Published April 4, 2011
Recently there was outrage in Saskatchewan when a fake Facebook account purportedly belonging to Saskatoon Blades' hockey star Brayden Schenn posted racist comments demeaning Aboriginals. The Saskatoon Blades responded to the public outcry by banning its players from having Facebook accounts.
An impostor made racists comments on a fake Brayden Schenn Facebook account... so the real Brayden Schenn and all his teammates were punished?
Here is the full story reported in the National Post.
Apparently the Blades' most pressing concern is that fans mistook the comments on the fake profile to be actual comments from Schenn himself. The organization received complaints from fans and decided to institute a policy whereby no Blades player would be allowed to have a Facebook account. The organization evidently reasoned that a 'no Facebook' policy would send a message to fans that no comments on Facebook would ever come from a Blades player and, therefore, nobody would be offended by anything said by a real (or fake) Blades player on Facebook.
Blades' team communication officer Chelsea Kerr-Lazeski was quoted as saying the following:
“[Blades players] have been requested to get rid of [Facebook] altogether,” Kerr-Lazeski said. “As a Blade, you can’t have it. Currently, Brayden has a private profile, but it would be a whole lot easier [not to have them at all].”
Many points of interest can be drawn from this episode. At least two cautions are in order:
1) Fans, and people in general, must be super-aware that the "celebrity" they are interacting with on Facebook is almost certainly not the actual celebrity. It is reasonable to assume that most celebrities or athletes would have their personal profile set to 'private' and, if they did use a public 'fan page' on Facebook, it would be unlikely they would make controversial comments. Using any social networking website (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc) and even the internet in general should be coupled with your own personal lens of critical thinking. If it sounds or looks outrageous - then there's a good chance it is not real.
2) Organizations should be exceptionally careful when blanket-banning any social medium. Apparently Brayden Schenn's own Facebook use has been exemplary. His personal profile is private which means he has taken steps to protect himself and the team. Certainly the Blades ought to include references to appropriate use of social media use in their athletes' code of conduct. But to prevent athletes from using Facebook at all is a draconian overstepping of the organization into the athlete's personal space. Just because banning Facebook would be "easier" (according to the communications director) does not mean that banning Facebook is the best corrective action.
What should have been done instead?
First, there is an onus on the fans to not believe everything they read on Facebook. Imagine yourself putting on a pair of "can't fool me" sunglasses when you browse the internet. Second, every sport organization should reference social media (including Facebook) in their codes of conduct for athletes, coaches, and teams. If there is any concern about a comment an athlete made on Twitter or Facebook, the organization can point to the code of conduct and say that those type of comments are not allowed. If the comment did come from the athlete, the athlete could be reprimanded as per the code of conduct.
Finally, the organization, its athletes, and fans all need to take (and demand) a more proactive approach to social media marketing. Athlete-fan interaction on social media is a growing marketing tool that organizations can use to tap into the popularity of the media. Although the Blades organization has their own Facebook page, there is no mention of any athlete Facebook profiles or fan pages. Fans are left to determine which sites are legitimate athlete-generated content and which sites are fakes.
One organization that has embraced social media is World Wrestling Entertainment. The WWE website directs users to a list of legitimate superstar Twitter accounts so fans are not confused by fakes. If the superstar's Twitter is not listed on the WWE website - it's a fake.
Sports organizations are different than professional wrestling, of course, but a closer marriage between 'official' team-directed material on social media and 'unofficial' athlete-generated content on social media is certainly possible and recommended.