Twits, As In The NFL Management Folks and Twitter

Although I despise those who twitter as a general matter (and will thus likely embrace the odd medium any day now), it has moments where it is useful. Short bursts of information updates for natural disasters, airport shut downs, and possible revolutionary mayhem come to mind. Today a less major (depending on how you look at it) issue, gmail going down, has shown that Twitter is again useful but barely. As TechCrunch notes, Twitter may have come close to crashing but held up well as thousands upon thousands of folks expressed frustration and ore about the great Google in the sky going down. And yes some Google folks used the medium to communicate bland statements about how Google was addressing the problem (probably asking some extraordinarily smart people about some obscure math issue and then finding that such knowledge may not help them figure out email service).

Now the NFL has come along and has regulated the use of Twitter as CNET describes:

[The NFL has] modified its social-media policy to limit Twitter and social-networking use by players, coaches, league officials, and even the media. The NFL said that it will let players, coaches, and other team personnel engage in social networking during the season. However, they will be prohibited from using Twitter and from updating profiles on Facebook and other social-networking sites during games. In addition, they will not be allowed to tweet or update social-networking profiles 90 minutes before a game and until post-game interviews are completed. The rules even extend to people “representing” a player or coach on their personal accounts. The NFL didn’t just stop with the league itself, though. The organization also said that media attending games will be prohibited from providing game updates through social networks.

I love the NFL’s reason and think that it is trying to assert that even fans ought not be able to share play-by-play:

“Longstanding policies prohibiting play-by-play descriptions of NFL games in progress apply fully to Twitter and other social media platforms,” the National Football League said in its statement. “Internet sites may not post detailed information that approximates play-by-play during a game. “While a game is in progress, any forms of accounts of the game must be sufficiently time-delayed and limited in amount (e.g., score updates with detail given only in quarterly game updates) so that the accredited organization’s game coverage cannot be used as a substitute for, or otherwise approximate, authorized play-by-play accounts.”

This position seems to suggest that one, players, etc. twittering has something to do with approximating play-by-play when most likely the NFL wants to regulate the way in which all those connected with a team communicate and represent themselves around a game. One might agree that being in the NFL requires following its odd ethics. How those goals havve anything to do with play-by-play recounting is beyond me. If fans start to share exuberant moments in almost real time, as I did via text in the glorious game to of the NBA finals this past season, but instead of using text, fans used Twitter, the NFL might assert that such sharing is not allowed. At least the quoted logic above seems to point to such nonsense. As CNET notes enforcement even at the team level will be quite difficult as the nFL won’t know who posted what. Of course the NFL could require some sort of disclosure of Twitter and other social networking aliases which raises a host of standard objections that readers here can easily figure out while the NFL may not. All of which makes me wonder, should the twits who came up with these positions love Twitter?

Responsibility and Duty Meet Social Networking

In light of the events in Iran, many may laud the power of tools such as Twitter and Facebook as they allow information to reach the world. Here in the United States, however, a few stories highlight how social networking tools and blogs run into ideas of fairness, honesty, and even justice. First, the FTC is planning on investigating bloggers who are paid for their posts but who do not disclose their affiliation. The article claims “The common practice of posting a graphical ad or a link to an online retailer — and getting commissions for any sales from it — would be enough to trigger oversight.” Second, the Ninth Circuit has just ruled that a woman’s blog posts about her co-workers and job environment were not protected speech. As such, her demotion was lawful. Third, a recent article makes a strong argument that tweeting while on a jury should not be allowed and jeopardizes the fairness of a trial.

The FTC action seems too aggressive, yet it shows that the idea of blogs having some sort of purity is not always the case. But if it prompts bloggers to be more forthcoming about their affiliations and to develop some best practices (as the article suggests), that could be a good outcome. It also seems to embrace the idea of more information is better which may keep many online happy. Those who think tweeting is some sort of anointed right err. The trial context shows that rather well. As for the blog and speech case, I need to find the decision. The article claims that the court “concluded that [the plaintiff’s] speech was not a ‘public concern’ but rather was ‘racist, sexist, and bordered on vulgar,’ and it characterized her behavior, in part, as ‘salacious’ and ‘mean spirited.'” I leave it to the First Amendment folks to unravel that one, but I wonder whether this case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In any event, these three events show that while we can say that tools that enhance free speech are wonderful in the extreme cases such as the situation in Iran, the more subtle cases raise on-going questions about the contours of speech. As always the issues are familiar. Now, however, simply saying keep your hands off the Internet or keep it free is an insufficient guideline. Too many people are online and too much online behavior tracks offline experiences and problems. In other words, although the technologies seem to make the questions different and requiring special treatment, they may only make the old questions and responses more salient.