Dubbed the "first social Olympics", this year's summer games in London has been widely touted by organizers as the first time social media tools will play an integral role in connecting all stakeholders. But it is also turning into one with some of the strictest rules for athletes, volunteers as well as fans.
Spectators at the Games will be barred from uploading videos and photos of the events on social networks such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. A team of "branding police" also will be checking Olympic venues and have the authority to remove or tape over logos on objects including wash basins and toilets.
The London 2012 Organising Committee (Locog) said the protections were necessary to secure contracts and sponsors for the Games. Twitter also agreed to bar non-sponsors from purchasing promoted ads with associated hashtags such as #London2012.
Rules are stricter for the team of 70,000 volunteers at the Games, who were told not to post updates and photos on social networks, or discuss details about their roles or the locations of athletes and VIPs at the events.
Athletes also will not be permitted to tweet photos of themselves alongside products and brands that aren't official sponsors for the Olympics. Locog released a set of blogging policies which include "advertising and sponsorship" guidelines that state their blogs "must not include any commercial reference in connection with any Olympic content" other than that of the Games' sponsors.
The long list of "don'ts" leaves me wondering the organizers even bothered to launch the Athletes' Hub, touted as a one-stop social-media portal to offer fans a way to connect with their favorite athletes and sports.
Alex Huot, head of social media in the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said: "We are at a dawn of a new age of sharing and connecting, and London 2012 will ignite the first conversational Olympic Games."
Noooo, really? Sharing and connecting, with all these rules and policies?
Elaborating on the guidelines, Huot told Mashable that social media changed the nature of marketing and sponsorship to a two-way conversation. "The basic guidelines for athletes come from the IOC, but we work together with all of our stakeholders," he said. "We encourage athletes to share their Games experience... Athletes are allowed to tweet what they eat--what is not allowed is any form of commercial promotion."
But, it begs the question of what IOC would do if the athletes liked a brand of cereal that's a rival to one of the Games' valued sponsors. And what if the cereal brand is that of a sponsor? Will it then be as a "commercial promotion" and be disallowed?
I'd also be keen to find out how Locog will be reinforcing its "no social posts" rule on spectators which are expected to average at 500,000 per day. That's like a government saying it wants to regulate the Internet.
I get that there are commercial interests to protect--afterall, someone needs to fund a global event this massive--but this shouldn't come in the way of obtaining a true "social Olympics" if the IOC is serious about supporting a "new age of sharing and connecting".
Athletes and fans alike would breathe a little easier if they knew there was little risk they would be hauled up by the "Olympic police" simply because they forgot to mosaic out a "tick" on their socks.