For years I’ve been watching the Olympic games. Winter, summer, skating, swimming… Something about being able to turn on the TV and watch humans push their bodies to miraculous limits is deeply compelling every four years. And the Games seem to be the only tradition our planet's inhabitants partake in together, century after century.
And yet, this year is different from any year before it. Now, thanks to social media, for the first time the athletes have a voice. And we have a voice, too.
Last Friday the Twitter blog reported
that there were “more tweets in a single day [in London] than in the entire Beijing Olympics.” Hungry for Twitpics and up-to-the-minute news, I immediately followed @LoloJones and @NBCOlympics and sent out a tweet of my own, because that’s what you do when you’re excited these days.
I thought: With so much going on at once (in a different time zone), the Olympics have the ability to give viewers some FOMO (fear of missing out), but Twitter will bring everyone together in one beautiful international conversation.
How could I have been so deluded? The one beautiful international conversation quickly became what all conversations on the Internet become: taken over by silly posters and, worse, trolls.
It started with Mr. Bean being the topic most tweeted during the Olympic Ceremonies. (What happened to excitement for a country’s flag?) Then, instead of tweeting pictures from around the Olympic Village, Athletes tweeted what looked like the same picture, over and over, of themselves posing with a gorilla statue
in the courtyard of their living quarters.
Negative postings also escalated, with cruel comments
from athletes and snipes by observers. One Olympic spectator was arrested in his home
for threatening diver Tom Daley via Twitter. And perhaps the famous PR teams for athletes have not integrated social media into their practicum, because athletes such as soccer player Hope Solo have been angrily tweeting about NBC commentators not knowing how the “game is played.”
Brian Messop from Wired criticized the Olympic Committee for not recognizing that such misuse of social networks could happen.
We were also recently reminded that social media don't exactly conform to the rules of free speech, when journalist Guy Adams had his Twitter account suspended for criticizing NBC.
But could the IOC have predicted the Twitter-circus resulting from NBC’s partnership with Twitter?
Twitter has revealed that there’s a point when drama is unearthed and we are shown that our beloved athletes, journalists, and television networks are made up of humans who have clawed their way to the top. Perserverence, shmerseverence -- some people must be stepped on to get that gold.
Maybe also, everyone is just so sick of participating in a huge event each day they are getting a little cranky. And where is the best place to be cranky? Twitter.
Still, I like seeing Lolo Jones
milking her time in the spotlight to gain a following that will get her jobs and keep her relevant long after the games are over. I like that Jordyn Wieber received an outpouring of support from Twitter after her devastating loss on Sunday. Even Justin Bieber tweeted at her!
I have no idea what the Olympics were like before television, but I do remember what they were like before social media, and I must say they are just as magical and exciting as they ever were. Twitter is just another event to watch.
— Sarah Shanfield is a writer, marketer, and social media specialist living in New York City. You can find her on Twitter at @shansar.