Why the Olympics social media ban for volunteers is idiotic

Earlier on Twitter I posted that the social media ban on volunteers at the Olympics is idiotic. Let me explain why:

1. It’s a huge missed opportunity. Imagine if the organisers had decided to embrace social media from the volunteers. Imagine the moments that would be captured that couldn’t have ever been captured by the official TV crew. The best moments will be spontaneous and serendipitous. TV cameras won’t be there. Athletes winning, athletes losing. This highly emotional, and therefore engaging, content would have driven huge increases in interest because it would make the athletes more human, more like you and I, and would bring plenty of people in who will be on the fence about the Games. Many people in the UK are opposed to the Games. Many people globally have no interest in the Games. This increase in interest would create huge increases in viewership, and would build strong emotional relationships between ordinary people and the Olympics as a global event.

2. It’s not enforceable. People post under pseudonyms all the time. People can easily post anonymously to their friends who will then share the content. Loads and loads of content will leak out. Some people may be tracked down and fired, but most won’t be found. Remember, this is a group of 70,000 people who have no vested interest in TV rights, athlete rights, etc. They will be much more interested in sharing one of the highlights of their life with their family and friends.

3. It’s based on an understanding of a world which no longer exists. Any PR firm who believe that they can carefully control brand messages are deluded and are going out of business – slowly but surely. The role of PR has changed from command and control to engaging in conversation, and encouraging positive debate.

This is a really short sighted plan. I don’t buy that they are trying to protect the safety of athletes and VIPs. Are they also banning the Paparazzi? Are they worried that social media helps terrorists? In my opinion, this move is motivated by protecting the rights of those who paid extreme amounts of money to broadcast Olympic footage. It’s keeping all the major broadcasters happy. And maybe deep down they know the rule is not enforceable but have to toe the right line in public. But I worry that some people in the IOC with a lot of power have absolutely no idea how the world of media is changing.

I predict that we will see tons and tons of footage leaking out from the 70,000 volunteers, and that the best footage from the Games will come from regular folks, attendees and volunteers, and not from official TV crews. I also think that by the time the 2016 Olympics rolls around, this decision will be laughable, and the enforcers of this rule will look like dinosaurs.

18 comments

  1. While this does seem lame, I can tell you from a security perspective this would be a nightmare.

    I ran a security consulting company for nearly 10 years, specialing in concerts and large scale events with high profile persons, including but not limited to, a 5 day music festival every year with 50k plus in attendance. The client used a lot of volunteers, and we closely guarded a lot of sensitive information.

    Yet, with all the information guarded, we still had security issues pertaining to artists that became at times got a bit hairy. Like for instance, a stalker of a _very beautiful_ , _very high profile_ female artist, who managed to find the whereabouts of her lodging, including her room number…and showed up at her hotel room door, because of a loose lipped volunteer who was so star struck and excited that he had helped accompany her to her room. (He was carrying her luggage).

    *And this was before geotagging was around.*

    Dealing with sometimes sensitive information, i.e. team/team member locations being tagged at any given time while in transit, lodging arrangements or pictures being tagged or any thousands of things that could be thought of and addressed…

    You don’t want the average volunteer just putting that information out in to cyber space.

    Or lest we forget the 1972 Munich games and the fact that they had no instant intelligence like what would surely be the case if volunteers were allowed to share socially what they are doing.

    *Allowing them to do would actually be the idiotic thing to do.*

    If it were me…I’d try to look at big picture…not just how mad you are that you won’t be able to get some inside tweets without them being sanctioned.
    #JustSayin

  2. Thanks for your comment Isaac, interesting to hear your perspective. The fact of the matter though is that this policy is not enforceable. So instead of trying to stop people doing what they are going to do anyway, the organizers should embrace this opportunity and plan accordingly. As you said yourself, even with all the security measures in place, people still managed to find out the whereabouts of their idols.

    I’m also not mad, I just think they are stuck in the past, and are missing a huge opportunity to do something amazing.

    • Will they have a tough time enforcing it? Yes.

      Does that mean they shouldn’t try to enforce it? No.

      This is about safety of actual people, that doesn’t hurt anyone.

      Missing an opportunity…maybe. But I’d rather know that people are safe and forego tweets from volunteers, than know that every tweet isn’t potentially putting someone at risk.

      We’re not talking about 1 rockstar or a few in one band. They do it with the knowledge that they’re taking their own safety into their own hands.
      Not 70,000 volunteers tweeting and posting to G+, FB or whatever.

      I’m glad you’re so willing to put people lives in jeopardy so you can be thrilled with what’s going on with the Olympics.

      If you’re that bent on it, why do’t you spend the years and years it takes to make the cut and go yourself.

      I’ll tell you why. Because you’re too busy lamenting the fact that you can’t have access that, really, you have no business having access to.

      And the LOGIC is it puts real people, in real danger.

      But that wouldn’t really concern you from the safety of your keyboard now would it?

  3. Unless wireless connection is disabled throughout the , I agree the enforcement of this ban is impossible.

    It sounds like they’re just too lazy to produce a social media advisory document. Surely this would make the event more secure?

    Tell people they can’t post anything and not cut off their means to do it and they’ll still post, but without guiadance – not knowing what’s a high security risk and what’s not. If you allow people to post, but within restrictions, it’s less likely these people will post something in breach of security.

  4. Unless wireless connection is disabled throughout the Olympic park, I agree the enforcement of this ban is impossible.

    It sounds like they’re just too lazy to produce a social media advisory document. Surely this would make the event more secure?

    Tell people they can’t post anything and they’ll still post, but without guiadance – not knowing what’s a high security risk and what’s not. If you allow people to post, but within restrictions, you’ve got a greater chance of minimising the security risk.

  5. Oops, sorry for the duplicate comment there!

  6. Just wanted to agree with Heather’s point. Whilst I can understand Isaac’s concerns about security by enforcing a blanket ban the organisers are actually abdicating their duty to volunteers.

    Working with volunteers, and especially when they represent the largest element of a work force, has to reflect and understand their perspective. If the majority of volunteers don’t get advice on what is or isn’t appropriate it leaves then poorly supported and unsure of their position.

    A proper advisory document and training could not only highlight the possible risks and help them understand what is appropriate but have helped them to create an incredible social media buzz.

    What’s far more likely now is stories of volunteers sacked for innocent tweets and a bizarrely disconnected relationship between management and volunteers. I can already imagine how horrified on the ground supporters of volunteers will feel when explaining the policy and how disappointed they are in this decision.

  7. Security is a lovely buzzword pulled out at every opportunity when control of the masses is desired. The fact is that the greatest threat today is not so much the threat of assualt/terrorism but the threat posed by the so called protection from assualt/terrorism.

  8. Misspelled assault … twice … sorry

  9. Hi,

    I’m going to defend, in part, the London 2012 event organisers LOCOG (not the same thing as the IOC). There is no blanket ban on volunteers using social media. LOCOG, as other commentators suggested they should have done, have issued guidance including a list of Do’s and Don’ts.

    The guidance itself is only available to registered volunteers, but the link to it says: “We understand that you may want to use social media to share your experience of volunteering for London 2012, so we have put together some guidelines around what to share (and what not to share!).”

    Although in part it has stuff to do with security, I actually think it’s mainly to be fair to the competitors etc. The restrictions are around volunteers taking photos etc in backstage areas. That makes it clear for everyone that there are “public” areas and “private” areas, where competitors, VIPs etc are not at risk of being photographed without consent.

    That’s not to say that the guidance issued by LOCOG isn’t without fault, but I think it is far more nuanced than your post suggests.

    Olly

  10. Those individuals who accept and respect the difference between public and private will respect it regardless of what restrictions are in place. Those individuals who do not will disregard the restrictions considering the potential return on unofficial backstage photos to more then compensate for the possible repercussions.

  11. Thanks for the comments folks!

    @Olly, fair points. I can’t access the doc. I feel that the problem still exists though. People won’t properly read guidelines, never mind remember them. And LOCOG have missed a massive opportunity. Instead of trying to micro-manage what volunteers post, they could have simply said something like:

    “Let’s make this an amazing event together. We know you’ll want to share your experience with the world. We know you’ll want to share some amazing photos that you take. Just use your common sense and don’t post sensitive or private photos of athletes, or posts which might put their security at risk.”

    In other words, they could have proactively embraced social media amongst volunteers, acted like trusting collaborators, rather than “the management enforcing rules”.

    I’d also love to know whether athletes are also banned from using social media in “private areas”. If so, then LOGOC has closed off one of the biggest drivers of connection between athletes and the public. Musicians know this – they can build deep relationships with their fanbase by posting about their life on tour ‘behind the scenes’. And if athletes can use social media in “private” areas, why can’t volunteers?

  12. Paul, thanks for posting your thoughts. You make some great points.

    Coming in with a PR and media background when I saw the guidelines I nearly dropped my coffee. They are in my opinion ineffectual and most probably unenforceable. That said I would expect somebody to caught up and kicked-out for breaching said guidelines.

    I hear and note the comments about about security, but security is separate issue and telling people to not Tweet or Facebook is not going to diminish the risk otherwise the IOC’s own guidelines would ban such activities. The security arrangements would have taken social media activity by athletes, organisers, volunteers and the public into account.

    From a PR perspective I wrote (http://www.twofourseven.co.uk/blog/locog-restricts-volunteer-social-media-use) exactly what Paul says in this post, that it is a missed opportunity. There is some good independent research that confirms how media organisations are using content from social networks to add an extra layer of information into their reporting. This human layer adds value and would make the Olympics much more in touch with the people – great PR. Just imagine a volunteer Tweeting a picture of themselves with an athlete. Anyhow, if journalists don’t share this type of content then you can be sure that we as individuals will have volunteers on the ground in our own networks.

    As for the public and private argument. Nothing is private now. The only way to enforce this would be to get accredited staff to hand their phones in, for example, when entering into a restricted area – changing rooms, drug testing room, etc.

    Social media, like modern-day PR and Comms is about engagement and not broadcast. I await to see how this develops.

  13. [...] Why the Olympics social media ban for volunteers is idiotic: 3. It’s based on an understanding of a world which no longer exists. Any PR firm who believe that they can carefully control brand messages are deluded and are going out of business – slowly but surely. The role of PR has changed from command and control to engaging in conversation, and encouraging positive debate. [...]

  14. Are the competitors also going to be banned from using social media? Or the media pundits covering it?

    I suspect not.

  15. [...] Here is an opinion by that I can second on every point. It’s a huge missed opportunity.It’s not enforceable.It’s based on an understanding of a world which no longer exists. Filed Under: gymnastics, parallel bars, rings, still rings, videos /* [...]

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