David Flatman: I will never be one of these twits who get caught in Net

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The Independent Online

The old interweb; lands you in all sorts of trouble if you're not careful. Only last week the Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice had to make a very public, teary apology for a silly little tweet she made after watching her countrymen defeat the Springboks. Homo- sexuals were offended, parents were no doubt let down and luxurious sponsors such as Jaguar were so put off by the stink that contracts were burnt on the spot.

Kevin Pietersen, surely our most adorable cricketing hero, has also tumbled into the clearly signposted booby-trap that is the massive public faux pas on Twitter. Newsflash: people read what you say, Mr Celebrity. Both of these two are really, really sorry, though. Like when I did a wheel spin on the school football pitch in my new car to impress the lads only to notice my form tutor watching from his office window. I was sorry, but mainly because I'd been caught. Would I do it again? Actually, I was doing it at the training ground last week. Sorry.

In truth, I find this a difficult one. Social media and the general increased accessibility of today's sports stars means that anything one says or does has to be like a joke from a Christmas cracker; offensive to nobody whatsoever, and this is not easy. Try thinking of a (funny) joke that not one living person would find inappropriate. Just today I have been called Kojak, Ross Kemp and The Bloke From Right Said Fred (that's actually his name), but I feel no need to call my lawyer.

For obvious reasons I will not print them, but some of the nicknames used for my team-mate David Barnes would send a good number of the mouse-tapping public to an early grave while he giggles every time he hears them (I just hope he doesn't secretly cry himself to sleep at night).

Do we now think Stephanie Rice is homophobic? No. Do we think less of Kevin Pietersen for using the f-word on Twitter when he was in a bad place? No. But we do think less of them after expressing such a lack of forethought and self-control. Anyone who dips their fingertips into this perilous pond leaves themselves wide open and must, frankly, behave.

This, to me, is easy (famous last words?). It's a lot like finding the right dog; if you buy a dog because it looks cool then, probably, you've got the wrong dog (see my English Bull Terrier). The recommended approach is to decide what you want from the thing and select the breed accordingly (see my second dog; a big, lazy Mastiff). I use Twitter for fun and the occasional plug for this very column. If I wanted my opinion to be known on any and every headline that appeared in the news I would have been a politician. As it stands, I'm not convinced anyone is bothered what I think to the burning of Korans or the putting of cats in bins, and the same goes for Pietersen et al.

A bit more perspective and thought of potential consequence would help, but these are difficult behaviours to achieve when one's self-opinion is unreasonably inflated. I'm not helping, I suppose, by talking about them again but, love them or hate them, they make a decent case study.

Graeme Swann makes another. Like Pietersen he is an England cricketer who likes to Tweet his way through the day. The difference, though, is huge. From the very first line you read you can tell Swann – though also a member of the nation's sporting elite – is a different, vastly more humble kettle of fish. He is hilarious, sharp and great to follow and there appears not to be an obnoxious bone in his body. This is how a sportsman ought to use this medium.

Gay ex-rugby league player Ian Roberts called Stephanie Rice "an idiot" and was probably right, but should she have been on there in the first place? Were I an agent, I would rein all this in. I would cut some clients loose on the web while others would be banned. "Graeme, you go on and have fun. Kevin, you sit on your hands." Fortunately my agent has yet to bring out her whip, but if she's looking for something to do, I hear there's a spare Jag knocking around that I'd be happy to behave for.

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