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    Free Speech or PR Nightmare: Where Is The Line Drawn For Footy Players Using Social Media?

    Sam Mutimer

    When tame comments were tweeted by Melbourne Demon players, triggering a “please explain” from the AFL (about the Trengove decision), the call for some kind of (AFL/AFLPA) player policy/code of conduct on social networking sites arose and is now being hotly debated.
    The expectation on players’ opinions via social networking platforms has now made a fundamental shift on the way they can and can’t communicate due to this action.
    Yesterday I was interviewed by Terry Wallace @thelistmanager and Tony on Craig Hutchinson’s Crocmedia radio station channel slot @SportsDay2011

    You can listen to the full interview here:
    Free Speech or PR nightmare
    [audio:http://www.thinktankmedia.com.au/201105131246.mp3]

    Here’s the transcript below:
    Tony: Is it not true that the AFL does face almost a leap into the 22nd century in how they address and whether they deem it necessary to find Melbourne and individuals for the comments on the Trengrove case?
    Sam:
    it’s a really interesting one, I think the line is really blurred between freedom of speech and also what you can and can’t say. Social networking these days – everyone has a voice, everyone can share that but I suppose that in this case when the players put out there opinions, which in all of our eyes I’m sure, are very tame opinions, they’re acting on behalf of the Melbourne Football Club as well as their own personal brand so I guess that’s where the line gets really blurred in terms of freedom of voice.
    Terry Wallace:
    I’ve coached at AFL level and I know how defensive clubs are about anyone attacking anything to do with the club or to do with the AFL because they’re so intrinsically aligned with the AFL for finances… will it get to the stage where they just block players from using those social networks?
    Sam:
    I don’t think it will get to the stage where they just block the players. I believe Melbourne actually encourage players to use social networks for their own personal brands. I think it’s more a case of the clubs educating their players on what they can and can’t say, just like within any media channel, traditional or social; and it will be interesting to see where the AFL Players Association steps in on this one.
    Terry:
    I’m a big Twitter fan, I’m on there on a regular basis, as is Wayne Schwass as we just spoke about. Where do you see the whole thing going, for people out there who don’t understand or don’t really ‘get’ it can you just give them a bit of an explanation why this has become such a big fad or is it something that is just now part of our general lives.
    Sam:
    It’s part of many peoples general lives now. Over the past couple of years we’ve really made a fundamental shift in the way we communicate with people and Twitter gives the opportunity to get real-time news, right here right now and be able to voice our opinion to a large amount of people who are interested in listening. It’s very much a part of our lives now. In terms of describing what Twitter is, it’s very much like walking into … let’s just say, a networking session – going up to people and introducing yourself and making conversation. Obviously you target people when you go to a networking session and you know who’s going to be there and you target them about certain conversations and the same thing applies on Twitter but obviously it has that massive scale and reach that face to face networking doesn’t have.
    Terry:
    I’m really big on local and regional clubs having the abilities to be able to get out there and find people who want to get involved in the club and I don’t know how they’d do that if they don’t use a social media arm?
    Sam:
    It’s a huge power arm for local sports clubs because we have all these platforms at our finger tips now, and Facebook is a brilliant example of how sporting clubs can use that. It’s free and all it takes is your time. It’s just a case of getting players and community members to a central hub, connecting with them and then giving them an incentive to come back, whether that be fixture lists, players comments on the game, donation on PayPal for a certain community driven action – there are so many things you can do on the Facebook platform now that I believe a lot of local footy clubs are already using it. Hampton Rovers are using it well at local footy club level.
    Tony:
    Where do you draw the line between free speech and people saying anything?
    Sam:
    That’s such a good question. The line is really blurred. Think about it, for example, if you’re working for a company you sign off and are educated on their social media policy, what you can and can’t say in your own free time about that company – it’s the same for football clubs and their players. It’s such a grey area at the moment. I believe the AFL need to put some guidelines in place so players know what they can and can’t say and what they can get away with saying because at the same time, at the moment we have that freedom of speech on Twitter and there’s no right or wrong – there’s no policy around it in the AFL from what I understand.
    Tony:

    Yeah, it’s almost like, a “gentleman’s agreement” that we all sort of know the difference between having something to say and what might be deemed criticism of the AFL but it’s probably about time that the AFL firmed it up, is it not? – And actually said to the clubs, “this is what you’re allowed to do, however, specific instances you are not allowed to comment in any way, shape or form on Twitter about specific incidences…” such as the Trengove decision that’s been handed down.
    Sam:
    Exactly right, and if the AFL did that then the players and the clubs would know what they can and can’t say, where they stand and how to educated their players around this, at the moment there’s no real hard and fast rules or boundaries.
    Tony:

    To that end, people whether it be on a blog or something, that could be deemed as liable, what happens then? Who’s responsible? Is it the individual, do you have to try and track the individual down, is it the host of the server that is held liable for anything that is basically considered defamatory?
    A player might say, on Twitter, What Terry Wallace did to Andrew Filmore, he belted him, the bloke’s nothing more than a low dog he’s been doing it all his life he should be locked up in jail blah blah, but use words like “low dog”, “mongrel”, “he deliberately did it” – what happens in cases like that?
    Sam:
    Again, there’s no policy in place so you don’t know what you can and can’t say. I think it’s up to the individual players at the moment to use their common sense, to just think about what they’re saying on these networks and the implications it may have. The Melbourne Demon players tweets are tame, it’s a shame that the AFL are really hammering down on them so quickly but in the same instance everyone who uses a social networking channels has to think before they put anything out there.
    Terry:
    There’s still a naivety in the way that people actually use the social media?
    Sam:
    Yes, people put out their own opinions and which is a brilliant thing, however some don’t understand the reach that they have on that opinon. And what I mean by reach, is how many people can actually see it and in such a quick time. With the players for example, putting tweets out yesterday has caused a PR nightmare in a matter of minutes for the Dees, even though I know they will deal with it in a quick and effective manner.
    Here are other opinions from my tweet following – all very valid…

    I’d love you to add your thoughts onto this controversial decision…hit me up below.

    [audio:http://www.domain.com/path/to/your_mp3_file.mp3|loop=yes]