The First Truly Social Olympics: Tell Me How You Really Feel

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It’s a brave new world my friends.

There were more tweets sent in a single day during the Olympics last week than there were during the entire 17-day competition in Beijing in 2008. In 2010, during the Vancouver Winter Olympics, there were around 307,000 mentions of the term Olympics during the opening weekend of the event, as opposed to 3.5 million this time around. And we may not even be prepared for just how social the 2012 games have been — spectators during a cycling event were asked to halt all tweets unless they were “urgent” as the data hungry onlookers were interfering with GPS equipment.

It’s a truly social Olympics, the first of its kind, so where else would we turn but to the same the real-time social network that toppled a dictatorship, powered a massive American protest, and brought down the likes of Anthony Weiner. It’s Twitter’s time to shine. The communication floodgates are open, and when the entire world congregates around one city, one competition, and (in the U.S.) one broadcast network, there is to be an expected amount of sewage pouring through our social channels.

It’s the first time we can peer directly into the internal world of the Olympics, the world’s most celebrated pop-culture event, and it would seem that it’s not too pretty. Let’s just take a look at what the combination of Twitter and the Olympic Games has yielded:

The Athletes

To be fair, most of our tweeting athletes are only thanking followers and friends for being supportive, or tweeting other mundane, Olympics-giddy type things. But as it’s the first opportunity these champions have had to publicly broadcast their opinion on the Games to the entire world (whenever they want, based on whatever emotions they’re feeling at the time — which are only expected to be particularly intense), we’ve also seen quite a bit of negativity.

Racists

There are, of course, the two Olympic champions who were banned from the games for being racist jerks, the first a Greek triple-jump champion and the second a Swiss footballer.

Even if we put the racism aside, these incredibly hateful “jokes” are very upsetting to the ordinary Olympics fan, and hugely disappointing to these athlete’s respective nations. I remember watching the past few Olympics and being so inspired, so hopeful about the fact that so many countries could come together (despite wars, natural disasters, etc.) and enjoy each other through the art of sports. That optimism is easily broken by talk like this. Sure, shit-talking (laced with racist hate) likely occurred in earlier Olympics, but viewers weren’t subjected to it. Good times.

A Big Brat

Possibly more pathetic, some of our champions are complaining about the quality of sports analysis on their games. Specifically, Hope Solo (the U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper) went on a rant via Twitter, blasting former player (and hero — remember that shoot out in the 1999 World Cup) and commentator Brandi Chastain.

Why stoop so low, Hope Solo? Granted, Twitter is built to broadcast your opinions. Everyone should be able to say what they feel — it’s a free country. But this isn’t necessarily a morale-builder for the team or their following. I played team sports for 15 years, competitively from the age of 10, and one of the first things you’re taught is that the team comes first. This rant, even from one player, becomes a representation of the entire team. By complaining like a brat on Twitter, in the middle of the tournament no less, it becomes that much harder to be a supportive fan.

It makes me wonder, why is Hope Solo even listening to Chastain’s commentary? She should be watching the game tape and getting feedback from coaches and teammates. The fact that she’s Tivo-ing (or whatever) the NBC broadcasts to hear what commentators are saying about her is unattractive at best and downright egotistical at worst.

Brandi Chastain, classy as ever, did not rip off her shirt and beat her chest. She simply responded with the following:

My only comment is I am in London to cover women’s soccer for NBC in an honest and objective fashion, and that is what I have done, and will continue to do for the rest of the tournament.

At least we can be proud of our announcers.

Protests

Still disenchanting, but not at all unwarranted, athletes are also enjoying a bit of a protest on Twitter. The Olympics bans athletes from talking about their sponsors via social media until three days after the Games, unless of course they’re sponsored by one of the official partners.

Plenty of athletes, especially track and field stars, are using Twitter to vent their frustration with Rule 40.

Dozens of other athletes tweeted the same exact message during the course of these games. Dawn Harper took it a step further:

Both sides have a point. As much as we’d all like this to be a Kumbaya, World Peace, love-fest, the fact the of the matter is that the Olympic Games are a cash cow for a lot of advertisers. When you pay a great deal of money for exclusive advertising rights, as Adidas, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa, and Ralph Lauren have done, it would seem unfair if other brands were promoted directly by the athletes for free.

At the same time, these athletes are not only fed and housed by their sponsors, they actually believe that their brand helps them perform at their best. As role models to many aspiring athletes, they want to share their wisdom and expertise when it comes to gear. And on their personal Twitter, it makes sense that they should be able to.

In either case, it’s not exactly magical to watch the business of this play out during the Games, as much as I believe that this is an issue that needs to be hammered out.

The Viewers

The Games have also drastically changed for many viewers. Yes, the key demographic of soccer moms is unaffected by Twitter (aside from the Twitter fails that were publicly televised and reported). But this is only the beginning of a massive shift. Look how many moms are on Facebook; as time goes on the younger generations carry this technology further and further into the future.

Guy Adams

Let’s start with Mr. Adams. You likely all know the story by now, so I won’t get too in-depth. But a journalist, Guy Adams, had his Twitter account suspended after joining multitudes of other Spectweeters in criticizing NBC for saving popular events for prime time hours. Drama commenced as Twitter first disclosed that NBC had sent in a complaint about Adams “publicizing” an exec’s email address, and then NBC mentioned that Twitter actually notified NBC of the “offense” before any complaint was filed.

Of course, the inevitable backlash ensued: Free speech! Twitter sucks! You get the gist. (No worries, by the way, Guy Adams is alive and well on Twitter once again.)

There are two sides of the argument, both understanding what Twitter did and abhorring it, but there’s no reason to delve into that. The point is that, no matter how delightfully dramatic, it was equally disheartening (if not moreso).

#NBCFail

The Olympics are about moments. Incredible moments: Michael Phelps winning by 1/100th of a second in 2008, or him becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time, or Jordyn Weiber nailing her floor routine in the women’s all-around, securing a gold for the U.S. We join Visa’s “global cheer” in these moments, and live in them together.

But for the first time, we’re aware of the fact that these magic moments aren’t live. We aren’t in the moment, just watching them. NBC tweets out the results of events before airing them, or we hear about it from other tweeters. And sometimes, NBC blatantly tells you who won the event just before airing it, on the TV, as if this won’t ruin it for us. The network has done this since forever, but only now, with real-time social networking, do we hate it so much.

Combine that with the inability to share anything via social networks, flawlessly streamed ads via the app with mediocre streaming of events, and generally non-existent coverage of some of this Olympics’ biggest moments, and you get one of the most popular hashtags of the whole event, #NBCFail:

Threats

Tom Daley is a British diver who got fourth in men’s synchronized diving. His father passed away last year, and he has said publicly that he’s competing for himself, his dad, and his country. @Rileyy_69 is some punk teenager in the UK who sent him this tweet after the loss:

But then it got worse:

Shortly thereafter, this Riley kid turned on the news, and realized everyone in the world hated him, so he started apologizing.

And then, the kid lost it:

While basking in the glow of his 15 minutes of fame:

Then he got arrested:

I’m all for Twitter and social networks and the general progression of humankind into the digital era. As I mentioned before, Twitter is far more of an asset to us than a problem. But during the Olympics, a time when we can forget what a pile of rubbish this world is and enjoy an international showcase of the world’s greatest athletic talent, 140 characters can really put a damper on things.