Olympic Games 2012: Twitter Takes Center Stage in London

PHOTO: #NBCFail has been a trending topic on Twitter ever since the 2012 Olympics began on July 27, 2012.PlayTwitter
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Last week when we recommended the must-have apps for the Olympics, Twitter was front and center. The social media service was the perfect way to hear about the news at the Games -- from the athletes themselves, from NBC, and from Olympic attendees. It was also a great way to connect with other Olympic fans.

It was expected that Twitter would be a central tool for information about the London 2012 Games, but it has emerged as more than that. The service has become a forum for complaints, issues of freedom of speech, and a distraction for athletes.


For three days and counting #NBCFail has been a trending term on Twitter. On July 29 and July 30 there were over 40,000 tweets with that one hashtag -- people complaining about NBC's coverage of the Olympics.

Actually, Twitter was one of the major causes for those complaints. In an age when athletes and others in London can tweet about their wins or losses as they happen, NBC has still been holding off on airing the biggest events until prime time, including the opening ceremonies and the biggest swimming and gymnastics meets.

The result? Thousands of angry, albeit humorous, tweets.

"I will be live tweeting the Olympics Opening Ceremonies here in California next Thursday. Tune in...since I can't. #NBCfail," @steveweinstein tweeted on July 27.

"According to reports from NBC Sports, the Mets have an excellent chance at winning the 1986 World Series! #NBCfail#RetroactiveSports," @tomwatson tweeted on July 28.

The tweets have only gotten more snarky by the day. "Congrats on the win, US women's gymnastics team. Or as NBC puts it, 'good luck!' #nbcfail," @IvanWLam tweeted earlier today.

NBC itself tweeted the results before some of the tape aired. And while the network has used tape delays before, it's clearly feeling the difference this year.

"The scale is markedly different than it was four years ago; you can hear a louder voice from the public," Jeff Jarvis, a journalism and media professor at City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, told ABC News. "NBC thinks it can still control the experience, but that era is waning, that era of control."

Guy Adams

Control was at the center of one Twitter/Olympics blowup. On July 28, Guy Adams, the Los Angeles bureau chief for The Independent, tweeted the email address of NBC's Olympics president because he was angry about NBC tape delays.

"The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven't started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think! Email: _______@nbcuni.com," Adams tweeted. (ABC News has removed Zenkel's email address.)

Twitter shut down Adams' account hours later, saying that he violated their privacy policy by giving out a private email address. According to reports, Twitter informed NBC of the tweet and then NBC filed a complaint.

After thousands more #NBCFail and #TwitterFail tweets about Adams' suspension, Twitter restored the service on July 31. NBC is a sponsor of Twitter during the Games.

"The fact that Twitter apparently behaved in a way that favored its sponsor is troubling," Jarvis said. Twitter did not respond to ABC News' request for comment, but did apologize on its blog.

"The team working closely with NBC around our Olympics partnership did proactively identify a Tweet that was in violation of the Twitter Rules and encouraged them to file a support ticket with our Trust and Safety team to report the violation, as has now been reported publicly. Our Trust and Safety team did not know that part of the story and acted on the report as they would any other," Twitter's General Counsel, Alex Macgillivray, wrote.

Athletes in 140 Characters

There's one more place Twitter's already had a noticeable impact on the games, and that's on the athletes themselves. More than a few athletes have been kicked out of the Games for not thinking before they fired off their 140-character messages.

For instance, Michel Morganella, a player on Switzerland's soccer team, was kicked out of the games for tweeting that Koreans athletes were "retards" and should "burn themselves." Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was also expelled for her tweet; she was left in Athens after her so-called "joke" about Africans in Greece.

Other athletes admit they have been distracted by the service. First there was the British diver Tom Daley who had malicious tweets sent to him; the 17-year-old who sent the messages was arrested and then released.

Then there is Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm who came in second in the 100m backstroke competition and placed some blame on social media distraction. "I don't know, I just felt like I didn't really get off [social media] and get into my own mind. I obviously need to sign out of Twitter and log out of Facebook a lot sooner than I did," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

But amusement and interest, more than distraction, is what thousands of Twitter users have found on the service over the first four days. And it's likely that with almost two weeks left in the games, the 140-characther highlights aren't quite done yet.