The British media recently dubbed the upcoming 2012 London Olympic Games the “first social media Games.”
I’m not sure they checked in with the organizers of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics because they too claim the title. The Vancouver officials went one step further saying that the Vancouver Games were the first to provide a real, less-commercialized social connection between athletes and fans. Despite the debate, there is no argument that the use of social media during these Games will add a whole new dimension to the way the public views and talks about sports for the next two weeks.
As the opening ceremonies begin tomorrow, so too will the idea that athletes are no longer just idolized sports stars, they are creating content that is being shared around the world. Some 10,000 competing athletes from 200 countries will be using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, among other social media to share information, photos, and commentary about events as they happen.
To give you an idea of how quickly social media in sports is growing, look at two recent worldwide sporting events as examples. Twitter registered more than 12,200 tweets per second during the final three minutes of Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012. Earlier this month, according to an Associated Press article, Twitter users set a record 15,000 tweets per second after Spain’s fourth goal in the final European Championship match.
The London Olympic organizers are hoping these Games will produce more record-setting statistics, despite the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) recently released guidelines for participants’ use of social media.
According to official IOC-sanctioned guidelines, participants can only tweet, blog, and post to social sites in “a first-person, diary-type format.” These new rules are put in place to discourage athletes from providing information that could be reported by the media or the official broadcast partners. Further, if an athlete wants to snap a photo of a fellow teammate—no can do. Athletes are required to obtain permission from their peers before posting any photos. And if they thought they could upload a video of their time in the Olympic Village, they should think again. Video footage from the Olympic Village is also prohibited. Athletes will have to judge if congratulating a teammate after a competition or commenting on a big upset would be considered a first-person post or cross the line into reporting the results.
The strict rules are being questioned by athletes for being stifling. If everyone from LeBron James to sprinter Usain Bolt to 17-year old swimmer Missy Franklin are tweeting about their Olympic experiences, how will the IOC be able to govern them all?
To answer that question, the director of social media at the IOC, Alex Huot, told Mashable in a recent email that a breach of the guidelines “would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and would be up to the relevant National Olympic Committee to contact the athlete, have the post/tweet/blog in question removed or altered, and then to determine whether or not any further action is necessary.”
So, maybe Vancouver’s claims are right. Perhaps they were the first Games to show how powerful the use of social media can be. Maybe the IOC is being too controlling of the athletes when it comes to what they can share on social media. Either way, there is no question that more London Olympic athletes and fans will be reading, following, and posting on social media platforms during the Games. Will the IOC succeed at censoring the athletes’ use of social media? We’ll know more after the Olympics kick off tomorrow. In the meantime, go Team USA!