Lessons social media teach us…

The diversity of ways social media can be exploited is constantly expanding and that means more power as well as more responsibility in the hands of people. The 2012 Olympic Games in London gave very vivid examples of ways social media can be used or abused. The International Olympic Committee (ICO) promoted the use of social media amongst the 10,800 athletes urging them to communicate the Olympic Spirit with their fans. However, the ICO established behavioral standards the athletes should align with. Among thousands of tweets, blogs and posts, two made a serious difference for the career of a Greek and a Swiss athlete, as those failed to comply with the set Olympic ideals.

The Greek athlete Voula Papachristou was disqualified from participating in the games, because she posted a racist comment on Twitter about the African immigrants in Athens. Following the disqualification of the athlete, a public outrage was expressed on the Internet. People posted articles, op eds, pictures of the athlete and expressed a variety of reactions on-line. Some people even used their status updates to support the permission of the young athlete to participate in the games or the opposite.

Few days after the incident, the second case came from the Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella who faced the same consequences. The athlete, in an attempt to express his frustration after the Swiss team had been defeated by the South Korean soccer team, tweeted a racist comment against his Olympic opponents which resulted to his disqualification from the Olympics and furthermore, his twitter page was also deleted.

The point of these examples is that interactive digital participation has a tremendous momentum and impacts the individual (both athletes were disqualified), the community (Mostly Greeks and Swiss -but not limited to- expressed their opinion on the issue), the country (the Government position was openly praised or criticized and that has political cost) and the overall public opinion  (which in this case is wider since the Olympic Games are global).

Both athletes definitely learned a lesson the hard way, but also taught the world that social media power can have severe consequences if abused. Both incidents raised issues on whether someone should be judged on its personal capacity when it relates to professional matters and vice versa, but what is more interesting is that the Internet evolution is pointing at a legal gap that needs to be addressed and create rules for such events.

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