How Twitter Has Changed Football in England

09/10/2013 15:57 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

As if there were not enough ways for professional footballers to land themselves in hot water, Twitter was born.

A social networking website where any person can connect with millions of other people has now meant that footballers are putting themselves in the spotlight by airing their views online.

In order to keep up to date with a player's antics, people can 'follow' them and by doing so they'll get the messages, or 'tweets', in their news feed in chronological order. They can message people back and forth, providing they keep each message to 140 characters or less.

For the most part, the majority of players keep their messages fairly generic and simple, almost like a basic diary entry, while doing the odd Q&A for fans - like Man City striker Sergio Aguero. But there are a select few who step over the line on more than one occasion.

Chelsea defender Ashley Cole committed one of the biggest faux pas's by letting his anger get the better of him after acting as a witness in a racism trial between his accused club team-mate John Terry and victim Anton Ferdinand. He tweeted his immediate feelings and was subsequently fined £90,000 for his conduct.

He's just one of many players who have fallen afoul online and it doesn't seem like it will ever change despite the warnings.

Players have revealed their desire to leave a specific club. They've spoken out on allegations about themselves, defended themselves after a bad performance and stirred up controversy by touching a nerve.

Many players take to Twitter as a calming tool, but can be met with random bouts of abuse from football fans who 'troll' the player with offensive messages.

For some, it's like water off a duck's back, but for others it can be damaging for them and subsequently they retaliate - only to be on the receiving end of punitive measures from their clubs as a result.

What gets forgotten is that these sportsmen and women in question have lives outside of their respective sports, but the supporters will hold a grudge for a long time after a bad performance and can continue to get on a player's back online until breaking point. Meaning it's hard for players to put the past completely behind them.

Match officials are also vulnerable targets, especially after a game in which a contentious decision was made. Referees get targeted to the point where some believe an official in question could well commit suicide in the future - such is the intense scrutiny should they make a high-profile error. Certainly a frightening thought and a reason that a minority want Twitter taken down permanently.

The line between freedom of speech and genuine offensive remarks is crossed regularly. Acts of discrimination are slowly being clamped down upon, but 99% of the online offenders receive no punishment.

However, in 2012 there was a student who was given a jail term for racist remarks made on Twitter about a football player who had suffered from a heart attack on the football field - Fabrice Muamba. While it's actively encouraged to use harsh measures to prevent discrimination, very few people are punished for such conduct online and it now appears to be a losing battle.

Nowadays, it takes far less to upset people on Twitter and footballers must be careful of what pictures they post, as every tweet can and will be misconstrued by somebody.

The majority of Twitter enthusiasts use the site wisely without intentionally offending, but a growing minority are now threatening to bring the game into disrepute by their actions on Twitter in the name of football.

Critics regard the site as just another avenue for players to be discriminated against and for supporters to engage in needless abuse. Whilst such online occurrences are becoming common-place, especially on Twitter, it's certainly not something taken lightly and police pages have been set up to combat the offenders.