With the massively exponential rise of social media’s popularity, the International Olympic Committee has faced a new challenge in recent years. In attempts to control the type of social media content and output coming from Olympic athletes, new ordinaces have been put into place to ensure that the Olympic Games remain a fair platform, a level playing field full of good sportsmanship, a spotlight to be shared by all.
That hasn’t exactly gone over so well.
Because I didn’t have cable (or a TV for that matter) this summer, I was forced to constantly rely on the internet to “watch the games.” And in the wake of the gigantic NBC controversy, where the network chose to require a username and password for paying subscribers to access the games online, I was essentially forced out of viewing most competitions, and rely on social media instead. This is especially funny for me, because generally, I pay no attention to sports unless it’s bringing the entire world together. So to follow athletes on Twitter and read sports articles on Facebook, it was a truly new corner of the social media world for me to explore.
While following the Olympic athletes on Twitter, some competitors such as LoLo Jones exhibited a fantastic universal spirit of good sportsmanship, encouraging members in Team USA across different sports, as well as praising athletes from other countries. Some competitors, however, had a different approach. The attractive and talented but stupid dunce-of-all-dunces Ryan Lochte mainly tweeted (poorly-spelled) tweets about himself and his own games. “Lochte Nation” was how he addressed his fanbase. And boy, did he do it often.
Additionally some athletes not only failed to restrain themselves from blatant self-promotion, but they also went on to insult other athletes from past and current games, and even entire entire races and nationalities. One Greek athlete was actually barred from competing after tweeting one such offensive remark.
According to Brian Mossop’s article on WIRED’s Playbook, “The Olympics Just Doesn’t Get Social Media,” the IOC implemented “Rule 40” of the Olympic charter, attempting to regulate the way in which Olympians can represent themselves and the Games on their Twitters, Facebooks, and other social media platforms. Such rules include that tweets must be “first-person, diary-type format,” and cannot directly report on the outcome of the Games themselves. Mainly, as Mossop cites, this is the Olympic Committee’s attempt to save the traditional reporting for networks like NBC with exclusive and expensive broadcasting rights.
Firstly, just because they’re tweeting in a personal matter doesn’t mean they won’t tweet derogatory tweets. Secondly, from what I gleamed off of Twitter during the Games, some of the most positive and generally good-willed, life-affirming, championing-of-the-human-spirit tweets came from athletes that were reporting on the outcomes of various events, congratulating competitors in real time, from a vantage point that is most relatable.
Mossop is right. The IOC is holding a muddled view of the social media “phenomenon” (which can’t really be considered a phenomenon any longer when is it domesticated, or engrained in daily life for so many people), approaching it from both the technological determinist and the social constructionist discourses. There is clear evidence of what Nancy Baym calls “moral panic” within the IOC and their view on social media; they regulate to censor, because they don’t think Olympians will censor themselves otherwise. They regulate to maintain control in ratings; they don’t entrust reporting to the people who are, in many ways, most qualified.
The International Olympic Committee just doesn’t “get” social media.
In his article, Mossop smartly argues that the Olympic games, for almost all involved, will be the highlight of their entire lives. To restrict what they can and cannot document and share with their friends, their families, their fans, their followers during the two most important weeks of their career isn’t right. Mossop holds the most realistic social shaping discourse that Baym discusses in Personal Connections In The Digital Age; the uses of technology, namely social media, allows the Olympians to use the tech in the ways that they want to, taking advantage of its affordances. The availability of technology and its relatively newfound forms aren’t forcing them or causing them to say or do anything that they wouldn’t say or do otherwise. Rather, it’s heighening their platform, promoting the amazing spectacle of the Olympics and creating a greater scope of vision into the real experience. Going off of the positive messages from Michael Wesch’s idyllic view of the Youtube and the entire Internet in away, isn’t this the literal incarnation of Marshall McLuhan’s imagined Global Village? Excuse them, NBC and money-hungry advertisers, if the Olympians steal their spotlight back.
Of course, some of this moral panic is justified with instances of age-inappropriate or offensive material. But, in way, can’t this be a good thing? There certainly should be a moral code of conduct that all Olympians that follow. So when they don’t follow this code, in either person-to-person interaction or on their social media, they should be judged and dealt with fairly. The IOC fails to recognize an athlete’s social media presence as an extension of their own person, their self-expression, their self-documentation of some of the most important moments in their lives.
Now don’t get me started on NBC’s horrendous “coverage” of “the” social media surrounding the Games. Just don’t.