MLB Moving In Right Direction With New Social Media Policy, But Questions Remain

MIAMI GARDENS, Fl: Logan Morrison #20 of the Florida Marlins celebrates with teammate Mike Stanton #27 after hitting a two run home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Back in November, when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was announced, we learned that all Major League Baseball's players would be subject to a new Social Media Policy. We wondered if a new policy would be nothing more than a set of restrictions on players, telling them what they couldn't do without guiding them on how to effectively use social media to their -- and baseball's -- benefit.

MLB issued its new Social Media Policy to players on Wednesday. We are pleased to see the league moving in the right direction.

The policy has two parts: 1) a cover memo to all players on a 40-man roster, and 2) a legal-type document describing the kinds of information players should not communicate via social media. The cover memo sends to players the message we were hoping to hear: social media is a valuable communication tool for interacting and sharing information with those outside MLB:

We encourage you to connect with fans through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Along with MLB's extensive social media activities, we hope your efforts on social media will bring fans closer to the game and have them engaged with baseball, your club and you in a meaningful way.

The memo specifically encourages players to use social media to further their charitable interests and projects, something several players, like the Rays' Sam Fuld, already do. It also encourages players to use social media to advance their team's and the league's promotional activities, like special game experiences and merchandise. While less altruistic, that recommendation is good business.

The memo also appropriately cautions players to think before they tweet or post to Facebook. Don't tweet or post in the heat of the moment. Remember that tweets and posts are public and last forever. Don't tweet or post anything you wouldn't say to a room full of strangers. Frankly, that's good advice for anyone on social media.

And now, the list of don'ts.

The policy reminds players that social media may not be used in any fashion thirty minutes prior to a game or during the entirety of a game. So, no tweets or posts after being ejected from the game.

The first four substantive points hit a similar note: players shouldn't tweet about any official MLB statement, position, logo or confidential information without authorization from MLB and/or their team. Keeping players from making official (or official-sounding) statements on behalf of MLB and their teams makes sense. But as Craig Calcaterra notes in his post on the new policy, prohibiting players from tweeting or posting links to stories already published seems counter-productive. Once a link is live, doesn't MLB want it circulated to as many folks as possible?

Next, players are told not to use social media to say positive things about PEDs and other substances banned by the league's drug policy. Fair enough.

The next prohibition relates to umpires: don't complain about or disparage the impartiality of any umpire. This is a specific rule that easily falls within the general proscription of "don't tweet what you wouldn't say to a room full of strangers or reporters." Leave the umpire criticism to the professionals: baseball writers.

The last set of rules aren't baseball-related but look like standard college and workplace speech codes. Players shouldn't use social media to make disparaging comments based on race, religion, sexuality orientation, national origin, or disability, even in a joking matter. In the same vein, players need to be careful not to harass individuals or groups via social media. What if Luke Scott's 2010 comments questioning the authenticity of President Obama Hawaii birth certificate had been made on Twitter or Facebook. Would they have run afoul of this rule? In the political world, those who question the legitimacy of Obama's presidency on that basis are seen as racists. It's hard to imagine MLB taking action against Scott for anti-Obama tweets but the language in the policy leaves open that possibility.

There's also the catch-all prohibition on tweets or posts that violate state or federal law. That's very broad and not well-defined, meaning a player could run afoul of the rule without knowing it. MLB will need to be careful not to use that catch-all in an unfair or punitive fashion.

And then there's sex.

The policy prohibits players from tweeting or posting sexually-explicit material. Whatever that means. Seriously, that's a big issue. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of obscenity, "I know it when I see it." If a bunch of players go to Hooters after a game and post Twitpics of their waitress, is that sexually-explicit material? If a player engages in a raunchy back-and-forth with a female fan, is that sexually-explicit material? A comment on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? Using such a broad and undefined term in the policy leaves much room for debate, and misuse.

So kudos to MLB for encouraging players to engage with fans through social media. But players will have to use caution to avoid running afoul of the more broadly-worded provisions in the new policy.

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