Does banning Olympic volunteers from social media make sense?

The 2012 Summer Olympics kicks off on 27 July in London and promises to be 17 days of grit, grime and glory for the athletes. Besides the athletes, the Games will also be attended by heads of state and other dignitaries. And to make all this run smoothly and safely, more than 70 000 volunteers will be working in the background.

With the Olympics in England seen as a high risk target for terrorism, it comes as no surprise that security is of great concern to the powers that be. Volunteers at this year’s Olympics have been handed the rule book and this includes a ban on all social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Volunteers have been told that they are not allowed to tweet their locations, job descriptions or the activities or locations of athletes and dignitaries. They are also not allowed to take any photos or engage in any in-depth online conversations about the Games.

Games organiser Locog, has said that all social media activity will be strictly controlled by its team. Volunteers are allowed to retweet official tweets and say they are working for the Olympics in general.

The news came as something of a shock to the unpaid workers, who expressed dismay at the rules. One volunteer admitted that he has already broken the rules on his Facebook page. Volunteers are also surprised that they are not allowed to talk to any media outlet, including local newspapers, or do presentations at schools to describe the “Olympic Experience” without express permission from Logoc.

In a world where information is freely accessible the restrictions may seem strange, but organisers feel the “practical guidelines” will help protect the athletes and the Games. On the surface, this seems like common sense. It is concerning, however, that such rules could be used to cover up any problems facing the Games.

Frustrated athletes in the past have been disciplined for turning to Twitter to express their dismay, and many team managers forbid players to tweet about games, internal politics or the sport administration. Whatever the players’ feelings on the matter, the New Zealand rugby team’s management for instance, would probably say that its own Twitter ban didn’t hurt in the campaign for World Cup success.

That’s all well and good when it comes to athletes, but will banning the volunteers from all social media activity harm the open friendliness and hospitality they’re supposed to represent?

Whether the rules are even enforceable remains to be seen. Since the volunteers are working for free it seems the worst possible punishment could be dismissal. Considering the number of volunteers, it also seems like a hell of a lot extra effort that the organisers will have to go through.



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