News Column

What Are the Social Media Olympics?

July 26, 2012

Sean Shapiro

Whether you use Twitter and Facebook or not, you've probably heard that the 2012 Summer Olympics in London have been dubbed the, Social Media Olympics.

And whether you actively partake in the tweeting, commenting or liking once the opening ceremonies begin, the Olympic landscape and sports in general have hit overdrive when it comes to fans accessibility to the games.

Consider this, in three or four clicks you can have an inside look at Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt's Gatorade-stocked fridge or learn how American swimmer Michael Phelps spent his training session -- insight that would have come from a newspaper or a website report in the past.

It's an elimination of the middleman in the growing information-obsessed society, and the impacts -- like most new phenomenas --have their positives and negatives.

Fans can now feel more connected than ever to an athlete or team, possibly even personally interacting with them through mentions or comments.

And for the most part, this a positive.

Sports in general are a distraction, a (hopefully) positive sidebar from the real world that have no bearing on one's personal life, job or education. And in this distraction we want to feel even more connected. We want to know the athlete's personal story, the trials they overcame and feel like a so-called expert.

It's a level of fandom that was never possible eight, four, or even two years ago. With each medal or failure an athlete endures, fans wishing congratulations or condolences can do so in 140 characters in a matter of seconds.

In many scenarios it's well-run system, in fact the International Olympic Committee encourages it and constructed an official, "IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for participants and other accredited persons at the London 2012 Olympic Games."

Unfortunately, this get-it-now mentality leads to an unfiltered outlet that anyone can use to spout the first thing that comes to mind.

For athletes, whom many are considered role models, we can harshly and quickly be reminded of how truly human they are.

Voula Papachristou is the first Olympic athlete to brought down by social media. A 23-year-old Greek triple jumper, Papachristou's first taste of the Olympics ended before it started because of 'racist tweets' mocking African immigrants. It's a harsh lesson and a harsh punishment, ending what could be an athletes only trip to the Olympics because of something outside the field of play, but one that hopefully sends a message more powerful than Papachristou's ill-tasted tweet.

Unlike past Olympics, when athletes first interaction with fans was through a moderated media contingency, athletes are forced to be responsible for themselves off the field. It's the same reason many college football and basketball teams limit their athletes from social media sites --some athletes can't be trusted to speak for themselves without painting a negative image or offending somebody.

Of course, one idiotic tweet or post doesn't mean the whole system is broken. Individuals who have never met face-to-face (athletes or fans) can come together and celebrate the Olympics games or their home country, and information can be relayed in real-time, even if it's not on live television.

The key is thinking, and in some cases double checking, before you tweet, comment or post. And it's a lesson that the "Social Media Olympics," will prove and potentially expose those who don't.

Source: (c)2012 the Kerrville Daily Times (Kerrville, Texas). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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