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Essex FA Warns Of Football’s Social Media Traps

Fri 13th Dec 2013 | IT & Technology

It’s a growing phenomenon in modern communication, but the Essex County FA have reminded grassroots clubs that it’s not just famous players at the top end of the game who need to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook appropriately, with the number of charges in Essex creeping into double figures during 2013.

All participants are required to act in the sport’s best interests at all times and they should be aware that their postings on networking sites are likely to be subject to public and media scrutiny. The Football Association recognises the use of such websites can be positive, but they ask that caution is exercised with the content of postings.

All comments on social networking sites may be considered public, and anything deemed improper which brings the game into disrepute could lead to disciplinary action. It is the responsibility of all football to reduce and eradicate threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting behaviour, and the interactive environment is no different.

Essex County FA Press & Publicity Officer, Chris Evans, agrees that care is required. “Social networking is incredibly useful and absorbing, and there is a lot of good practise in Essex where clubs, individuals and groups have put it to effective use,” he said. “Much like in everyday life, it’s crucial that we all pay extra attention to what we say. It’s easy to be misinterpreted, especially when you may only have 140 characters to use.”

Comments about match officials which imply bias and/or attack officials’ integrity in an overly personal nature are considered improper, as are remarks which include a reference to a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability would be considered an aggravating factor, and could attract a higher disciplinary sanction.

In addition, ‘retweeting’ another person’s post may lead to action if the original comment was unsavoury and deleting or apologising publicly for an improper posting, whilst advisable, does not prevent disciplinary action being taken. An individual is strictly responsible for any posting on his or her account and participants should take every care to ensure that others do not access their login details, as this could reflect on the account holder.

In the last year in Essex, around ten charges have been raised for the inappropriate use of social networking. High profile cases have been raised by The FA, so people are aware of the potential consequences. Charges are raised as a ‘Breach of FA Rule E3 - Improper Conduct’ - in just the same way that they would be for dissent during a game.

Rule E3 states: “A participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute.” A participant is defined by The FA as “a competition, club, club official, player, match official, management committee member or member or employee of an affiliated club.”

As a result, if social networking content indicates offensive, insulting, abusive or threatening behaviour from one football participant to another, then the Essex County FA can take action. Charges which have been raised include threats to attempt to injure an opponent during a game, threats to attack someone as a result of game and general offensive comments directed towards opponents, either in a particular fixture or in a division.

Greg Hart, Governance Manager, has highlighted what somebody should do if they feel they have been the subject of inappropriate behaviour: “Whether it’s through social media, message boards, texts or written communications, then they should be making an official complaint to the parent County FA of the club which has instigated the inappropriate behaviour.”

“We’d request hard copies of the unsuitable actions - normally ‘screen shots’ - and also the URL relating to the behaviour. Then we’d investigate and then decide whether to raise charges or not. This would then go through the discipline process. If the club or individual disputes the charges and requests a personal hearing, the complainant would be invited to attend the commission as a witness for the Essex County FA.”

The FA have recognised the need for guidance on the topic and a document called ‘Tackling Social Media’ was published in 2012 following a noticeable increase in the volume of complaints and referrals received. A wealth of information and resources can be accessed for free as part of The FA’s ‘What’s Your Pitch’ microsite at www.thefa.com/my-football/football-volunteers/whatsyourpitch.

 

To access ‘Tackling Social Media’, visit www.essexfa.com. The Essex County FA also has a Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/EssexCountyFA, where some of the best contributions from other grassroots accounts are retweeted. Additionally, there is a presence on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EssexFootball.

 Posted by: Aaron Gourley

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