August 01, 2012

The Social Media Games: How Twitter is Affecting the Olympics

Going into this year’s Summer Olympics in London, most people knew that social media was going to play a larger role in the games than it ever had in previous Olympics. Ever since the winter games in Vancouver two years ago the use of social media has boomed around the world. More and more people are using social media as a way to discuss major events in real time, and clearly the Olympics would be no exception. But just a few days into these summer Olympics, no one could have predicted the turn out we’ve seen so far. One social media site in particular, Twitter, is shaking things up for better and for worse.

If you watched the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London then you certainly weren’t alone. An independent study done by Bluefin Labs reported that during the opening ceremonies alone there were 5 million social media comments made about the event, 4.86 million of which ended up being tweets. In fact, so many people are tweeting while watching the games that according to TwitterUK there have been more tweets during London’s first day than the length of the entire 2008 Beijing games! Fans all over the world are using Twitter to keep up with results, athletes, and other fans in real time. Countries are encouraging the use of Twitter as well, hoping that their residents will tweet positive thoughts and messages to their favorite athletes throughout the games. Jamaica for example, although being ranked 141st in the world as far as population, ranks third only behind the United States and Great Britain in terms of the number of tweets they have sent to athletes from their country.

Although it’s great to hear how Twitter is being used worldwide to encourage sportsmanship towards athletes and fans all over, many could argue that it has been used to do more harm than good. Before the games even started, Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from her Olympic team for tweeting a racist comment mocking African immigrants in Greece. Just a few days into the games, after the Swiss soccer team was defeated by South Korea, a Swiss player was expelled for tweeting that South Korean athletes were “Mongoloids.” There have also been reports that British police arrested a 17 year old after he posted several malicious tweets to a popular British athlete who came in fourth place in his event, making negative comments about his recently deceased father and possibly threatening his life as well.

The social media site has acted as a hub for athletes in the game to air their unhappiness with the marketing rules set in place by the International Olympic Committee. The IOC’s Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guideline’s Rule #40 states that athletes are not allowed to mention their sponsors during the games unless they are official Olympic sponsors. Athletes with little known sponsors are arguing that this is directly affecting their income. These rules haven’t stopped some athletes from posting controversial tweets on the topic however. United States track athlete Lee Manzano was forced to take down a tweet in which he mentioned a lesser known footwear brand that sponsors him. Many athletes have banded together to started a campaign against the rules by using hash tags “#WeDemandChange” and “#Rule40” to directly express their discontent. Dawn Harper, a U.S. 100 meter hurdler, took it a step further when she posted a picture of herself with a piece of tape over her mouth with “Rule 40” written across it.

The IOC isn’t the only organization involved in the Olympics that is catching grief from Twitter users. NBC and their coverage of the games have been under fire since the first day of the games. Thousands of Twitter users have started using the hash tag “#NBCFail” in their tweets complaining about the coverage. A British journalist based out of Los Angeles had his Twitter account suspended after tweeting harsh criticism of the opening ceremonies and the fact that NBC had decided to tape-delay events in the United States. He also posted the e-mail of an NBC executive, asking his followers to e-mail their complaints to him. Twitter stated that posting the e-mail address was a direct violation of their privacy policy and suspended the account. Many are questioning Twitters motives behind the suspension, since NBC and Twitter are official partners for these Olympic Games. Many argue that NBC prompted Twitter to silence their critic and Twitter complied due to their commercial relationship.

Twitter, which is now used by more than 140 million users, has become much more to the Olympics than anyone had originally anticipated. The exponential jump in the use of Twitter since previous Olympic Games is likely due to the advancement of smart phones which users take with them everywhere. But the unexpected nature of Twitter in these games raises the question of just how far the negativity will span. Regardless, social media has become essential to today’s generation by giving them a way to connect with the athletes and feel more included in the games. The idea of banning the use of social media entirely from large events such as the Olympics is almost unimaginable in today’s day and age. Exclusion of Twitter from the Olympics would be the equivalent of losing a large part of the experience.

Contributed By Nicole Juliano

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