In the era of New Journalism, facts tend to get in the way of exciting blog posts. Why research facts when you can exaggerate something you’ve read and get more clicks? And then some of those stories take on a life of their own as one blogger makes a slight exaggeration, then a web journalist takes it one step further, than a TV show takes it one more step.
The latest example I heard about happened this morning when a co-worker asked me about a news item he heard on the radio. The radio announcers talked about how people could get arrested if they were at the London Olympics this summer, took photos on their phone, then posted the photos to Facebook.
Now, we all know the high journalistic integrity of radio morning shows. The fact that they consistently get overlooked for any journalism award ever given out is a true travesty. But beyond radio morning shows, plenty of slightly more reputable news sources have published similar stories. I’m not going to link them because I don’t want to perpetuate the bad info.
You will be shocked, SHOCKED, to discover that these allegations aren’t true. No, you probably aren’t going to get arrested for posting Olympic photos to Facebook or other social media platforms. Note the “probably” because if you do something stupid like take a photo of yourself at a public venue threatening violence to someone you will likely have a conversation with authorities. But for your standard sporting event photo, the odds of you ending up in jail over the photo are slim to none and Slim just left town.
Olympic tickets, like any other sporting event tickets, will have terms on them that prohibit you from taking photos or recordings of the event. They probably won’t/can’t do anything about it. If you’re sitting courtside at a basketball game taking a video the entire time on your phone you may get a tap on the shoulder from security. But outside of that the raw ability to police Facebook and other platforms makes enforcement of those terms virtually impossible. Same with the Olympics, where there are the same prohibitions for attendees printed on the tickets.
Where the press got started on this internet telephone game of distorting the truth are the stronger provisions around commercial marketing activities associated with the Olympics. You will be shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that there’s a lot of money behind the Olympics. Corporate sponsorship is a big part of that money, so when a company has spent millions upon millions of dollars to secure marketing rights that also exclude their competitor they get upset when their competitor tries to glom on to the games. This issue has been around for years and can lead to some interesting conflicts; the most famous example US consumers may recall is when the 1992 Basketball Dream Team had several famous athletes with Nike deals but Reebok was the official sponsor. It made for an awards ceremony with many super-patriotic athletes creatively draping flags over Reebok marks.
With the rise of social media and the possibility of doing smaller events that go viral, the Olympics requires host countries to adopt legislation that gives tighter control over these rogue marketing activities. In this case, the UK has done just that in anticipation of the London games. But while brands may face harsher penalties for their marketing activities if they aren’t an official sponsor but make it look like they are, individuals are at no greater risk for their posted photos.
There are two notable problem areas: small businesses (who are engaged in commercial marketing but may lack the resources to know what is allowed and what isn’t) and athletes who don’t have endorsement deals (or management teams to guide them through those hurdles…or if they’re a track runner, the other kind of hurdles). The Olympics is still figuring out social media but they have a lot of big pockets to protect and they can come crashing down on some of these small guys.
The specially passed UK legislation, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, does have some enforcement provisions. But those are limited to commercial activities and ticket sales–not Facebook photos by an individual. If a brand starts using photos in a questionable manner they could make themselves a target, but private individuals don’t face any new legal risks over posting photos of synchronized swimming or rhythmic gymnastics. Yes, if they’re caught they could be barred from the games for violating the terms of the ticket, but that risk has been around for years and has never resulted, by itself, in an arrest (that I could find).
But don’t worry, if someone does get arrested I’m sure we’ll hear all about it on our morning commutes.