CRAWFORD: At Olympics, all that Twitters is not gold - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD: At Olympics, all that Twitters is not gold

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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The Opening Ceremonies are still hours away, but the 2012 London Olympic Games already have their first record.

Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou set a new mark for fastest Olympic disqualification via Twitter post when her country sent her home for derogatory comments about Africans posted from her iPhone.

In response to the West Nile virus turning up in Greece, Papachristou Tweeted, "With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food."

The Greek Olympic committee moved quickly to denounce her remark and dismiss her from the team. She removed the Twitter post quickly, but not quickly enough to prevent irreparable damage to her career and reputation. It also wasn't her first infraction. Posting Tweets in support of a controversial ultra-Right wing political party also reportedly didn't sit well with her country's Olympic organizers.

And that, sports fans, is the legacy and lesson of Twitter, a lesson athletes seem to need to learn more than anyone else.

This Twitter thing could give a whole new meaning to the term "Olympic flame."

The International Olympic Committee published rules for athletes on social media last year. They include respecting the privacy of other athletes, not publishing confidential information, not publishing unauthorized photos of others or of the competitions, and requiring that posts, "be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar or obscene words or images."

Those are good rules for everyone. But they probably read like a foreign language to many.

Twitter is a dangerous place. It fluctuates between powerful marketing tool and cesspool. It has spawned television series and books for its most savvy and clever practitioners, and fines and career setbacks for its less careful.

And you don't have to be an Olympic athlete to experience Twitter fail on the world stage.

In January, high school football star Yuri Wright lost a bunch of scholarship offers and was expelled from school over vulgar Tweets. Chad Ochocinco, Mark Cuban and Ozzie Guillen all have contributed generously to their leagues' Twitter fine funds because of posts that ran afoul of league rules.

One of my favorite misguided athlete Tweets came from former University of Kentucky wideout Stevie Johnson, who must count the Almighty as one of his followers after Tweeting: "I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..."

That one, of course, is more humorous than harmful. The most famous Twitter fails are too obscene to post here.

You know it's dangerous when media organizations even get in trouble with it. A Penn State media outlet Tweeted Joe Paterno's death before it happened. USA Today Tweeted that Diana Ross died. It meant to say that Donna Summer had passed away.

They're calling these the Social Media Games, with athletes expected to have more direct interaction with fans and followers than ever before. During the Beijing Games four years ago, Twitter had 6 million users. Today, the number is above 140 million.

Calling itself the "official narrator" of the Olympics, Twitter has even formed a partnership with NBCUniversal to collect the Twitter posts from the games by athletes, fans and viewers at home onto one web page. NBC has agreed to promote the page on the air. The Associated Press reported today that four Canadian divers have a friendly wager going over which can generate the most followers during the Olympics.

Social media games? If that's going to be the case, why not just integrate them into the competition? Forget the Triple Jump, how about the Triple Tweet? The 400-meter Facebook? Synchronized Skype?

On Thursday, a data center problem took Twitter down for two hours, blocking access for millions of users around the world. A world without Twitter? A wonder we survived.

For all of the noise, there will be some interesting stuff. U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones (@lolojones) is one who has used the medium with humor and insight. And then you'll hear things that perhaps you could've done without, such as U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte (@ryanlochte) Tweeting from the Olympic Trials, "Gotta shave for tomorrow the start of #OlympicTrials but can't shave my back help me out! Lol."

U.S. athletes all have received several hours of training on aspects of being an Olympian, from dealing with the public and press to handling social media.

But in this one arena, what is true for Olympians is true for us all. When it comes to Twitter, no matter who you are, the world is watching.

Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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