Social Media Gaffes in Football are nothing new and across the country bars will be full, offices distracted and streets will be filled with young children kicking ball and dreaming of a career scoring goals for their country.
But a lot has changed since the 1990s, not least the rise of social media and the ugly truth it has brought to the “beautiful game.”
Ricardo Kaka was football’s social media trailblazer. In 2012 Mashable named him the first athlete to reach 10 million Twitter followers.
The digital age has broken the barrier between fans and players, but for all the positives there are risks – to club reputations, individual players, and their legion of impressionable fans.
I have spent the last five years touring Ireland’s schools to support and educate young people, teachers and parents on how to protect their reputations online. For most of the children who won’t grow up to celebrity footballers, one online faux pas hidden among their social feeds could be enough to ruin career prospects, uni applications or even the ability to be emigrate.
Social media can cause professional athletes pain too.
Since 2011 the FA has handed down more than £350,000 in fines to players and officials for offences including racist and sexist comments.
As footballers are some of the most powerful influencers online today, and role models whether they like it or not, here’s the count down to my Top 10 social media own goals:
Dutch striker Ryan Babel was the first player to be sanctioned in January 2011, when he was fined £10,000 for tweeting a photo shopped picture of referee Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt
A year later, former Chelsea player Ashley Cole had to pay £90,000 – the heaviest fine for a social media infringement – after describing the Football Association as a #BUNCHOFTW*TS in a tweet
Romanian footballer Adrian Mutu was banned from ever again representing his country again when he posted a Photoshopped image comparing the national head coach, Victor Piturca, to Mr Bean – in retaliation for being left out of Romania’s squad for a World Cup play-off match
Wayne Rooney upset Samsung when a tweet about his sponsors that was listed as being sent from an iPhone, went viral. Similarly, Bayern Munich’s Arturo Vidal gained global attention when he tweeted about his new Nike boots while wearing an Adidas-branded kit
Argentinian Marcos Rojo thought it a good idea to post a picture of the late Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar on his Instagram page.
Less sinister posts can still garner negative backlash, as Newcastle United’s Nile Ranger found out when he posted a picture spelling out his name in £20 notes
In 2014 Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli sent a tweet saying “Man Utd…LOL.”. It received 198,898 retweets, sparked a wave of racist replies and even an investigation by Merseyside police
The same year, Rio Ferdinand was suspended for three matches while at Queens Park Rangers and fined £25,000 using the word “sket” towards a Twitter user (Caribbean slang for a promiscuous woman)
Perhaps the shortest professional football contract ever: 24-year-old Sergi Guardiola was hired and fired by Barcelona in the same day after club officials were alerted to offensive tweets he had posted two years previously about Barca and Catalonia.
Most seriously of all, 2015’s headline story of former Sunderland and England footballer Adam Johnson, jailed for six years for grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl, a torrent of social media messages providing the crucial evidence.
Five years on from Dutch striker Ryan Babel’s sanction making him the first, he has by no means been the last footballer to fall foul of fan engagement online.
Like normal employers and companies, from big brands to local small businesses, professional football clubs have now realised the importance of protecting their reputation – and they’re working to protect them.
Private investigation and cyber security firm Koll say they have been hired by numerous Premier League clubs to research the social media activity of potential signings. They’re mainly hunting for any trace of bigotry, hate speech or other illegal or offensive behaviour, in an attempt to forego any more scandals.
And while footballers are often portrayed as the culprits, social media often makes them the victims, too.
During Euro 2016, the #KickItOut campaign in conjunction with Brandwatch will monitor social media for discrimination aimed at players competing in the tournament, to analyse the problem of social media abuse and trolling.
In 2013 more than 40 cases of abuse on social media directed at professional footballers were reported to police. Kick It Out’s research found more than 30,000 abusive posts with Chelsea being the most targeted team, while Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli suffered more abuse than any other individual player.
And there have been prosecutions of fans involved in online abuse of footballers.
Like the man who sent racist tweets to Kyle Bartley and Maurice Edu who spent six months in jail. Or the student jailed for 56 days for racially offensive comments about Fabrice Muamba – sent just hours after the Bolton player suffered a cardiac arrest during a match.
Here’s some simple tips to help avoid Social Media Gaffes
Whether you’re a professional footballer, a big brand sponsor, or the teenage fan kicking ball after school, a few simple tips can help you keep yourself right on social media and protect your online reputation, or that of your employers:
Think twice before you post and share anything online
Don’t get caught up with posting mean or inappropriate comments – even if you see others doing it
Remember social media platforms are public by nature – make sure nothing comes back to haunt you
Give a good account of yourself online. Remember it’s not just top football clubs who use social media – 93% of recruiters admit to using it to screen applicants for job opportunities. So carry out a regular audit on your digital tattoo and be aware of any information you might have posted in the past
Generate Positive Content – This is by far the best way to help protect and enhance your online reputation. With the massive jump in employers and recruiters using social media to vet you, the best way you can stand out in the crowd for the right reasons or get head hunted is to have lots of positive content online.
If you’d like more practical tips on how to stay safer online as well as protecting and managing your Online Reputation then grab a copy of my book.
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