier League player, admittedly) and Vincent Kompany. Manchester City are very prominent on social media, with updates on Twitter and video exclusives on YouTube providing good insight into the club and must be great access for the fans. That’s the sort of thing that brings fans closer to the game, not a picture of a plate of spaghetti bolognaise.

The problem for the Premier League, here, is that they would rather have safety on Twitter rather than open, transparent access that could – and probably would – result in the murky side of the game being exposed.

One of the best users of Twitter – in terms of providing insight and access to the person – is one who football governors would rather lie low and stay away from Twitter, in all likelihood. He’s someone who is a detestable human being often but, every now and again, does speak sense, provokes debate and at least takes an interest in intelligent subjects outside of football and is willing to fight for and use Twitter to promote causes that he believes in. His name is Joey Barton but the Premier League, in all probability, won’t agree.

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