The Olympics Social Media: When does a Tweet cross the line?

Like many, I watched the poorly formed abuse of Olympic diver Tom Daley last night, the subsequent backlash and inevitable trending. Like many, I wasn’t surprised when police arrested the individual responsible for the tirade this morning (albeit the reasoning of arrest seemingly for threats against others). A suitable response to self indulgent attention grabbing? The desired outcome and platform for ‘fame’ that the individual clearly craves? Simple over reaction?

Social conventions and social media

Social convention dictates that we shouldn’t say X, nor behave like Y, but these boundaries are blurred in an ever changing socially active era. Whilst many use social media as a platform to engage with friends, follow their idols and broadcast their thoughts and feelings, some seem determined to cross the line; being controversial for controversial’s sake.

Olympics Social Media

The Olympics have created a monumental amount of social media chatter, as one would expect, but it’s also pushing the boundaries on what’s acceptable in social media. Despite the International Olympic Committee declaring that it “actively encourages and supports athletes and other accredited persons at the Olympic Games to take part in social media”, their extremely restrictive social media policy would suggest otherwise. There seems to be trepidation over what’s acceptable and an obvious concern around the potential PR disasters from athletes, representing their countries, pushing the limits online as well as off.

It would seem justified, given recent events (Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was sent home early for a racist tweet) although surely it’s the responsibility of those that Tweet to regulate their own output, not the responsibility of the IOC to enforce moderation.

Twitter doesn’t seem averse to intervening either, having suspended the account of Guy Adams, the independent journalist who criticised NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. Whether Adams crossed the line by posting a NBC’s president of Olympics, Gary Zenkel‘s, email address is another subjective point, but Twitter reportedly assisting NBC in filing a complaint could arguably be an intervention too far.

The abuse of Daley showed both the positive and negative of social media. An open platform, it encourages freedom of speech, differing opinions and debate. However, a minority will always cross the lines, infuriate and abuse. Whether or not it’s acceptable shouldn’t be the question (it will always remain subjective) but if and how it should be punished? The collective backlash against the individual abusing Daley was interesting to watch, although mostly it descended into a torrent of personal abuse. If we lower ourselves to their level, do we lose the moral high ground? What constitutes a malicious communication?

And whilst not part of the Olympics, Twitter is again overshadowed by claims of racism in the now infamous ‘Choc ice gate’, with Rio Ferdinand facing punishment for acknowledging (and some may argue affirming) a racist Tweet from a follower. Not to mention the ‘Destroy America‘ saga and more recent Twitter joke trial of Paul Chambers, further examples of the lack of definition of social media boundaries.

Unwritten rules of social media

So what does the future of social media hold? Will freedom of speech be updated to include freedom to tweet?  Will we face criminal records if our Tweets cross the line? Will sports personalities (and celebrities) employ PR agencies (more than they do so already) to manage their Twitter/Facebook profiles? Will they have any choice on the matter?

Laws and boundaries are constantly being challenged, so how long before they’re updated to fully accommodate the digital age?




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