The English Football Association (FA) has fined Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand £45 000 for responding to a tweet in which a user called Chelsea player Ashley Cole “choc ice”.
Ferdinand then responded to the tweet, saying “I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic hahahahahaha!!”.
According to Sky Sports news, a charge of improper conduct laid against Ferdiand by the FA was proved to be correct by an independent commission.
On its site the FA issued an official statement saying, “The Commission decided that the comment was improper and brought the game into disrepute.
“In addition, the Commission found that the breach included a reference to ethnic origin, colour or race. Ferdinand was fined £45 000 and warned as to his future conduct.”
Cole was a witness for the defence when his fellow Chelsea player John Terry was acquitted of racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother Anton, who plays for Queens Park Rangers. The term “Choc Ice” refers to someone who is black on the outside but white on the inside. It’s alleged that the original tweeter used it in reference to Cole’s testimony at the trial.
When the incident occurred, Manchester United defender defended his actions, saying that the term “choc ice” isn’t racially abusive, but refers to someone who is a “fake”.
There are a couple of issues that this ruling raises (although the money isn’t one of them — it’s not even a particularly large portion of Ferdinand’s weekly salary). The fact that the FA is using Twitter to judge improper conduct isn’t a massive issue either. It’s more of a reality we have to deal with than something we should panic about (Just ask the Olympic athletes kicked out of the games for racism on the platform). Yes, you could argue that if Ferdinand’s reply had been made verbally to a comment in a pub, he would’ve gotten away with it, but it wasn’t.
Like it or not, Twitter’s a public platform and Ferdinand can’t change the fact that his tweet was seen by thousands of people.
It does however highlight our tendency to forget just how public a platform social media is. It’s called the nose picking principle and is neatly explained in this tweet, referring to FHM model Jessica Leandra:
Heard of the nosepicking principle of social media? It’s what happens when we forget we’re being watched. (Ask Jessica.)
— Sarah Britten (@Anatinus) August 17, 2012
It’s easy to argue that people in the public eye should be more aware of their actions, but no matter how guarded they are, they’re still human and will make mistakes.
Secondly the independent commission and, by the extension the FA, are both claiming to be able to judge the context and sentiment expressed in a tweet. That’s a little concerning because even the best technology still has occasionally has trouble unlocking the emotion behind anything written in text.
A more worrying scenario would be if the FA took action against a footballer for improper conduct after someone tweeted a picture of them behaving recklessly in the privacy of their own home. How long before that happens?