As social media services like Facebook and Twitter continue to become more and more popular and used by every segment of society, some organizations are taking steps–some good, some bad–to try and control the messages being sent on such services. Missouri tried to pass a law setting limits between student and teacher Facebook interactions, but an injunction stopped it because it’s so broadly-written that it could have dangerous side effects. But then it’s also a good idea, just as a courtesy, to perhaps not trash your boss or highers-up by name in a public arena because they may read it and bridges may be burned.
But I’m kind of not feeling this new NHL social media policy.
The policy now bans any kind of social media usage for players ranging from two hours before a game all the way to when their post-game media time is finished. For operations staff, they suggest a game-day blackout starting at 11 a.m. instead of two hours before faceoff.
The policy also reminds everyone to think before they tweet. Remember how when you went on a field trip, your teachers would tell you to be on your best behavior because you were representing the school? It’s the same idea here.
So I can get down with the “hey, be careful before you hit enter, okay?” part of the policy because that’s kind of obvious. However, that total blackout time is a little restrictive. I’m not sure–it’s not made clear in the article about it–whether or not it applies to, say, players who are not playing that night. Would this policy ban a repeat of the Max Pacioretty tweet joking about a Boston/Montreal playoff game being longer than Brad Marchand’s nose? (I think it’s ridiculous he had to apologize for that. It was just a funny little joke. Marchand has publicly embraced having a big schnoz, as seen in his wearing of Nose Face Killah shirts, and that game was long.) Pacioretty wasn’t playing at the time, just watching it on TV along with Twitter-loving fans.
However, I think another big problem here is that if someone were to disagree with this policy, and say so somewhere, they would get in trouble just for expressing reasonable dissent. Notice how the article asked Paul Bissonnette for comment. Of course it did; he’s better-known for his Twitter presence than his on-ice production (one whole point last season), but being that he’s a player and I presume a member of the NHLPA, speaking to an NHL reporter, he has to say that even if he disagrees because he can’t tell the truth. That’s not cool in my book.
On social media, players are humanized. We learn about their loves of their pets, golf, video games, Chinese delivery, music and things like that. Some of them talk to their fans. All of them offer a rare glimpse into an interesting kind of life. I personally didn’t know much about the pre-game routine until I needed to research it for a story and found a blog post by a minor-level player detailing his personal routine from waking up to hitting the ice. Social media can offer an increased chance to learn these cool little nuggets of joy.
I think as long as players use common sense before hitting enter, they should be able to tweet whenever they want. I’ve seen this new policy defended as “well, it stops players from tweeting sensitive game information!” What is this, World War II? Saying “off to the game now, let’s go team!” isn’t like saying “okay, we’re going to try a neutral zone trap and we’re going to screen the heck out of your goalie and here are our play diagrams and I hope we win!” I have never seen a single player tweet something that obviously gives away sensitive game information and I don’t think they would do that because, again, common sense.
This is just an attempt to further control player expression and make sure it gels with the official, PR-approved line of rhetoric. I spent my entire college education growing to resent PR more and more because all they seem to do is provide a sugarcoated, not-totally-the-truth version of events, leaving we the journalists to try and dig through that for the actual truth. (Yet they can sometimes make truckloads of money doing this! PR majors always took classes with journalism majors, too, so I was exposed to all of this constantly.)
But one very valid criticism of this policy came from a friend of mine, who asked why a social media policy was so quickly adapted but it took so very long to create the head shot rule. She’s right. Hooray priorities, huh?
I agree with Emma: while the tips about thinking before tweeting/posting is fine, the game-day ban is really heavy handed. It reminds me of way back in 2003, when Marines motoring across the Iraqi desert had embedded reporters traveling with them. Geraldo Rivera was one of those reporters, and during a live report ended up telling Fox News viewers of the position of the Marines with whom he was traveling. He got in some deep trouble for giving away sensitive information, and he was pulled from the embed.
Now, comparing that to this new policy is rather unequal, but so is the NHL’s approach. I can understand them not wanting players to give away strategy, but a total blackout implies that the league doesn’t trust their own players to be discreet. It bothers me that they tell the players to think before they tweet and then seemingly censor them. With a collective bargaining agreement needing to be hammered out before the next season or two, this could rub the NHLPA a bit raw, even if it did agree to it now.
I love reading the tweets of the players I follow, and it’d be a shame to see my Twitter list silenced on game days. Some of my favorite players aren’t even on Twitter (*cough Patrick Kane cough*), and this new policy might make them hesitant to join their teammates for fear they say or do something wrong. There needs to be a level of trust between the league and the guys on the ice, and this is the wrong way to go about that. Give these guys the benefit of the doubt.
EDIT: It seems like Brent Burns agrees with us and I screencapped this tweet just in case The Powers That Be ask him to make it disappear.