Athletic department cautions players to use their heads before they hit the button
The third day of LSU’s preseason camp included the players’ annual media training session Wednesday.
In addition to the typical preparation for how to handle themselves in interviews, players were educated on what coach Les Miles called “the pitfalls of social media.”
At first, the primary issue with websites such as Facebook and Twitter was to avoid posting “bulletin-board material” — trash-talking, boasting or other potentially inflammatory stuff that an opposing team could use as motivation.
But the social media world is changing almost as quickly as Oregon’s offense runs plays.
LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette said Facebook has become “a thing of the past.” The social media tools currently in vogue are Twitter, Vine and Instagram, though Bonnette said another flavor of the month is bound to emerge.
In addition to Bonnette and associate sports information directors Bill Martin and Jake Terry advising players on responsible social media interaction, LSU professor Tommy Karam advised the players on all facets of communication. Miles arranged for two different social media presentations earlier in the summer.
“We’re trying to hammer home the social media issues that can come about to get them to understand that this is serious business,” Bonnette said. “It’s a huge responsibility if you’re an LSU football player.”
The need for such training was demonstrated before LSU even got around to Wednesday’s session, as freshman wide receiver Avery Peterson and some teammates tweeted that he had broken an ankle in practice Tuesday afternoon.
The tweets circumvented the athletic department’s protocol of Miles announcing injuries — if they get announced at all. There has been no official word on Peterson’s status and likely won’t be before Miles’ next media availability Thursday afternoon.
In addition, just days before the players reported for the start of camp, a more difficult Twitter issue arose when a phony account, purported to be that of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, emerged on the Internet.
Posted on the phony account were inflammatory comments about Mettenberger’s former team — Georgia, which plays LSU on Sept. 28. The comments brought angry responses from Georgia fans who had been duped.
Mettenberger, who doesn’t engage in any social media activity, said he could see how people — including many of his teammates — could have been fooled.
“I think (the fake tweeter) fooled everybody on the team,” Mettenberger said. “They thought it was me, but it wasn’t. After a day, everybody knew it wasn’t me.”
Mettenberger shrugged off the prank, saying: “It’s just the world we live in. There’s probably a thousand fake LeBron (James) Twitter (accounts).”
But one aspect of the account’s believability was disturbing.
“I was really creeped out by the fact that they had fake pictures of me, my family and me holding a teammate’s child,” Mettenberger said. “That was weird.”
Mettenberger said he briefly had a Twitter account a couple of years ago but closed it after tweeting something he thought better of after it was posted.
“(The tweet) wasn’t that bad; it just wasn’t too bright,” Mettenberger said. “Most people would have just laughed. I just deleted it. If you don’t have an account, you won’t regret anything.”
When the phony Georgia tweets surfaced, Terry — the social media coordinator for the athletic department — immediately contacted Mettenberger to confirm that the tweets weren’t his. Terry asked if Mettenberger wanted the account closed, which he did.
Terry followed standard procedure for such circumstances, contacting LSU’s Trademark & Licensing office, which goes through something called the Collegiate Licensing Company to get phony accounts closed.
“They have a good relationship with Twitter,” Terry said, adding that closing an account required a scanned copy of Mettenberger’s drivers license for I.D. and a letter formally requesting that the account be closed. Terry said the university had to do the same thing a few years ago to close multiple fake accounts pretending to belong to Miles.
“The problem is,” Bonnette said, “getting through to the company to get it taken down takes time, and the damage could already be done.”
Shortly after the fake Mettenberger account was shut down, another popped up. Terry started the process again and got that one squashed.
Though phony accounts are a nuisance, Twitter can be useful for legitimate ones. Bonnette said it’s a productive way for Miles to reach his nearly 114,000 followers, which includes Tigers fans, Tigers haters and potential Tigers recruits.
“That’s a lot of impressions,” Bonnette said. “It’s a good way to connect.”
Senior safety Craig Loston is one of the more prolific tweeters on the team.
“You definitely have to be careful,” he said. “There’s always somebody watching you. Fans are following you, and you don’t want to represent your university in the wrong way. You always want to be careful what you tweet, no matter what it is.”
Loston said he realizes there are fans of other teams that will tweet something as bait, trying to entice him into saying something inflammatory.
“That’s the life we live,” he said. “Somebody may say something to try and get you to react a ceratin way. You just have to keep a steady head and not buy into it.”