They’re being touted as “the first social media Olympics” and London 2012’s organisers are embracing the opportunities social networks provide for sharing the event with fans around the globe.
The London games committee has launched a website, London2012.com, which will host events schedules, athlete biographies and invites users to register for activity updates. Speaking at a conference in April Alex Balfour, Head of New Media for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, revealed that two apps would also be launched: Join In tracking the course of the Olympic torch, and a Results app that will report on results as they happen.
Social media platforms have exploded since the previous games in China, with Twitter users increasing from 6 million to around 150 million between 2008 and 2012 and Facebook’s members rising from 100 million to 900 million. It is a spectacular growth that will allow these Olympic games to connect more spectators to their favourite sports and athletes than ever before. The International Olympic Committee has created “The Athlete’s Hub”, an online portal where competing athletes’ Twitter feeds and Facebook pages will be brought together for fans to view. So far so sociable
Yet despite this seemingly positive acceptance of all-things social media, the IOC has come under criticism for its attempts to control the flow of news and information from the Olympic Village to the outside world. The BBC reported as far back as January that volunteers at this year’s Olympics, known as “Games Makers”, are subject to strict social media rules. Those helping backstage at the event are forbidden from tweeting or posting photos or footage featuring VIPS or areas that are not open to the general public. Volunteers have also been discouraged from posting too many details about their location or role on social media platforms, and are told not to “get involved in detailed discussion about the Games online”. Games Makers are however allowed to retweet official London2012 postings. Spectators attending the games will also find that they too are subject to certain terms and conditions. Any photos and videos taken may be published on personal Twitter, Facebook or Youtube accounts online, as long as they are not uploaded to public sites for commercial ends. What is more, social media posts must be written about in “first-person, diary-type format.”
The IOC no doubt considers these restrictions as a vital way of protecting the exclusivity of the broadcasters who have paid huge sums to secure rights to the games. However, even competitors at the games will have their freedom to engage with their supporters impinged upon by the social media regulations. Avid sports fans are used to being able to track the progress of their favourite sports stars through Twitter, meaning that many may be shocked by the relative silence of athletes during the competition. Tweeting will be forbidden, and any sports star wanting to upload photos from the Olympic Village must first ask the permission of everyone featuring in it.
Though it is understandable that organisers of the Olympics wish to protect the interests of their sponsors, such stringent restrictions on spectators and participants searching to make the games a more open, interactive and engaging event risk damaging the sociable atmosphere Alex Balfour and his team have tried so hard to cultivate. Olympics organisers have already been criticised for their mismanagement of press access to the games, having initially expected regional titles to take their coverage from the Press Association. The ways in which people receive their news is changing, and it is perhaps naïve of Olympic organisers to think that they will be able to exert such influence over reporting of an event the whole world is watching.