As the most coveted sporting event in the world, the Olympics have been the source of global competition and unification for over 100 years. The 2012 Olympics, however, mark the introduction of the first ever social Olympics. With the help of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the Olympics have moved online with fans and athletes sharing thoughts and updates about the event. The exponential increase in tweets was evident from Day 1 when Olympic mentions reached 9.66 million during the opening ceremonies – more tweets than the entire 2008 Beijing Olympics. During the February 2010 Vancouver Games, 50 million tweets were being sent daily whereas the 2012 Olympics are experiencing over 400 million tweets per day. The BBC estimates that Twitter is experiencing 1 terabit per second of traffic during the games.
Unique to this Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also created Twitter handles for each Olympic sport. This allows fans to follow real-time updates about their favourite sports while the @London2012 handle covers general updates about all events and athletes.
However, there’s been a lot of negative criticism about the social connectedness of these Olympics as two athletes were banned from the games for racist tweets, one fan arrested for sending threatening tweets to an athlete, and a swimmer blamed social media for losing the gold medal. And that doesn’t account for the mounting frustration about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, including the deliberate tape delays between events so that the games are aired during prime time television. Viewers’ frustrations about NBC’s coverage was so paramount that #nbcfail became a trending topic on Twitter.
Despite all this turbulence, social media has allowed the world to experience a new dimension of the Olympics – one that brings us closer to the action, thoughts, and emotions of fans and athletes all around the world. Follow Twitter during any Olympic event and you’ll witness real-time updates from fans and athletes who are conveying a multitude of emotions, exchanging pictures, and sharing a stream of thoughts that truly show the connectedness and unification of all these individuals, all across the world.
There will be anger, happiness, frustration, contempt, excitement…but these are the exact emotions that define our humanity. People may be cheering for different countries or hoping for contending outcomes, but rarely does the world unite and communicate about an event as collectively as we’ve seen during these Olympics. Of course, civility and respect should be at the forefront of any interaction, but these social Olympics have captured something unique and powerful – real human emotion that isn’t tampered or distorted by traditional media. The world will continue to become even more social, the IOC will improve upon social media expectations for the next Olympics, and NBC will eventually get it right…but for the first social Olympics that the world has ever seen, let’s embrace the conversation.