The new Rules, which echo BS’s existing Rule 100, apparently came into effect on 28 May 2014, according to sources on, you guessed it, social media. However as of 2pm on Monday 2nd June they had not been emailed direct to members, and they weren’t mentioned in the BE Newsletter emailed out on 29 May either. They are:
1. British Eventing recognises that the internet provides unique opportunities to participate in interactive discussions and share information on particular topics using a wide variety of social media. However, Members’ use of social media can pose risks to British Eventing’s confidential and proprietary information, and reputation, and can jeopardise its compliance with legal obligations.
2. As such, all Members must comply with the requirements of this Rule at all times, including whenever they use any form of social networking websites that now exist or may exist in the future, including but not limited to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikipedia, Flickr, MySpace, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube, and whenever they participate in, submit or respond to any internet postings, including blogs and wikis (together, “Social Media”), however the same are accessed, in each case using any device existing now or in the future.
3. Failure by a Member to comply with the provisions of this Rule may result in British Eventing taking disciplinary action against that Member in accordance with these Rules. Civil and/or criminal proceedings could also be brought against members for breach of this Rule where applicable.
4. British Eventing may require Members to remove postings, comments or any other submissions made using social media that are deemed to constitute a breach of this Rule. Failure to comply with such a request may in itself result in disciplinary action.
5. British Eventing reserves the right to monitor, intercept and review, without further notice, social media postings and activities that include references to it and/or its Members, to ensure that its Rules are being complied with and for legitimate business purposes. All Members consent to such monitoring by their agreeing to abide by these Rules.
6. In their use of the internet and all social media, Members of British Eventing must do the following:-
a) Not post any threatening, derogatory, obscene, indecent, seditious, offensive, pornographic, abusive, disparaging, racist, discriminatory, menacing, inflammatory, blasphemous, or defamatory statements or material, including, but not limited to, statements or material concerning:
I. British Eventing;
II. Members or former members of British Eventing;
III. Sponsors of British Eventing; and
IV. Affiliates and stakeholders of British Eventing;
b) Not make any statements that could directly or indirectly damage the name or reputation of British Eventing;
c) Make it clear in social media postings that they are speaking on their own behalf and that, where they disclose their membership of British Eventing, their views do not represent those of British Eventing; and
d) Not use British Eventing logos, brand names, slogans or other trademarks, or post any of its confidential or proprietary information without the prior written permission of British Eventing.
British Eventing will fully comply with any:
2. Request by any governmental or other regulatory authority; or
3. Order by a court or other authority of competent jurisdiction that requires British Eventing to disclose the identity or location of any Member posting any material in breach of the requirements of this Rule. British Eventing may share a Member’s personal information with the police or any other governmental authority if it is asked to do so in connection with the investigation of suspected illegal activities.
It’s part 6a which should give you pause for thought. Not posting anything which is derogatory or disparaging could, if Part 3 is applied strictly, mean that picture of bottomless going with the tag “terrible going at Event X” you posted on Twitter is enough to get you disciplined by BE. Think this is unlikely? Think again – a member of the e-Venting team was slapped on the wrist by their professional body for posting something on social media which simply said “I wasn’t happy with the way they handled X”. The professional body has a similar rule, told the poster that they had made a disparaging remark which brought the organisation into disrepute, and threatened them with being hauled in front of the disciplinary committee and having their membership revoked.
So it all depends on how harshly Part 3 is applied, or not. And the problem here is that it is down to whomever holds influence within BE as to whether it’s used for good or to curb members’ public feedback. The current board may well have decided they have no desire to play Big Brother, and just want a way of ensuring that the wrong information does not get spread around, particularly at the wrong time. Certainly there are many very lively debates about BS online, particularly on Facebook, so their rule does not seem to be being enforced to end free speech. But, and here’s the rub, it could be.
Does that mean we shouldn’t have a rule at all? Well, no, sometimes members do need reminding about what is and isn’t appropriate to share on social media. For example, last summer there was a really horrible situation where the next of kin of a rider was not able to be contacted for some hours after a fall, and rumours were spreading on Twitter in particular as to the identity of the rider. I am sure we all would do anything we could to back BE up in trying to prevent such a situation from happening again, and feel it’s not unreasonable for them to discipline members who don’t think through the implications of what they’re posting.
Another situation that has arisen was when riders at events took photos of muddy parking areas and put them on Twitter. Word spread that the going must be horrendous and there were mass withdrawals. In fact the ground on the courses was not as bad as in the parking area (else the event would not have been allowed to run, see here for an explanation), but the bad photos probably influenced some competitors not to go the next day, and led to bad press for the events in question. But does that really warrant disciplining competitors? Or is it the responsibility of the events to make sure that accurate information is out there on social media, including photos of the courses, so people can make up their own minds? Ascott under Wychwood did this perfectly last week, by posting great pictures of the course conditions on the BE website, and Little Downham tweeted photos of their perfect going in response to a query as to whether it was likely to run.
From the BE “Instructions for Fence Judges” official pamphlet:
SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES.
BE Understand that you may want to share your experience of volunteering at an event with your friends and followers on social media. Communicating what you see and experience is good for the event, however please remember that you are representing BE and as such it is extremely important to consider the impact of what you share on both those involved with the organisation of the Event and competitors.
We are happy for you to share the following when you have time in-between your responsibilities:
Help promote the Event, trade stands and attractions.
Encourage others to come and enjoy the Event themselves.
Link to the Event’s key sponsors on social media – they will appreciate this!
Share positive results and achievements.
Please be mindful of the following:
Please do not make controversial comments about riders, other volunteers, the organisation, or the Event.
In case of serious incident, BE is the “Official Source” and only BE should be commenting on the incident, thereafter the organisers will share the information.
If you see an accident please communicate it with the Officials using the radio as per the incident plan and do not comment about it on social media until you have seen something on the official website.
This is a more succinct way of putting the new restrictions. But is it proportional? If these rules are enforced in a draconian manner, you could be disciplined for tweeting something like “Crazy SJ warmup at X – Sponsored Hero thought it was ok to push in meaning my boy went off the boil”.
If you are still confused, the ultimate guideline, from Sarah Skillin of EquiExcel, whose work on the PR for Little Downham Event has been praised by BE, is:
“It’s a pretty straight forward rule. Basically don’t say something that isn’t factual and correct that could be seen as detrimental to the sports image and use it responsibly.” [Thanks to Sarah for permission to use the quote.]
Currently the rule hasn’t even been communicated, much less enforced, and whilst it’s clear it has been devised for the best intentions, it would be good if in parallel BE released a transparent set of guidelines as to how they determine what will be a disciplinary offence. Until they do, you might be wise to think again before taking to social media to discuss how events, or BE itself, might improve, lest you find yourself on the receiving end of a fine. . .or worse! And as for commenting on how your feedback was received at the event itself, be very cautious indeed.