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Is Manchester United the next China? The football club is unilaterally banning its players from maintaining social networking profiles on sites like Twitter and Facebook. The message on the club’s web site couldn’t be clearer: “The club wishes to make it clear that no Manchester United players maintain personal profiles on social networking websites. Fans encountering any web pages purporting to be written by United players should treat them with extreme skepticism.”
An investigation by the football news site EPL Talk revealed that Twitter accounts held by Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have all been removed. Meanwhile, on Facebook, the contents of the sites for footballers Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand have been erased, while the account for Wes Brown has been removed altogether.
Football clubs could have a number of reasons to want players to keep away from building online profiles for themselves, points out EPL Talk. Clubs don’t want athletes giving out confidential info about club business; and they want online traffic coming to official club sites. If the vision of making billions from online content – as laid out by Lee Stafford, the chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club – is to be realised, then the clubs need everyone coming to their own online properties for their football fun.
U.S. sports teams appear to have just as many issues. The NBA and the NFL have both banned Twitter and Facebook but only before, during and after games. Texas Tech’s former football coach and the Miami Dolphins banned Twitter outright.
Some clubs are a little more relaxed: Darren Bent, a striker from Sunderland, has around 30,000 followers on Twitter – although his Twitter account had some Tweets deleted back when he was still at Tottenham Hotspur and complained about not being able to move to Sunderland (presumably because of their more relaxed attitude to social media).
Athletes from sports not tied to clubs, such as Lance Armstrong, have amassed huge followings on the site.