The London 2012 Olympics have been hailed as the “first social media Games.” Social networking sites have grown so significantly and rapidly in recent years that looking back, Beijing seems a lot like the digital dark ages.
The opening ceremony even commemorated the über-connected and tech-savvy world in which we now live. Somewhere amidst the dancing nurses and Rowan Atkinson’s piano playing, a Facebook-esque love story emerged throughout the course of the ceremony. A young girl lost her cell phone and when her attractive male suitor tracked her down and returned it to her, they kissed—and she subsequently (and immediately) updated her status from “Single” to “In a Relationship.” (For everyone out there cringing at the immaturity and ridiculousness of this, I’m right there with you.)
If Danny Boyle himself gives a nod to social networking, then it’s clear that this modern-day phenomenon will have an unprecedented, major impact on the way in which we watch the Olympic Games.
At first glance, it seems like the growth and expanding user base of sites like Facebook and Twitter can only benefit the Olympics: people can communicate with their favorite athletes and receive real-time updates. Social media creates an Olympic-centric online culture, where people form communities around specific events and athletes (read: girls uniting in their worship of Ryan Lochte). Social networking enables us all to engage in a dynamic two-way dialogue with one another.
Yet, it’s not all sunshine and Olympic medalists’ flower bouquets when it comes to Twitter, which has far surpassed Facebook as the most popular social network for talking about the Olympics. So far Twitter has presented some serious challenges for various people involved in the Olympics: athletes, commentators, and broadcast networks. The site has generated numerous social media spectacles, including but not limited to the expulsion of two athletes, some tweets from an irate soccer goalie, and the suspension of a journalist’s account. It’s also become a forum in which people broadcast their discontent with the television network that shall not be named.
Just kidding, we all know I’m talking about NBC.
Here are a few recent Olympic-related Twitter happenings—the good and the bad.
DQ’d by Twitter
Greek triple jumper Voula Papahristou was banned from competing in the Olympics after posting a racist tweet on July 22. The tweet, posted in Greek, translated roughly to:
With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food!!!
Papahristou posted an apology on her Facebook page; the response she received was varied. Some people viewed her joke as racially insensitive and deemed her punishment just; others thought the punishment was excessive.
The Hellenic Delegations’ Administration Board explained their decision to ban Papahristou from representing Greece in the Olympics, stating that Papahristou’s comments “go against the values and ideals of Olympism.”
In terms of social media gaffes committed by athletes, Papahristou’s is probably as bad as it gets. Years of training and dedication cast aside because of a tasteless tweet? Trial by tweeters (and the Hellenic Board) is unforgiving. Social media aims to bring people together, but for Papahristou, it put a wedge between an athlete and her home country.
It’s All Just a Little Bit of Social Media History Repeating
A Twitter misstep awfully reminiscent of Papahristou’s dashed another Olympic athlete’s chances at competing. The Swiss Olympic soccer team expelled Michel Morganella after he sent out a racist tweet hours after Switzerland’s loss to South Korea. According to TechCrunch, Morganella told the Koreans to “burn yourselves.” Morganella later apologized, but he was prohibited from playing in any more games.
Morganella’s mistake (and punishment) is eerily similar to Paphristou’s; one athlete banned from competition care of Twitter is surprising enough, but two?
Hope Solo Goes a Little Loco
Morganella isn’t the only Olympic athlete to use Twitter as an outlet for [strong] emotional expression. Hope Solo, the goalkeeper of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team, took to Twitter to unleash anger caused by Brandi Chastain. Chastain is an NBC commentator and former U.S. Women’s soccer player, though you may know her as the woman who pulled this now-iconic stunt in celebration of the U.S. 1999 World Cup victory.
Hope Solo objected to comments Chastain made during the broadcast of the U.S. vs. Colombia game. I read the four tweets Solo sent out before I found out exactly what Chastain said. Based on Solo’s Twitter fury, I assumed that Chastain must have been really out of line with some contemptuous remark.
According to ESPN, here’s what Chastain said:
She pointed out that a defender’s responsibilities are: “Defend. Win the ball. And then keep possession. And that’s something that Rachel Buehler actually needs to, I think, improve on in this tournament.”
This sounds much more like an analysis rather than criticism to me, but I guess Hope Solo feels differently. Although not officially labeled one, I would term Solo’s Twitter rant a social media blunder (the third so far). In addition to blinding inaccuracies (remarking on someone’s need to improve is not equivalent to “saying that a player is the worst defender!”), Solo’s tweets draw attention away from the U.S. Women’s Soccer team’s victory, which deserves celebration, and instead gets people talking about an unnecessary, senseless Twitter outburst.
Fortunately, Chastain stayed classy and didn’t tweet about Solo. Instead, she told news reporters, “I’m here to do my job, which is to be an honest and objective analyst at the Olympics.” In the first social media Olympics, sometimes avoiding Twitter and using traditional media outlets is the way to go.
Athletes and Advertising
What other emotions have been dominating Twitter throughout the first week of the Olympics? Frustration, for one: several athletes have tweeted their frustration with Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, which says the following:
“Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.”
Athletes object to this regulation, because sponsorships are how they make money, and during a time in which people around the globe are paying attention to them, they cannot promote sponsors.
The hashtags #Rule40 and #WeDemandChange emerged on Twitter, with athletes like Lolo Jones, Dawn Harper, and Doc Patton voicing objections to Rule 40. I heard one writer refer to the use of these hashtags as “drama,” but apparently Lolo Jones cannot live on hurdle jumping and a ripped lower body alone—she needs those sponsorships! #LoloDemandsChange #WhatLoloSaysGoes
Twitter Puts BBC in a Jam
Athletes aren’t the only ones sending out tweets. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Twitter users disrupted BBC coverage of Olympic cycling. The Guardian states that fans who were watching the cycling event and simultaneously sending updates to Twitter “jammed” transmissions of race information. Commentator Chris Boardman had to use his own watch to estimate cyclists’ timing.
After fans criticized BBC coverage of the event, IOC communications director Mark Adams told people to “take it easy” on the social media sharing, but when Twitter timelines are flooded with everything and anything Olympics-related (the Opening ceremony alone received 9.66 million mentions on Twitter), the chance of a social media cool-down seems extremely unlikely. Social media congestion is the new normal.
An NBC Parody Twitter Account
One topic that has generated significant Twitter buzz in addition to expelled athletes, Hope Solo, and BBC coverage is NBC’s decision to tape-delay certain Olympic events. Disappointment in NBC’s delayed footage prompted the creation of a parody Twitter account, @NBCDelayed, which expertly satirizes NBC’s belated, untimely coverage of not-so-breaking breaking news. Some choice tweets include:
NBC’s delayed coverage has incurred the anger of many: #NBCFail even became a trending topic on Twitter. One person who vocalized his frustration via (where else?) Twitter is Guy Adams, a correspondent for the London paper The Independent. Adams tweeted about his disappointment in NBC’s Olympic coverage: the six-hour delay for everyone watching in the U.S., the less-than-intelligent remarks by some NBC commentators, and the distracting amount of advertising. Adams sent out a tweet that read:
“The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think! Email: Gary.email@example.com”
Olympic coverage began only a few days ago, but in that short time, NBC has faced a solid amount of backlash, which only becomes louder and more difficult to ignore during the first social games, in which everyone and Hope Solo takes to Twitter to air their grievances.
The Newest Trend
Twitter is founded on fast-paced, spontaneous updates, which is great for cultivating lively, Olympic-centric chatter. It’s not so great for athletes prone to impulsive outbursts or a network trying to keep a lid on criticism.
Apparently Twitter is also detrimental for people trying to avoid spoilers of yet-to-be-broadcasted events. This quote from The Wall Street Journal reveals the lengths one man goes to in an effort to avoid spoilers:
Social media isn’t the only culprit. Wayne Kauchak, a 38-year-old stay-at-home dad who lives outside of Minneapolis, opened his Web browser Sunday and his home page gave away the news that Jordyn Wieber had failed to qualify for the women’s all-round finals. Now, he has taken to closing his eyes when he launches a page and navigating away from that as quickly as possible.
Blind web browsing?! Forget social media. I’m sensing the rumblings of a new trend here. Closing your eyes when a page launches and trying to navigate away while keeping your eyes shut? Who knows what you might click and land on. A Gotye-inspired Queen Elizabeth meme, perhaps?
Image Courtesy of George Takei
NBC’s coverage thus far may be a #fail, but the fact that this shot of Queen Elizabeth at the opening ceremony donning a feathered headpiece and a stern face made it on to national television is definitely a #win.