‘Social media Olympics’ backfire on athletes and audiences alike

Olympic Games chiefs insisted that they had no regrets over dubbing London 2012 the “social media Olympics”, despite two athletes being expelled over remarks made on Twitter, a British teenager being arrested for abusing an athlete, and winning athletes warning that using social media would have disrupted their preparations.

Some 15 million social media fans are following the Olympics and their involvement is encouraged, the International Olympic Committee has said.

On Sunday, Switzerland footballer Michel Morganella became the second athlete to be expelled from the Games for directing an allegedly racist insult at South Koreans on Twitter.

Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was not even allowed to travel to the Olympics after posting a message mocking African immigrants.

Mark Adams, the IOC’s communications director, denied he regretted dubbing London 2012 the “social media Olympics”.

He said: “The IOC, the Olympics, we have about 15 million social media fans; we are encouraging people to take part in social media.”

He added that the IOC would not seek to control Twitter, saying: “I don’t think we have any major concerns.”

A 17-year-old was arrested yesterday and issued with a harassment warning after malicious tweets were sent to Olympic diver Tom Daley.

Dorset Police said the teenager was held at a guesthouse in Weymouth hours after Daley received the messages on Twitter.

Daley and his Team GB diving partner Pete Waterfield missed out on a medal on Monday when they finished fourth in the men’s synchronised 10m platform diving event at the Olympics.

Shortly afterwards, Daley retweeted a message from user Rileyy69 which said: “You let your dad down i hope you know that.”

Daley responded: “After giving it my all... you get idiots sending me this...”

Daley’s father died last year after losing his fight against brain cancer.

Robert Sharp, from English PEN, a writers’ association campaigning for free expression in print and online, supported Daley in retweeting the messages he had received, and said that was the best way of dealing with it.

“Twitter is so easy and immediate that it feels more like speech than publishing,” he said.

“This is why so many people — be they politicians or schoolboys — find themselves in hot water on Twitter.

“These debates show society is coming to terms with a new technology.

“Tom Daley showed a lot of class in responding to the trolls.

“He re-tweeted the offensive comments and the Twitter troll received a social humiliation at the hands of Tom’s many fans.

“This kind of punishment is usually better than involving the law.”

Meanwhile, British gymnast Louis Smith has recommended that ignoring Twitter is probably the best policy when you are trying to win an Olympic medal.

Tweeting can thwart your chances of competing well by being an unwanted distraction, said Smith, who is the proud owner of a London 2012 bronze medal for Britain in the men’s team competition.

Smith, who stopped tweeting before his hard-fought qualification competition, said: “There are just tweets that you do not want to see.

“It is just that one message. You can get 100 nice ones but there is that one message that you do not want to see — so that is why I took the decision to stop tweeting.”

However, weightlifter Zoe Smith, who broke the British clean and jerk record in the women’s 58kg event in finishing 11th, said she had not been afraid to hit back with a “verbal arse-kicking” to put abusive tweeters in their place.

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