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Thursday, August 2, 2012
Twitter's impact on the Olympics

By Sarah Spain

Remember in the late '80s when you could relax and watch the last few episodes of "Moonlighting" on your VCR, still clueless about Maddie and David's kiss because you'd steered clear of water-cooler talk for a few weeks?

Or in the '90s, when you could head out to Sunday brunch, comfortable knowing you could watch your favorite NFL team play an hour or so later on tape, spoiler free?

And it was just a few years ago, when you could settle in and watch the Beijing Olympics -- in prime time or on your DVR -- still on the edge of your seat as the action played out before you (that is, provided you had stayed off of during the day). It wasn't live, but it didn't matter -- it was as good as 'live' to you.

Well, today, the Internet -- specifically Twitter -- has changed all that.

Twitter, the microblogging site that just four years ago still seemed a little confusing (@ what?! #huh?!) has revolutionized the way we all watch television.

Kevin Love
Kevin Love has tweeted pictures of his USA Basketball teammates catching some Zs.

Four million people worldwide used Twitter during the Beijing Olympics; there are more than 500 million users now. The first day of this year's Olympics generated more tweets than the entire span of the Games in Beijing. And those millions are tweeting about the Games as they happen, not as they're aired, turning the concept of a "spoiler alert" essentially moot.

Facebook is still the social media king, with nearly a billion users, but for many, a few visits a day to Facebook won't result in many -- or any -- Olympic spoilers. Posts range from a photo of a friend's 8-month-old "painting a masterpiece" to news about your aunt's kitchen remodel to your old, high school boyfriend bragging about a new tattoo (don't judge).

For many, the follow-don't-friend aspect of Twitter translates into a streamlined timeline of just what you're interested in. (For me that means no tattoos & and no babies.) My feed is almost entirely athletes and journalists, with a few actors, musicians and friends thrown into the mix. As such, at least one in every 10 tweets over the past week or so has been Olympics-related.

I could attempt a boycott, but a few Twitter-wide blackouts in recent weeks have proven to me the site is officially an addiction. I could try to avoid it for a day, or a week, but then what would I do with my eyes and hands and brain while I'm waiting for the subway, sitting in a meeting or in line at the grocery store?

Yep, we tweet-aholics have pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that we'll be getting our Olympic results online. Media and fans who use Twitter will just have to miss out on the thrill of the surprise.

Well ... most fans and media. For a few days at least one journalist wasn't getting any spoilers from the little blue bird.

Guy Adams, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for British newspaper The Independent, had his Twitter account suspended for several days after he was one of many who criticized NBC's handling of the games.

NBC complained to Twitter, (which, by the by, has partnered with NBCUniversal for the games), arguing that Adams broke a site-wide policy by tweeting the email address of Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics. Twitter does not allow users to post an individual's private information. Adams argues the email was not private, but rather an easy-to-find corporate address that matches the format used by thousands of other NBC employees.

After news of Adams' suspension had reached enough media outlets, NBC retracted its suspension request, saying in a statement, "Our interest was in protecting our executive, not suspending the user from Twitter. We didn't initially understand the repercussions of our complaint, but now that we do, we have rescinded it."

The good news is that, for a few blissful days, Adams might actually have gotten back that "edge-of-the-seat" Olympic feeling.

Think before you tweet

Fans and journalists aren't the only ones experiencing the games differently because of Twitter. Two athletes have already been sent home early because of inappropriate posts on the site.

Last week Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, still back at her training base in Athens, sent out a tweet that was offensive to African immigrants. Her comments were in line with the Golden Dawn, a far-right party in Greece, which believes the country is too soft on immigration. She never made the trip to London, as the Hellenic Olympic Committee dismissed her from the team.

A few days later another player saw his Olympic dreams destroyed after typing first and thinking later.

On Monday the Swiss Olympic Committee banned soccer player Michel Morganella from further competition for his offensive tweets following a loss to South Korea on Sunday.

Morganella has since apologized for the comments, which violated terms of the International Olympic Committee's code of conduct.

Athletes are media

Papachristou and Morganella are making the biggest headlines for their mishaps, but other Olympic athletes are in the news for their use of Twitter, as well.

American soccer player Hope Solo received no formal discipline for her tweets criticizing former teammate and current NBC soccer analyst Brandi Chastain, but she's certainly felt plenty of backlash.

Lolo Jones also drew public ire for this comment, which came just a few days after the shooting in Aurora, Colo.: "USA Men's Archery lost the gold medal to Italy but that's ok, we are Americans... When's da Gun shooting competition?"

After being accused of insensitivity she tweeted, "sorry u guys only think of violence but I think of all the hunting I do w southerners in da south. Its [sic] impressive."

Of course, it isn't all about controversy and conflict. President Obama used Twitter to congratulate Michael Phelps and the USA women's gymnastics team. And many of the athletes are using Twitter to share a genuine insider's view of the games -- with real-time updates on their preparation, their post-event reactions and details of their overall experiences abroad.

Kevin Love tweeted a picture of his teammates sleeping, mouths agape, drool threatening to escape. Misty May-Treanor recounted tales of Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook stopping by the warm-up court to deliver serves to her and teammate Kerri Walsh.

Swimmer Jessica Hardy tweeted about athletes in the village showing off their skills on musical instruments. Taekwondo competitor Diana Lopez posted a picture of a giant Jenga game. Deron Williams even captured Coach K perfecting his downward dog on the practice court.

Twitter allows for journalists, athletes and fans alike to provide up-to-the-minute opinions, updates and insight on the Olympics. It can be great (pictures of NBA players drooling) and it can be frustrating (I can't believe I made it 'til 6 p.m. before someone spoiled the swimming results!).

The key is to choose your tweet-mates wisely. It's like a big party; there are always people worth your time versus the ones who are just delaying your trip back to the punch bowl. (People still put out punch bowls, right? Ever since I got on Twitter, I don't get out much.)