Easy to tweet, hard to take back
Monday, Sep 3, 2012
By Samantha Gilman
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--When members of the Florida State University football team hit the field this season, they won't be tweeting from the sidelines. In fact, they won't be tweeting at all.
Last month, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher banned every one of his players from using Twitter, the popular social media network that allows users to post updates in 140 characters or less. Fisher announced the ban after several players made inappropriate comments on their personal accounts. The most egregious tweet, from backup defensive back Tyler Hunter, included profanity and referred to killing police officers.
From college and Olympic athletes to politicians and celebrities, Twitter users are finding their little posts can get them in big trouble. Although Twitter didn't invent snark, it made it much easier to disseminate and much harder to take back. Social media experts advise Twitter users to think before they tweet and start apologizing immediately if they post something they later regret.
Although Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou evidently didn't think before she tweeted an offensive comment about her country's large population of African immigrants, she did start apologizing almost immediately. But it didn't make a difference. Papachristou's post got her kicked off the 2012 Olympic team in late June. The Democratic Left party of Greece published a statement calling her tweet "racist humor" and called on the Hellenic Olympic Committee to expel her.
The committee responded by not only banning Papachristou from the games, but banning all Greek athletes from expressing personal opinions about the games or preparation on social media accounts.
In another Olympics-related Twitter scandal, London police arrested a 17-year-old in July for tweeting a cruel comment about British diver and bronze medalist Tom Daley. The twitter feed for @Rileyy_69 indicates that he is currently out of prison but not sorry.
On Monday his tweet, "Tom Daley i congratulate you on your losers medal you did your dad proud or maybe you didn't haha" had 131 retweets and 19 favorites. Although police confirmed the Twitter user's handle, they did not release his real name.
While Twitter's critics call for the company to enforce tighter restrictions on what people can post on their accounts, some say the censorship is overdone. Guy Adams, the Los Angeles correspondent for British publication, The Independent, recently had his account suspended after he tweeted criticism of NBC's failure to provide live footage of the Olympics.
"As a journalist, you know you are doing your job properly when you manage to upset rich, powerful and entitled people who are used to getting their own way," Adams editorialized in July.
Adams' crime was posting the corporate email address of Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, and instructing disgruntled viewers to email him to complain. NBC asked Twitter to shut down Adams' account, which it did. Twitter later reinstated the account. Adams called the reaction "heavy-handed."
But Adams' experience, and that of Papachristou and the Florida State football team, serve as a reminder that anything posted on the Internet has a much longer lifespan and much farther reach than many users realize.
Rory Cooper, director of communications at the Heritage Foundation, told World on Campus he advises Twitter users to keep their personal feeds professional. Instead of lowering discourse to a "murky level," keep it intelligent and thoughtful to avoid embarrassment.
"[O]nly say things that you would say to somebody's face, or that you would want to have on the front page of the Washington Post," he said.
If you do post something regrettable, apologize immediately. He said it is "perfectly OK to make mistakes" as long as you make sure to correct them.
Cooper points out that Twitter did not invent snark. Newspapers from the 1700's contained snippy and even caustic commentary about institutions and individuals. But they also contained valuable information, as does Twitter, he said. For every bout of mudslinging, Twitter contains a really smart conversation to balance out the mix and outweigh the network's negatives, he said.
Twitter provides transparency for government officials, helps grassroots movements get their message out and is the best way to get instant news updates, Cooper said.
He also cautioned young people to treat social media with respect. After all, every tweet is recorded forever in the library of Congress: "You are creating a paper trail of your life. So be careful, because everything you say is going to stick with you for the next 20 years of your professional career."
Brian Miller, assistant professor of sociology at Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill., told World on Campus that Christians should treat Twitter the same as they treat any other area of their social interactions. He pointed to Ephesians 4:29 -- "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification," -- and James 3:9-12 -- "Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so."
Twitter is just like other technology that can be used for good or evil, Miller said. It's a good way to stay in touch with friends, for instance, but it may be tempting to abuse it: "As we use it, we need to at least ask ourselves whether we are using it for good rather than simply diving in because it is new and looks like progress."
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