Everybody knows everybody's looking. In what's being called the "most-watched Olympics ever," these may be the most-watched tweets, mal-tweets, and Twitter blunders and blunderbussings ever, all making world headlines.
Question: Don't people know better by now?
The International Olympic Committee evidently did not know that at large gatherings, folks tweet like mad, clogging up bandwidth, until nothing gets through. So if, like the BBC, you rely on bandwidth to get info out, you may face a bottleneck. At Saturday's men's road bicycle race, thousands lining the route tweeted, yes, like mad; the Beeb couldn't get out important timing info, which aficionados kill for. People got mad and tweeted their ire; that used more bandwidth. One of the telecom providers tanked, overloaded.
An IOC spokesperson pleaded with users: "It's just, if it's not an urgent, urgent [tweet], please kind of take it easy." Awkward.
As Alex Kidman of the website TechLife correctly points out, this is "history repeating itself, really." Implication: You Olympics and BBC guys should have been prepared for this!
They're learning. The IOC is spreading bandwidth burden around to several providers. Maybe that'll help.
At the very least, you'd think folks in their 20s would know better about Twitter on the world stage. You'd think.
Like Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou, 23. Before she'd leaped a single leap, she'd (a) retweeted incendiary far-right-wing agitprop; (b) wished happy birthday to an extremist pol who hit a lady on TV (like a wimp, but he hit her), and (c) brilliantly commented on the West Nile mosquitos now plaguing Athens, something to the effect of, "With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitos will be gettin' some home cookin'!" When people cried racism, she tweeted back in their faces: "I am not a CD to get stuck!!! And if I make mistakes, I don't press the replay! I press Play and move on!!!" As indeed she did - on out of the Olympics.
Fast-forward to another twentysomething tweeter, Swiss soccer star and mohawk proponent Michel Morganella, 23, who tweets in four languages. Sore after his team got smacked by Korea, 2-0, he goes on Twitter, and tweets in verlan slang, in which words are turned backward ( l'envers, so it's verlan, get it?), something to the effect of "I could pound all Koreans right now; go burn." Mohawked Michel is no more.
Everyone's fighting, and ain't it swell? U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo, 31, laid into former U.S. star Brandi Chastain, 44. The latter, now a TV analyst, has mildly criticized a U.S. defender. Solo blasted her, descending into flawed subject-verb agreement in her fury: "Its 2 bad we cant have commentators who better represents the team&knows more about the game @brandichastain!" Another tweet played the age card: "Lay off commentating about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain. The game has changed from a decade ago."
It's just another episode in a world of high-profile Twitter battles: Think Kanye West/Matt Lauer; Courtney Love/David Grohl; Lindsay Lohan/Samantha Ronson. It's humiliation, revenge, P.R. Knowing the world is watching, Solo's out to tell the world Chastain's a lousy analyst, a Benedict Arnoldess, and, worst, an old bag. Chastain refused the bait, issuing a deadpan statement via the Huffington Post.
NBC's exec producer of the Games, Jim Bell, got one in the chops from Time mag TV critic James Poniewozik. Their antiphony:
Poniewozik: "NBC tape delay coverage is like the airlines: its interest is in giving you the least satisfactory service you will still come back for."
Bell: "You do know that all sports events are being streamed live right?"
Poniewozik: "I do, indeed! Have enjoyed it. Apparently a lot of folks still prefer watching it on TV."
Most remarkable, Twitter's being used for counterattack. Twitter itself wielded its dreaded ban. Foreign correspondent Guy Adams of the London paper The Independent, angry at NBC's delayed coverage, sent out a salvo of acid tweets. He even invented the hashtag #nbcfail, so people could find anti-NBC messages. In one tweet, Adams included the e-mail address of NBC exec Gary Zenkel and urged mad people to contact him. Twitter, responding to a complaint from NBC, took Adams' account away.
Ah, but it ended up with Twitter eating a luncheon of crow. See, Twitter struck a deal with NBC to be the "official narrator" of the Olympics. Then it emerged that somebody at Twitter told NBC about Adams, so NBC could complain, spurring Twitter to ban him. Twitter colluding with a partner to silence a critical tweeter? Horrors. Twitter, fail-whale high in the air, mea culpa'd, as did NBC. Adams, triumphing at full blast, got his Twitter account back.
And how about the case of Tom Daley, a Brit who failed to medal in the 10-meter synchronized dive? Soon, a tweeter named @Rileyy_69 started dunning Daley with profane tweets, saying he let the country down, and "you let your dad down i hope you know that," offensive, since Daley's father died of cancer in May 2011.
But Daley and teammate Jack Laugher hopped on the Twitter offensive, retweeting @Rileyy_69's poor-taste attack. Brilliant: They publicized the toxic behavior, encouraging others to do the same. It worked. Soon thousands were retweeting the retweets. Soon #GetRileyy_69Banned was a popular hashtag, calling on Twitter to cast out the infidel. It was retweeted more than 12,000 times in 24 hours.
Before long, @Rileyy_69 had changed his tune. He tweeted Daley: "I'm sorry mate i just wanted you to win cause its the olympics I'm just annoyed we didn't win I'm sorry tom accept my apology" (of course, @Rileyy_69 also tweeted, "how am I trending worldwide?" possibly the most cynical tweet ever.)
Tuesday, Dorset police arrested an unnamed 17-year-old on charges we don't have in the United States: suspicion of malicious communications. They issued the young man a harassment warning and told him to report back for further conversation. Not the life of Riley. (U.K. weightlifter Zoe Smith also had to handle a troll, infidel1978, who blasted her and teammates Hannah Powell and Helen Jewel. Smith handled the whole thing classily, and the account of infidel1978 has been erased.)
NBC has had astonishing initial ratings, running at record levels the first three nights, slightly behind the Beijing Olympics on night four. That shows that the Olympics focuses world attention. Everyone really is watching everything, on and off the field. And the tweeters know that - or should. The 2012 Twitter Olympics are full of spectacle, as folks who both know what they're doing - and don't - use Twitter to slam and get slammed.
And there's always the giggly, sparkly women's gymnasts, who, after their gold medal Tuesday, exchanged delighted tweets with their hero, Justin Bieber. A wwww.
The thrill of victory. The agony of the tweet.
Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @jtimpane.