Saturday, January 15, 2011

To Tweet or not to Tweet ... that was the question

Photo courtesy of BBC
For anyone who has been keeping up with the FA Cup and Liverpool's loss to Mann-U on Sunday the 9th, you may have been treated both to some of the decisions Howard Webb made, but also the Twitter fallout by Liverpool winger Ryan Babel (@RyanBabel).

I am not here to debate Webb's decisions that allowed a penalty in the 1' to have Man-U go up 1 - 0, or the later send off. Both are in the video clip below. You can all judge for yourself.

Instead, I am more interested Mr. Babel's actions on Twitter to edit a picture of Mr. Webb in a Man-U kit (see the picture here) and with the comments shown above. These are detailed in an excellent article from the BBC, Twitter ye not? Also, I am interested in the FA's response in sanctioning Mr. Babel with "improper conduct."

Now, Twitter is an incredible medium to communicate info quickly, 140 characters at a time. If you are reading this you likely already know that, and I hope you follow Kicking Back on Twitter (@kicking_back). My question is should players really be sanctioned for being openly critical in such media?

Please note my use of words, specifically the word critical. My stance is much different when public comments get personal, provocative, or threatening. There is no place for these types of comments at all, regardless of who they are cast at, and equally so when cast at an official. I also have no love for parents slinging criticism to younger referees. They are not ready to understand how to process that rubbish at such a young age. This leads to legions of referees resigning their badge after a year or two and must be stopped.

I have a very different opinion regarding critical comments, parody, and the like, which I believe are absolutely essential speech, even if done in a mean spirited way in the detailed situation. Without this speech, a critical component of discourse is unavailable. Honestly, can you image a match without any critical comments? What fun is that! I mean really ... has anyone logged into Big Soccer lately and looked around? There is an incredible about of information exchange there. While not always "glowing" for some, the opinions shared are largely tremendously insightful and can certainly lead to a good takeaway from those willing to read and understand.

I will got out on a limb here too and support Mr. Babel in his comments. Not because I believe he was correct, but rather because I support his right to do so as necessary discourse in a society. Keep in mind that I am an advocate for the 1st Amendment, and this speech would fall under this amendment, but also understand that this does not extend outside the US. For free speech principles on the internet in the US see Reno v. ACLU (51 U.S. 844) where SCOTUS struck down the CDA.

That said, I believe the FA is asking for trouble in this regard. To begin to sanction players for their comments in any media is a slippery slope. Again, personal, provocative, or threatening is another matter and should be dealt with fully by the FA. These comments however were clearly not that. An opinion was expressed, accompanied by a very clever picture showing the same displeasure. I somehow think that Mr. Webb's first reaction was hardly fear or anger. I'd be willing to bet that his first reaction was a snicker and a smile. Why does the FA need to turn into the "Twitter Police" over this?

While I appreciate the FA riding in on its white horse to save Mr. Webb from the wounding words slung by Mr. Babel, somehow I believe the referee from the 2010 World Cup final is up to that particular challenge.

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