Missing the Medal Podium - Social Media and the Olympics

If there was even the smallest bit of doubt remaining about social media’s ability to touch even our most hallowed institutions, the 2012 Summer Olympics has certainly dispelled it.


As one of the world’s largest stages, the Olympics shines as a symbol of everything that we hope for our future.  Amidst international disputes, long held grudges, and deep divisions, we come together to celebrate the power of both mind and body.  Knowing the magnitude of the event and the potential for chaos, Olympic organizers have carefully attempted to plan for every possible outcome.  From security to dress code, from sponsorships to medal ceremonies, everything that can be planned has been planned.

Going into this Olympics, it seemed as if there was a plan for social media.  It was being embraced.  Athletes were encouraged to "post, blog and tweet their experiences.”  It was even celebrated in the Opening Ceremonies.  However, as many have learned (sometimes at a high cost), social media cannot be controlled.  Everyone has a voice and social media allows those voices to be heard…sometimes a billion times over.

Thus far two athletes have been given the boot for the content of their tweets.

Athletes have launched a twitter campaign against Olympic Sponsorship Rules.

A 17 year old boy was arrested for making threatening tweets against a British diver.

A US soccer player tweeted criticisms of an NBC contributor’s event commentary.

The Olympic Committee certainly is not the only large entity struggling to maintain control in the social media maelstrom.  NBC is having its fair share of difficulty as well.  Gone are the days when events that happened hours previously could be retaped and aired in primetime to a surprised audience.  The cat is out of the bag and NBC has come under fire for not streaming certain events that it would prefer to air in primetime.  Guy Adams, the Los Angeles Bureau Chief of The Independent, tweeted:

"I have 1000 channels on my TV. Not one will be showing the Olympics opening ceremony live. Because NBC are utter, utter bastards."


"The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven't started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think! Email: Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com."

In response, NBC complained to twitter and had Guy’s twitter account suspended.  As we have seen time and time again, nothing upsets the internet community quite like censorship, and NBC stepped right in it with this one.  Unfortunately for the broadcasting company, suspending Guy Adams only fueled more criticism from others.  Search #NBCFAIL and find tweets explaining how Americans can stream BBC coverage, why NBC’s coverage has been sexist, outrage over commentator jingoism, etc.  Among my favorites have been:


Andy Borowitz ‏@BorowitzReport

I think the reason NBC keeps spoiling the events is they're not used to broadcasting things that people actually want to see.

Jeff Weiner ‏@JeffWeinerOS

Dear @NBC, despite what you think, people will tune in in droves to watch live sports on a Sunday afternoon -- Sincerely, the NFL. #NBCFail

Heidi N. Moore ‏@moorehn

"No spoilers," Costas says. except that the results are on EVERY news site and TV newscast already. For hours. #nbcfail

So, what can be learned from all this mess?  Well, it’s a lesson we learn over and over again in social media, and yet it is all too tempting to ignore…In the world of social media, censorship kills.  When you put content out there, it may get mocked.  We all make mistakes.  We all slip up.  Sometimes content falls short.  When this happens, the absolute worst thing you can do is attempt to silence your critics.  You may successfully suspend one Twitter account, but thousands more will take its place and their voices will only be amplified and impassioned by your attempts to stifle them. 


-Nicole P