Officials and Social Media: Friend or Foe?

By Dave Sheets on September 08, 2017 officials Print

The world seems to be controlled and driven by social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and dozens more applications are taking up more and more of the attention of users. The younger generation seems most in tune with these phenomenon but many older dogs are using these new tricks.

Catching up with old high school friends and sharing information with family members many states away are benefits of this new media. At the same time, political, religious and social issue discussions can provide both positive and negative input to a user. Perhaps the largest downside is the time commitment needed to remain in touch with all these applications.

Part of the new trend in these applications is that of sports officials posting information about their upcoming contests, current contest or past contest. What can seem like an innocent sharing of info can turn into a very negative experience. How should officials use, or avoid, social media? It is an individual choice, but consider these examples from local news around the country.

Darren is well respected in his officiating community and has worked many big games over the years. He had never had anything more than “normal” fan hassles for his work on the football field. His workday involves working as a financial adviser in a small city. He has recently started announcing on his Facebook page the school he traveling to before he works a varsity contest. He may even post a photo of the school when he arrives or include images of tail gators or warmups on the field before the game.

On one Friday night, a fan of the visiting school was sitting at home when the fan noticed a post from another friend wishing the official a “good game.” The fan at home knew another friend was at the game and texting that friend telling him about one of the officials. During the game, the visiting team felt they were not benefiting from calls during the game and the fan at the game texted back to his friend asking for more information on the official. Before long, the fans were chanting the official’s name, shouting about his work, his hometown and his model airplane hobby. It was also information from social media. As the game wore on, the visiting team became more upset with the officials and suddenly social media in the area was flooded with comments about the official they knew by name, because he told them on social media. On Monday, his business was inundated with nasty phone calls and even a few clients calling to question his work as a financial adviser based on what they heard about the game. Was it worth it to brag about being at that game?

It is certainly possible for fans to know about an official they are watching but using social media to draw attention to an official’s work is probably not a good idea. Here is another example.

Tom is a hard working basketball official that has earned assignments all-around his state. They take him many hours from home and he often has his wife accompany him to games so they can spend time together. He has developed the habit of announcing on social media many afternoons where they are headed and how long the trip will be.

Unknown to Tom was a burglary ring working in his community. It was made of a group of young men hitting homes for items they could sell for drug money. Finding the right home to burglarize was their challenge. A girlfriend of one of the thugs was Facebook friends with the adult daughter of Tom and saw some of these posts. At some point she mentioned this to her boyfriend who began following the posts. He then determined they could strike Tom’s home one night when he was on the road. Imagine coming home from a long trip to find your electronics, jewelry and other items stolen from your home. The simple feeling of being violated was strong.

While it can’t be proven that this burglary only happened due to the social media posts, it certainly seems to be a contributing factor. Why give information about your schedule, your being away from home or any other data that could lead to a bad happening.

We don’t have time in this article to address comments officials made about a game they just completed and how they didn’t have hot water or towels or the fans or coaches were acting terrible. They felt like those comments allowed them to blow off steam to their “friends.” They forgot their friends were friends with coaches and fans and assigners and evaluators. Many officials have lost an assignment or a tourney game due to their own words being used against them.

     Officials are encouraged to think before they post, text, tweet or otherwise communicate. You need to understand you have no control over your audience or your message after it is in the digital universe. Even if you feel you are only putting out positive communications, there can be issues. Some assigners and associations actual forbid officials from using social media. All discussion about free speech, being an adult, etc. are appropriate but the bottom line is there are far too many instances of officials using social media and finding themselves in a bad situation.

     A veteran official in our area has always provided excellent pregame conferences. His advice is always good right before we leave the locker room. A few years ago he added the line, “And don’t get our game posted on YouTube,” was added. Perhaps that advice should apply to all social media.