The ECB should have anticipated the social media storm over Ollie Robinson

Controversy over historic tweets by England cricketers should serve as a wake-up call to the wider world that risks from social media are eminently predictable and avoiding them is now the expectation, not the exception.

Reputational issues regarding historical social media posts are not new territory and should be anticipated, argues Chris Scott
Reputational issues regarding historical social media posts are not new territory and should be anticipated, argues Chris Scott

Cricket’s scandal began on 2 June when debutant Ollie Robinson had to issue an apology after a series of racist and sexist Tweets dating back to 2012 were revealed.

The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) acted to suspend Robinson from international cricket. Days after his suspension, further tweets surfaced relating to Jimmy Anderson, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler, including reports by Cricket website Wisden that a player in England’s squad had previously made derogatory comments about Asian women on Twitter.

While the debate about “cancel culture” and political intervention rages, cricket’s pain is a warning to business.

In football, players – and their online activity – face intense scrutiny from a much younger age. That’s why, when the Football Association has stepped in to fine footballers who have had historic Tweets cause controversy (Andre Gray and Hamza Choudhury to name a couple), it tends to be those gaining prominence either by age or by transferring to a bigger club.

Cricket, a sport with far lower engagement with spectators at club and county level, created an environment that allowed content to go unobserved for 10 years and then come to light in an embarrassing way when Robinson was propelled to the England team.

Can it really be a surprise to organisations like the ECB anymore that historic tweets can cause such problems?

We are past the point when social media risk is some unexpected issue that organisations can legitimately ignore and wash their hands of.

Much like in business, limited attention is paid to those of us in business, typically, until we achieve a position of prominence.

That’s why it is becoming the norm for businesses to undertake reputational diligence on incoming senior hires before they send out job offers, often looking at a prospective employee’s social media to identify any risk. It’s not a new contention that when you’re in the public eye, you’re held to a higher standard.

The moral of the story is that sporting bodies, like any other business, need to be aware of the risks and start vetting and educating their most prominent people on social media, or they’ll find themselves in the eye of the storm – but how many times do these issues need to make the headlines before steps to protect corporate reputation and individual welfare are taken?

Chris Scott is a senior partner at Slateford Law

Thumbnail credit: Getty

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