Twitter is a great tool for news and information. What used to take hours in the days when newspapers were king, minutes when television ruled, is now down to seconds with Twitter.
But, unlike newspapers or blogs, that can provide unlimited column inches to give perspective, or TV, when entire shows are given over to the breaking news of the moment, Twitter gives only 140 characters.
You can get across a lot of words and meaning in those 140 characters, but sometimes you have to understand that total is either not enough to explain a situation, or not the right forum to express your thoughts to begin with.
That was the predicament Ravens running back Ray Rice seems to have found himself in. And Rice provides a lesson for athletes or public figures of all stripes in how to use or, more importantly, not use Twitter or any social media outlets.
Monday night, Rice was pulled over by a Baltimore County police officer for allegedly having windows that were illegally tinted. How Rice explained the incident on Twitter could be construed by those reading his Tweets as saying the officer traded a traffic warning for an autograph.
That’s is if you believe Rice’s first two Tweets on the incident, as Baltimore blog Inside Charm City posted overnight.
Rice’s original Tweet: @RayRice27 Just got pulled over for my tints Smh but gave the officer a autograph for his son and he let me go
Rice’s second Tweet: @RayRice27 And the officer admitted to being a die hard redskins fan I def got lucky tonight lol
Both of those Tweets have been removed from Rice’s timeline, but not before they were captured by Inside Charm City and redistributed among national media outlets.
As most everyone knows, deleting a Tweet isn’t a do-over button. Once that thought hits the internet, cell phones, etc., it can be preserved, redistributed or commented upon. The 140 characters gave a one-way snapshot of what happened with Rice and the officer, but not the background, or the full picture from the time he was stopped to the time he received his warning.
What exactly happened during the traffic stop? Rice, for his part, said to media at the Ravens’ facility on Tuesday, according to the Baltimore Sun, that he had worded his Tweet improperly.
The Sun’s Ravens Insider blog said Rice’s explanation was this:
Ray Rice said during a news conference today that he was in a parking lot, on his way to to buy the video game “Call of Duty,” when he was stopped by a police officer for the tinting on his vehicle’s windows. He was issued a warning, Rice said, and after he was warned, he offered the officer an autograph. There was no special treatment, Rice said.
For those counting, that Sun paragraph of Rice’s explanation took 67 words or 349 characters with spaces included — almost exactly 2 1/2 Tweets. Perspective and explanation took 2.5 times the amount Rice allowed himself to describe what happened on Twitter.
He also apologized for how he worded the Tweet.
Many NFL teams, including the Ravens, go over the advantages and perils of social media each year. The Sun’s Matt Vensel did an excellent story earlier this year about how the Ravens address social media with their players. From Vensel’s story:
“We tell them, ‘No matter what you say, where you say, when you say, it’s going to be on ESPN next if it’s outlandish in some way, so you have to be aware of that,’” said Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne, who has been with the organization for 30 years.
and later in the same piece,
“You’ve just got to be careful. Look over every Tweet and make sure it’s the right thing to put out there,” said rookie defensive tackle Arthur Jones, whose Twitter handle is @artj97. “If you follow Michael Oher, he always stays positive on his Twitter.”
A situation like this is a nightmare for PR staffs, who have to monitor player Tweets and Facebook accounts to be aware if something is posted on public timelines. Because the reach of social media is much more than what a player says to the media during a controlled 30-45 minute open locker room period, teams have to remain dilligent in relating what can happen when you push the Tweet or Share buttons, as Rice found out.
In this age of social media, the savvy athlete, like Chad Ochocinco (@OGOchoCinco), uses Twitter to his advantage — giving a window into what it is like being a professional athlete and providing content and analysis that is devoured by fans and the media — all of whom re-purpose those 140-character thoughts into blogs, stories and message board posts. In effect, Ochocinco is OCNN — his Ochocinco News Network — a media outlet, and everyone who uses social media is reminded by Rice’s mistake to treat it as such.
Even if what happened in that parking lot in Baltimore was innocent on its face, athletes also have to understand that some things take longer to explain than 140 characters, and sometimes it’s better to say, Tweet or Share nothing at all.