Brand reputation: what can Joey Barton teach sports stars about dealing with offensive tweets?

Published 19 April 2013 | Authored by: Laura Scaife

While the issue of protecting the club’s image from negative social media postings is considered in some of my other posts on LawInSport, one area which remains under analysed is what this means for the individual as a brand in their own right.

With the increasing use of smart phones, tablets and interactive TV’s the power of brand delivery and reinforcement via social media platforms as a non-paid for advertising space has been facilitated on an incredible scale at little or no marginal cost. The easily accessible engagement with once far removed figures has now become increasingly common. In the age of social media, getting a re-tweet from a celebrity is the modern day equivalent of getting an autograph and often feels more personalised due to the informality of the medium. Indeed it has now reached a situation where fans expect to be able to interact with high profile figures via social media platforms and gain a glimpse into their everyday activity. It is because of this ability to engage with fans (as consumers and promoters of the brand) that advertisers and the sports “celebrities” themselves have realised the potential to develop good will and revenue through the medium. Many sports celebrities now are contracted by companies to act as spokespersons and receive re-numeration to tweet about products. In terms of this brand management, the article will go on to look at the issues which individuals as “brands” (with a distinct “brand identity”) need to be alive to when formulating of a bespoke digital strategy. 


Joey Barton

It was announced on 5 April 2013 that Paris St-Germain (PSG) may take action against Marseille midfielder Joey Barton after he used social networking website Twitter to abuse PSG player Thiago Silva. The on-loan QPR midfielder compared the Brazilian defender Silva to an "overweight ladyboy" on his Twitter account. On the 2nd April 2013 Joey Barton wrote: "Have to take back what I said about Thiago Silva being over-rated today. Been immense tonight. Still looks like an overweight ladyboy though!” on how Twitter feed to be read by his 2,103,576 followers (all as at 5 April 213). The Tweet was “favourited” 1,272 times and re-tweeted 5, 435 times. The issue was compounded by a series of further Tweets posted by Barton such as "two questions for Thiago Silva. Firstly, Why are YOU talking about ME, in your press conference before PSG v Barca? Very strange. Secondly “Are you Pre-Op or Post-Op? #transexual #thaigosaladyboy".

A statement on the PSG website1 was swiftly released which claimed that Barton had made "unacceptable remarks". The full statement read as follows: “On social media networks today, Olympique de Marseille player Joey Barton launched an entirely unacceptable attack on Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva. These attacks represent a serious incident and go much further than a mere verbal insult. The Club directors, players and coaching staff stand in solidarity with Thiago Silva and refuse to accept such declarations. The Club also restates its unwavering attachment to the values of respect that should be the foundation of our sport. Thiago Silva and Paris Saint-Germain reserve the right to take any legal action it deems necessary and responsible in this incident.”

PSG suggested that Barton's tweets had gone beyond "verbal jousting" and in response Marseille also confirmed they had called on Barton to "put an end to the controversy" by ceasing his "uploading [of] any ungracious comments aimed at Thiago Silva". An apology was issued on Barton’s behalf. However, Barton still hasn’t deleted his tweets2 running the risk that they will be re-tweeted further and compound the issue.

My next blog will ask is there a right to be offensive and when does it go over the line?


2 As at 5 April 2012

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About the Author

Laura Scaife

Laura Scaife

Laura is an innovative thinker in the field of Social Media and has been extensively published on matters concerning compliance with e-commerce issues arising out of the Office of Fair Trading and Advertising Standard Agency guidelines as well as online revenue generation, defamation, electronic communications based offences, effective dispute settlement, business crisis management and reputational management.

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