TWITTER, or social media, or whatevs the kids of today are referring to it as, has a lot to answer for. Namely, for turning the annoying relative at a family gathering into a global nuisance.
Now, uncle Jim, cousin Malcolm – or in the most recent case, father Garry – is no longer simply capable of putting a few noses out of joint while telling everyone everything from who should be running the barbecue to who should be running the country. He is also capable of prompting fines, investigations and a level of embarassment which won't wear out on the drive home. "The dog ate my homework" might have seemed more feasible than "my cousin took charge of my twitter handle and launched a betting investigation" long ago. Not any more.
This week, Garry Gallen took on the grand final coach Brian Smith, not long after his son had played a key role in Cronulla's surprise victory over Sydney Roosters. Garry Gallen, purportedly, took umbrage at some comments directed at his son, about the prospect of embarrassment by running at the young punk Dylan Napa. What do you do in that position? You grab the iPhone and respond on Twitter. In scandal terms, it might run even below what Miley Cyrus had for breakfast, let alone what she wore at breakfast – which no doubt both amount to very little – yet a pattern was continuing.
Last year, after his sister Emily was being abused by a teenage girl on Twitter during the London Olympic Games, Tom Seebohm defended the Australian swim star, unleashing some abuse of his own.
In April of this year, North Queensland halfback Robert Lui inadvertently became the subject of an investigation into betting after his cousin sent out a tweet through the NRL player's account, which stated: "Don't go for 2. I need 13."
That the mysterious tweet was sent out while Lui sat on the bench did not stop the NRL and North Queensland investigating. Lui's Brisbane-based cousin came clean, and the only real victim became Lui's Twitter account, which was deleted.
Then came David Warner's brother, Steven, who also goes by the online pseudonym "warnedog79", and who ranted about cricketer Shane Watson: "F***ing selfish Watson sooner your out the side you great pretender the better."
All scenarios were rather harmless, and it should be noted, in some cases relatives can provide some wise advice. Take the 11-year-old daughter of Shane Warne, after the cricketer decided to post a bedroom selfie.
“Dad, take this down,” Summer suggested.
Warnie's antics also highlight the fact that embarrassing relatives are in many cases not the primary concern. Social media gives us all an avenue to witness sports stars unplugged and in the raw – sometimes raw like Warnie, or indeed South Sydney prop George Burgess – showing all their foibles and literals, and in Burgess' case, so much more.
But those foibles can cause more than just amusement and embarrassment.
In the most extreme cases, they can have you booted out of an Olympic Games – a fate which befell Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, who decided it would be a good idea to mock African migrants and express support for a far-right political party via the social networking site. Even that beats our best efforts, Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk posting photographs of themselves posing with guns, or Stephanie Rice calling the Springboks rugby union players "faggots" after they had lost to the Wallabies. A teary Rice apologised and maintained it would not happen again (the homophobia, not the Wallabies victory, although there might actually be more chance of the former occurring these days).
Twitter can give sports stars a vehicle to thumb their noses or offer the middle finger to officialdom, which then Canberra fullback Josh Dugan quite literally did when he sat on the rooftop drinking and tweeting and chilling with his bro Blake Ferguson. Yet Dugan – and Ferguson – might also regret some of their offerings. Negotiations between Dugan and the Brisbane Broncos were abruptly ended after his online altercation with an abusive follower.
Ferguson wouldn't return his Canberra Raiders chief executive Don Furner's calls this week but still popped up on the feed of the Instagram followers of Grayson Goodwin. So Ferguson – who days earlier had been snapped with Cronulla player Todd Carney at an eastern suburbs pub, the images emerging on Facebook – had his salary frozen.
Steven Warner, of course, might not be able to cream the Kookaburra quite as well as his brother, but he might have learnt some social media skills from David. The batsman launched into journalists this year and was fined for his tirade.
It appears that, through the infancy of social media, some athletes – and their relatives – are still struggling with the concept that a public forum is in fact a forum which is public.
Social media is an important tool for athletes in 2013, fighting for the commercial dollar. It gives them the power to quite literally not get out of bed for $10,000, so long as they can spell their sponsor's product correctly. They can deny the latest bad thing said about them, or in the case of Sandor Earl just days ago, foreshadow it with a cryptic quote.
Clubs and codes are finding it more necessary by the week to educate their employees, telling them not to tweet and drive, not to drink and tweet, and to think before they tweet. The public has a front-row seat to athletes and their families. Threats and abuse are no longer directed over the boundary fence, conversations with sports stars no longer confined to a chance meeting or the front of an autograph line. And anyone, even Shane's bedroom eyes, could be watching.