Should you live-tweet the Olympics? A guide for the perplexed

The Olympics provide one of the great, unsolvable puzzles of modern-day news: Should we report the events as they happen a dozen time zones away, or save the spoilers until a time when most people can tune in?

I know this is an unsolvable puzzle, because I was in a meeting at The Post where this was discussed. We talked a lot about Twitter, and whether people would tweet in real-time or with the NBC evening broadcast. We debated whether fans would feel cheated if they knew the scores and rankings in the afternoon, before they even had a chance to watch that night’s games.


In essence, we were trying to decide whether the Olympics more constitute news or entertainment: events that must be shared in real-time — the stuff of breaking e-mail alerts and live-tweets — or something that people watch to unwind after work, more in the realm of “Downton Abbey.”

Obviously, this is a false contradiction: The Olympics are a bit of both. But that understanding didn’t make it any less annoying to tune into the men’s halfpipe last night, knowing ahead of time not only that Shaun White didn’t medal, but that he came in fourth place with 90.25 points, placing him behind Iouri Podladtchikov, Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka. Thanks, Buzzfeed.

Here’s my problem with Olympic live-tweeting: If you’re on the ground in Sochi, as an athlete, spectator or reporter, and you’re participating in the events in real-time, then you’re participating in them as news — fine, tweet away. Like the sports sections of news sites and dedicated Olympics live blogs, you’re easy to avoid if I don’t want to read spoilers.

But if you’re in the U.S., on a Twitter account that does not specialize in sports or Olympics tweets (a.k.a., an account people would not know to avoid), then you know you are tweeting to an audience that will, by and large, not be able to view the Olympics until the monopolistic NBC deigns to screen them in the evening.

This is the time-shifted audience, the audience that sees the Olympics more as entertainment than as news — if only by a hair. This is the audience without (a) an extensive cable package and/or (b) the extraordinary luxury of taking off work and watching TV at 1 p.m.

This is basically an audience that, through no fault of its own, is unable to experience the Olympics as an actual athletic contest with an unpredictable outcome. Because of you!

I know, of course, that this is by no means a perfect argument — there are many debates to be had regarding the nature of news and information online, and the distinction (if there is one) between entertainment and news, and the proper vehicles/gatekeepers for news on Twitter, and the artificiality of time-shifted broadcasts in this brave new Internet age.

But none of this changes my essential conviction that live-tweeting your NBCSN broadcast merely because you can, with all the selfish hope of retweets that entails, is neither a useful nor particularly courteous thing to do. Please feel free to tweet your disagreement … but for mercy’s sake, stay mum on this afternoon’s men’s hockey scores.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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