New game for social media in Olympics

For the London Free Press - February 6, 2012 - Read this on Canoe LONDON SUMMER OLYMPICS: New restrictions being implemented, but how the policies are enforced raises many unanswered questions

The 70,000 volunteers for the 2012 London Summer Olympics will have to think twice about what they upload to Facebook, tweet or blog. They have essentially been "hushed" from discussing certain topics in certain ways by the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") throughout the Olympic Games.

The IOC has come a long way to lighten up on its restrictions on the use of social media over the years. But some are still outraged by them. The reasons behind the restrictions include security, athlete privacy and of course, trying to maximize revenue from traditional broadcast rights.

Participants have not been told to completely disconnect from social media, as some bloggers have suggested. But the IOC has essentially tried to prevent users of social media from acting as journalists.

The IOC says participants are allowed and "encouraged" to use social media tools. However, they are also explicitly told "any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist." The IOC explains this means any blogs and tweets "must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organization."

Participants are not banned from taking pictures or videos. In fact, still pictures can be posted on Facebook. The only restriction is that participants are "not permitted to commercialize, sell or otherwise distribute these photographs.''

Understandably, the rules regarding the residential area of the Olympic Village are a little more stringent because of the protected environment those staying there are promised. For example, before any pictures can be uploaded, the prior consent of the people in the picture must be obtained. Any videos taken in the residential area must be for personal use and cannot be uploaded.

The IOC Guidelines go on for four pages and discuss topics such as "Olympic Marks,'' "Advertising and Sponsorship,'' "Domain Names,'' "Website Links,'' "Liability'' and how the rules will be monitored and what might happen if a participant Infringes the rules.

The London Olympics Organizing Committee recently released its rules which are a bit more stringent. A list of the rules taken from the policy's "what to do and what not to do" warns volunteers not to:

Disclose their location; Post a picture or video of backstage areas closed to the public; Disclose breaking news about an athlete; Tell their social network about any athlete or celebrity; or Get involved in detailed discussion about the games online.

However, participants are allowed to retweet official London 2012 postings and otherwise relay official information releases.

Clearly, there will be issues with respect to enforcing these policies. Does disclosing your location include "Having lunch at the Village?'' What is "detailed discussion?'' While restrictions relating to security and privacy are understandable, one has to wonder what the point is in preventing someone from tweeting "X just won the 100 meter dash?''