Instagram and Vine: New Social Media Has Same Risks for Sport Organizations

Published August 1, 2013

The speed at which young people use and discard social mediums (plural: media) often outpaces the speed at which adults understand those same social media. Adults, and by extension sport organizations, are now very familiar with Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Sport organizations know how to use these media successfully for the promotion of the organization and also know of the dangers and benefits of athletes and other participants using these media. We’ve written about social media policy, member negativity on social media, and other social media topics.

But social media evolves. Are your organization’s social media efforts (your strategy and policies) malleable enough to apply to new social media that become more widely used? Remember that evolved social media are not the same as what currently exists. Instagram is not the same as Twitter and Vine is not the same as YouTube. These new social media could presumably bring new benefits to sport organizations but also new dangers.

Instagram is a photo-sharing service that permits users to upload pictures and change the filter of the image (sepia, black and white, etc.). Instagram is similar to Twitter in that users have a handle (username) and other users follow each other’s handles, and like and comment on each other’s pictures. However where Twitter is primarily for text, Instagram is primarily for pictures. Both Twitter and Instagram use hashtags (which are short comments beginning with a # that allow other users to search for pictures/tweets tagged with the same #hashtag) but on Instagram hashtags are used far more frequently. Also, Twitter permits retweets (quick reposting of other users’ messages) whereas Instagram does not.

Vine is a video-sharing application owned by Twitter and users can login through Twitter or create a separate account. Vine videos are limited to six seconds but users can start the camera, pause it, and resume the recording to create a compilation video. Currently, Vine videos are all public unlike most other social media – Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram - on which users can determine if the content should be public or private. Vine videos can be ‘revined’ and reposted by other users.


The evolution of social media appears to be moving from text-as-priority to image-as-priority and sport organizations should prepare for these changes by being aware of the legal areas most likely to be encountered.

For example, with text-based comments one of the salient risks is an athlete defaming the sport organization (“Selection process is corrupt!”) or making racist/sexist/homophobic comments directed toward other individuals. On image-based social media, these concerns are reduced (though not eliminated). Text communication is infrequent on newer social media, reposts are not as common, and hashtags are more prevalent.

Most organizations can, and do, have prohibitions within their code of conduct for athlete behaviour related to defamation and other controversial comments. But does a hashtag count? Professional basketball athlete JR Smith recently encountered controversy for his hashtag #NoSandusky in a tweet about children. Organizations must be clear that hashtag comments are included under the jurisdiction of the code of conduct.

In terms of athlete conduct on social media, sport organizations should also prepare for the ‘proof’ of irresponsible conduct to be more easily available and thus more easily brought to the organization’s attention. Whereas a text-based comment may have multiple valid interpretations, a short video or a picture has fewer interpretations. An athlete who tweets “Drinking at the Nationals!” is referencing conduct that may or may not have actually occurred as written, but an athlete who posts an Instagram picture of himself drinking from a bottle of alcohol is confirming his behaviour. Sport organizations may have an easier time disciplining the athlete but may have to discipline more athletes given the popularity and overtness of image-as-priority social media.

Confidentiality is one of the main legal areas that may be encountered more frequently with image-as-priority social media. Athletes given confidential documents or access to private areas may not immediately see the negatives associated with posting Instagram photos of this confidential material. Without much consequence, an athlete may tweet “Headed to a team meeting!” - but posting a public picture of the coach’s whiteboard may be a breach of the organization’s confidentiality policy.


An organization’s code of conduct should be written generally and should be specific enough so that athletes are aware of what type of conduct – regardless of what medium – is inappropriate. Some conduct is more frequent on different media and the code of conduct should not prioritize one medium over another.

If your organization has a social media policy or guidelines for social media (and if it does not – consider reading this post) the documents may need to be updated to highlight the possible dangers specific to the new media. Particularly relevant recently is the public nature of the content (especially on Vine), the confidentiality of team documents and areas, the privacy of teammates, and the consequences of hashtags that breach the code of conduct.


Besides the dangers of the new social media, the image-as-priority social media offer more opportunities for sport organizations to publicize and promote the organization and its athletes and teams. In a previous post, we wrote about how organizations take proactive and reactive approaches to social media. Understanding the new social media for one approach should accompany a strategy or policy update applying the new social media for the other approach as well.

We are looking forward to what comes next - such as ‘always-on’ personal cameras that record our every move and allow us to watch the videos of our lives. This ‘life-logging’ does not yet seem to include a capacity for easily sharing material with others. But young people may begin using and abusing this social medium before adults even realize it exists.

Kevin Lawrie

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