Emily Evans | July 4th 2012 | @Technology
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants us to call London 2012 the “social media Olympics”. They think there will be more photos, videos, tweets and facebook posts shared about this summer’s Games than about any other sporting event in history. The Founder of the Modern Olympics movement wanted the Games to help people “understand each other despite any differences”, and London 2012 should facilitate that better than ever by allowing more people to share their experiences and opinions. This year’s Games should be an example of how technology can help people see a variety of perspectives and engage with all of them.
It all sounds marvellous, but while technology is making it easier for the Olympics to live up to these liberal values, the laws the Government has put in place in advance of London 2012 are making it harder. The laws are to protect sponsors from anything that threatens their brand or broadcasting rights, and they fly in the face of what the Games are supposed to stand for. It’s necessary to protect sponsors in order to bring them on board, and without sponsors the Games couldn’t take place. I accept that, but the upshot is the awkward problem that the commercial model for the Games enables them to exist at the same time as undermining their reasons for existing in the first place.
Given these are supposed to be the “social media Olympics” it’s mind-boggling to look at the restrictions to what people can actually share online. This is from the terms and conditions of ticket purchase:
“Images, video and sound recordings of the Games taken by a Ticket Holder cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes and a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the internet more generally, and may not exploit images, video and/or sound recordings for commercial purposes under any circumstances, whether on the internet or otherwise, or make them available to third parties for commercial purposes.”
Ester Adley in the Guardian writes that pubs can be forced to take down signs saying: “watch the London Games on our big screen”. She writes about the possibility of LOCOG-approved “branding police” taping over the logos on the soap dispensers and toilets at Olympic sites. The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act (passed in 2006) allows police to enter homes to take down posters that conflict with sponsors’ rights. These aren’t just civil laws, they’re criminal ones, so people who break them could be imprisoned.
On the one hand the London Games are supposed to be conversational and respectful of many points of view. On the other hand in practice they look illiberal and authoritarian. The organisers will try to control what is shared on social media, and what is seen on broadcasts of the Games, incredibly tightly. On goes the tension between technology which liberates communication and the attempt of authorities to control it. It will be interesting to watch how effectively LOCOG actually manages to manipulate what happens on social media though, as the latter have a habit of out-manoeuvring anyone that wants to police their content. The last word goes to the “official Olympic protesters”:
“Twitter. That harbour of free speech, undaunted by various Arab dictators. However, it seems that a quick word from LOCOG, the unelected body in charge of the 2012 Olympic Games, is enough to encourage Twitter to suspend our account. Apparently there's a danger people might think we're part of the Olympic delivery team.”