Restricting social at the Olympic Games – are the guidelines too strict or too lax?
Four years ago in Beijing, social media (although in its relative infancy) ran free with no restrictions. In Vancouver in 2010, social media use had evolved to necessitate some relatively simple “blogging guidelines” for athletes and other participants in the games.
Fast forward to this year, and such is the explosion in social media use that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has deemed it necessary to release in-depth social media, blogging and internet guidelines. These cover the use of photos, videos and audio, as well as URLs and domain names and more.
We are already seeing athletes incurring the wrath of their respective national teams’ heads. In the past week, we’ve seen Australian swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kendrick Monk sent home for posting a picture of them posing with shotguns, while on Wednesday, Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was evicted for a very ill-advised tweet, which was deemed to be racist.
So the question is, are the guidelines too strict? Or are they too lax?
One of the key considerations addressed by these guidelines is the difference between advertising, and sharing, especially in our socially-enabled world. To the committee, it can seem a very fine line. In a concerted effort to control every channel of advertising about the Olympics, the guidelines were likely initially born to make sure no inadvertent endorsement got out of the bag by athletes and participants posting to their blogs, tweeting, and sharing information during the games that could be construed as an ad, and a free one at that. Aside from this important separation, the guidelines also serve to establish rules for an event that is all about rules and regulations.
When you’re governing the world’s foremost sports competition, with over 200 competing nations, the rules have to be very clear. Just as the Olympics have to have guidelines around how to qualify for a team, how each game is judged, and even the particular cut and styling of athletes’ outfits, there is also a need for guidelines around sharing and publicising what happens while at the games.
The degree to which the guidelines go “too far” or “not enough” is difficult to determine. Mostly, the updated guidelines are written with a “better safe than sorry” perspective in mind, casting a wide net in outlining exactly what athletes and other participants can and can’t “tweet” about.
When you compare the social media guidelines for the Vancouver games with London’s updated guidelines, you can see how much times have changed between games— the Vancouver guidelines solely outlined rules around blogging – no mention of “social media”. Within the updated London guidelines, we see a lot of attention paid to social media, with “tweet” introduced as a proper verb.
Finally, these fairly strict guidelines were likely developed in reaction to prior events that demonstrated a need for change. This isn’t unusual. One example is the Olympic figure skating “Katarina Rule,” which says that skaters can’t show bare midriffs and that their hips and buttocks have to be completely covered.
The rule was written after skater Katarina Witt debuted a particularly risqué outfit at an Olympic event.
Similarly, it’s likely that the IOC observed the types and amount of information flowing through social media channels, and decided to impose regulations before the games, in order to prevent undesirable types of social publicity.
One thing is for sure, new world records are going to be set, in more ways than one. The Olympians will set handfuls of their own, but so will social networks. To date, the world record for the most tweets during a live event is held by Madonna, for her 2012 Super Bowl performance. Even with these guidelines in place, it’s very likely that this, and many other records will be set and broken during this global celebration. Roll on tonight’s opening ceremony.
Victoria Ransom is CEO at Wildfire.