Social media is “media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.” The notion of freedom of speech is “the right to express information, ideas, and opinions free of government restrictions based on content and subject only to reasonable limitations.” Social media rapidly travels virally, thus magnifying issues so that they are more exaggerated than they would be through conventional media. How do we ensure that this technology benefits society and does not create a scenario which is of detriment to us – how do we prevent “free speech gone mad”? Athlete’s use of social media highlights a number of issues in the use and impact of this technology, and what restrictions are likely to come into place as a result.
Developments in social media have an effect on how information is broadcast. In the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Canada information was permitted to be published on social media sites for the first time. The games in Vancouver have been dubbed the first “Twitter Olympics”. Today anyone can post updates on these events online, this medium has changed the way we share information and has revolutionised media.
Even in the most democratic countries, media has had censorship due to both television and the press having guidelines of acceptable journalism and broadcasting. There is editorial staff that determine whether something should be broadcast or published. Open forums on the internet like Facebook allow people from all corners of society to express their views without bowdlerization. Social media is incredibly spontaneous with opinions from a wide spectrum, who do not necessarily understand the impact and repercussions of their open statements.
Sport celebrities are often used as role models for their team, ambassadors for the company who uses them to advertise their brand, as well as representatives of their country. Athletes commonly use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to connect to their fans. These ‘authentic interactions’ directly with fans has an ‘accumulated influence’ effect causing a larger than life profile that can promote the player and the product the player represents. This method of communication has had a beneficial and detrimental impact on the careers of players and their sponsors. “All it takes is one wrong tweet, even if it is taken out of context from the actual meaning behind it, to tarnish a player, an organisation, and a sponsor’s image.”
Pittsburgh Steelers American football running back Rashard Mendenhall recently logged into Twitter and expressed his position on the death of Osama Bin Ladin who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Mendenhall wrote “What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...” The recent almost empathetic attitude towards Osama Bin Ladin...