County offer reminder on social media
PUBLISHED: 11:00 21 February 2014
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A recent case of threatening behaviour towards a local rival club on social media, culminating in a sanction being applied to an individual player, has prompted the Essex FA to remind participants that they have a responsibility to behave in an appropriate manner relating to football at all times.
FA regulations decree that 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 scrutiny.
The FA recognises the use of websites such as Twitter and Facebook can be positive, but they ask that caution is exercised with the content of postings.
All comments on these 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.
“As a general rule, someone’s conduct online is an extension of what they do on the field of play,” said governance manager Greg Hart.
“If a player was walking down the street, and they recognised a player from another team and used threatening behaviour, the matter can be investigated if reported to the county FA.
“Incidents considered excessively threatening should be reported to the police, who have powers to take further action than football can.
“Unfortunately, the recent case of a player being punished is not an isolated occurrence. The use of social media is increasing, so this area of governance will also increase.
“The majority of people using social media do so appropriately. However, as we have again seen recently in high-profile cases, there is a minority who use it inappropriately. I’d urge anyone to maintain common sense and courtesy when using these services.”
Comments about match officials which imply bias and/or attack officials’ integrity in an overly personal nature are considered improper. 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.
The county FA become aware of discrepancies by various means. Some are reported to the county office while others can be picked up by everyday browsing.
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 during a game.
It 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 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.
Hart added: “My advice is to not always respond to comments immediately. If you see something which appears contentious, take some time away before responding - that’s if it’s appropriate to respond at all.
“What anyone should be thinking when using social media is “would my family be happy with me saying that?” If you start questioning your posting, then it is possibly not appropriate.”
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.