You may have heard that the 2012 London Games are the first “Social Olympics,” as if adding the word “social” to anything makes it different (I think adding “in between the sheets” at the end of a fortune pulled from a Chinese cookie is far more insightful).
So how exactly is Twitter changing the Olympics? I can see at least 7 ways it’s ruining the Games:
- Now we know that athletes are as cynically commercial as the IOC. American runner Sanya Richards-Ross led a campaign on Twitter to challenge a ban on individual athletes promoting their sponsor brands on Twitter. Turns out our they’re not really ours but belong to Nike, Adidas, or some other corporate name. Amateurs my butt.
- They’re also stupid. Greek jumper Voula Papachristo never made it to the games because she Tweeted stupid comments about African immigrants, then Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella was kicked out after his team lost to South Korea and he tweeted that his opponents were a “bunch of mongoloids” (he subsequently offered the standard I’m sorry people got mad at me apologies). We don’t need to know the stupid things they think.
- Fans are stupid, too. A British teenager was so incensed that UK/company-to-be-named-later-sponsored diver Tom Daley didn’t win a medal that he tweeted insults about Daley’s recently deceased father. Fans tweeted insults back and then the police arrested the kid for “suspicion of malicious communications.” Twitter elevates what used to be yelling at the TV without adding constructive benefits commensurate with the increased volume level.
- Actually, journalists and Twitter itself are stupid. Guy Adams works for the Independent, a British newspaper, and made a name for himself early on in the games by tweeting his displeasure with tape delays (all of the day’s events have been decided before American viewers get to watch them in primetime). So Twitter suspended his account. Twitter cut a deal with NBC, which bought the rights to televise the games, in order to promote social conversation. That sounds about as organic and authentic as, well, Nike paying an athlete to mention its shoes in an interview.
- It blows up experience of the competition. Yeah, that time zone thing. It’s big when you have a global event. Not only do reports on races and events get shared instantaneously but NBC has had trouble keeping its timelines straight even with old media: its NBC Nightly News led an evening’s newscast with Michael Phelps’ loss in a race before the race had been aired.
- The institution of the Games should be questioned. Social media tend to replace the authority of all institutions with crowdsourced opinion, but it was a bit surprising when US women’s soccer goalie took to Twitter to criticize on-air commentary by TV analyst (and former player) Brandi Chastain. When challenged, she didn’t back down. Tweets contesting judges calls fill the ether, adding viewer consensus to the factors of weather and politics that can affect how we remember outcomes.
- It denigrates the Games, too, and thus lessens the value of the brand. Tweets on which athletes are “hottest” vie for trending with the dumb things athletes tweet (Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice will be remembered for her selfie in a skimpy bathing suit) or “found” video like runner Michelle Jenneke’s pre-race booty shake. NBC can edit together all of its footage and lay down the most soaringly heraldic soundtracks, but the lasting images of this first social Olympics will be sexy, angry, or just plain stupid.
Social media are here to stay, of course. But it’s interesting that so few people have taken even a nanosecond to consider what it’s doing to us. It’s no more an inherent or absolute good than any other technology or social convention.
If anything, the difference with other influences is that we seem to think it’s the news, not the experiences or outcomes it enables. Twitter is like those endings of funny movies that have the lead characters inserted into famous pictures or magazine covers during the credits, like they were really there. Political unrest in Iran? Twitter is the story. A weather front approaching? Twitter is the real news. Olympics competition? Twitter is there.
The ultimate news about Twitter at the Olympics is that Twitter is at the Olympics. There’s no news about social media. Social media are the story.
I wish somebody could explain to me how it has improved its quality, experience, or long-view value of the Games.