Round 5: GAA and the Law – Social Media

6th March 2015

Once you press send, you become a publisher with the entire world exposed to your writings.

Sometimes this simple fact is lost on many people involving Social Media.

When somebody speaks something they can do so to themselves, to the person they are speaking to or to an audience.   When you post something on Social Media, your audience is the world.  Any comments you make are credited to you and anything that you say that is untrue may come back to haunt you.

Almost everybody now has a social media account.  This can be Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Snap Chat, Pin Interest or even old multi-media text messages.  In an instant, a message can be thought of and sent.  The effects of a message, however, can be wide ranging and long lasting.

There is certainly a cross over between GAA land and social media.  You only need to look at the popularity of Facebook or Twitter.  Twitter appears to be the most popular Social Media Forum.  The official Dublin GAA Website has 25,000 followers.  The official Kilkenny GAA account has 16,000 followers.  Our own County, Mayo, however, for its size has the greatest following around.  The main Twitter associated GAA accounts in County Mayo are:

1. Official Mayo GAA @mayogaa 25,500 followers
2. Mayo GAA Banter Page @mayogaabanter 2,638 followers
3. Mayo Club 51 @mayoclub51 1,789 followers
4. All things Mayo @allthingsmayo 3,564 followers
5. Mayo GAA Blog @mayogaablog 6,084 followers

This is just a small sample of the Social Media profile that exists.

Sometimes, emotions can run high particular in the parochial area of GAA.  If a referee is having a poor game, then there is a temptation to pick up your phone and Tweet that the referee is having a poor game and slag him off.  There is a very fine line between doing this and defaming a referee or any club official or any player for that matter.  Sometimes the mark can be over-stepped.

To defame somebody on Social Media can only take an instant.  In order to defame somebody, the comment that you make about them must be untrue.  In addition to that, the comment must also be phrased in such a way that those people reading it believe it to be true and as a result of this, think less of the person who is mentioned.

We cannot give an example here because to do so could potentially defame somebody and land this firm in trouble.

To fall foul of the law of a defamation through Social Media can happen both for a person’s own individual account and also if the person is commenting on behalf of an organisation or group.

Any individual person can post a Tweet and if they say something that is untrue and it is believed to be true, then that person can find themselves in bother and in receipt of a solicitor’s letter and potential court proceedings.

If, however, a comment is made on behalf of an organisation like a club or a supporter’s group or a County Board, a Provincial Council or the organisation itself, then the effect if far much more wide ranging.  For example, if a person in charge of a County Board posts a comment on Social Media on behalf of the Board indicating that a referee is not fit to do his job because of his treatment of their team, then potentially the referee has a cause of action against the County Board if the allegation is proven to be false.

The GAA take a very serious view in relation to the evolution of Social Media, as they should.  There is now a specific GAA Social Media Policy and Guidelines which has now been circulated amongst all players and officials.  The emphasis in this guideline is on responsibility and making sure that there is respect shown in Social Media Posts.

The Guidelines also place great emphasis on respecting the law.  Not only are there issues about defamation and calling into question people’s characters, but also there is issues such as copy right.  This usually arises where somebody has already published something and this is simply copied and pasted and used as the author’s own work, whereas in fact it is not.

It is inconceivable to think that ten years ago the Association or Clubs or Officials or Players would have to consider having a designated Social Media Policy.  In today’s rapidly changing environment where everybody is in contact and when everybody’s content is public, you need to be vigilant and to know what you can or cannot do is paramount.

If you are unaware of how this can affect you as a Social Media user or as a Social Media Controller, please take advice.