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Twitter, Facebook problematic for athletes

A few months ago, Jeff wrote a piece about Twitter and the benefits of athletes using social media. The benefit of such social media platforms is the unfiltered communication between athletes and fans. It's great to be able to connect with an athlete in ways that weren't possible a short time ago. It creates a different kind of fan relationship.

The universe of social media has plenty of examples of celebrities using it to bolster their image. Professional athletes -- specifically Chad Ochocinco -- use the platform to speak directly to fans, circumventing any media spin that may otherwise occur.

On the other hand, Twitter and Facebook can get anyone into trouble. It's well known colleges use Facebook pages in conduct investigations. While not actively seeking them out, if a tip is given to them and an investigation is opened, social media can be used to build a case.

For athletes, the stakes are just as high. An ill conceived tweet or message about something that may be against the rules can quickly land them in hot water.

South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders is a recent example of tweeting gone wrong. Saunders is a friend of Marvin Austin, the UNC player under investigation by the NCAA for alleged contact with an agent. A few tweets from Saunders about a trip to South Beach -- where the alleged meeting with an agent took place -- led the NCAA to opening investigation on him.

The interesting part of Saunders' tweets stemmed from the wording. Some reports stated he wrote something similar to "I'm taking my services to South Beach". Of course, this all happened right around the same time as Lebron James said the same thing at his decision special.

The internet doesn't allow for us to pick up on body language or tone like a normal conversation would. It's very hard to tell what is sarcastic or serious, as we've seen in the comments sections here and during the Reggie Moore saga surrounding WSU transfers.

The ability for the common fan to easily connect with athletes is unprecedented, but the access comes with some downside.

With the rise of Facebook -- and the amount of athletes using it -- came the attempt by NCAA coaches to exploit loopholes in recruiting rules. Just as they did with text messaging, NCAA coaches looked to Facebook as a tool to gain a leg up in recruiting. A few private or wall messages between coaches and recruits -- some during periods where they aren't allowed -- resulted in secondary violations.

It's not just coaches, either. It seems like every high profile recruit is on Facebook or Twitter, giving fans and boosters the opportunity to interact directly with them in an effort to influence the recruits college choice. The debate about whether this actually works is legitimate, but the ethical implication is also real.

Take highly touted recruit Tony Wroten, for instance. Every school in the country is vying for him. Some fans have taken it upon themselves to follow and message him almost constantly in an effort to grassroots recruit. The back and forth is funny, but also brings up the question about whether it's healthy or even within the rules.

In a more serious breach of ethics, social media allows direct contact between agents and NCAA athletes. An agent doesn't need a direct line to an athlete to get in contact with them, it can all be done through Twitter or Facebook. Instead of text messages and phone calls -- which the NCAA can track-- the back channels of the internet makes stopping the problem more difficult.

The easy outlet for athletes to express their feelings can also land them in hot water with their superiors. Angry criticisms of a coach or team policy can turn out to be detrimental to one's career, as Jamere Holland found out.  An angry rant -- something that can happen in the heat of the moment for any athlete -- doesn't exactly look favorable in the eyes of a coach, especially when it's out in the open for the world to see. This is what happens when keepin' it real goes wrong.

It's great that athletes are able to connect with fans through social media, but they also need to be careful with how they use it. College athletes and recruits need to filter their emotions and realize what they say and do is seen by millions on the internet, something that is easier said than done. I'm not saying ban athletes from social media, but the athletes themselves need to be responsible and level-headed in their use of this powerful tool.

You can also follow me on twitter @floydcoug. I'm not an athlete, but I'm just as entertaining.