Close-up of the feet of Rebecca Downie of the United Kingdom as she trains on the beam. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

If there’s a viral moment at this year’s games in Rio, the International Olympic Committee wants to make sure it comes only from authorized social media sources. The IOC’s always-strict rules governing the use of moving images from inside the Olympics now include specific prohibitions on unauthorized Vines, live-streams and GIFs.

“The use of Olympic Material transformed into graphic animated formats such as animated GIFs (i.e. GIFV), GFY, WebM, or short video formats such as Vines and others, is expressly prohibited,” say the IOC’s rules for media outlets covering the Games.

A separate document outlining social media rules for all accredited individuals attending or participating in the Games says that the IOC is fine with people posting still images from the Olympic venues (so long as they are “consistent with the Olympic values” and abide by several other behavioral directives), but not so for anything that moves:

“Video or audio content taken from within Olympic venues … must only be for personal use and must not be uploaded or shared on any website, blog, social media page, photo or video-sharing sites, or other mobile application. Broadcasting images via live-streaming applications (e.g. Periscope, Meerkat) is prohibited inside Olympic venues.”

The social media rules also restrict the ability of competitors to post about their sponsors during the Games without prior approval of the IOC.

Why does any of this matter? Well, the rules (particularly those banning the use of short, animated clips from the Games) will restrict the use of one of the best tools out there to appreciate some of the Summer Games’ most popular sports.

For example, animated GIFs are, without debate, the greatest gift the Internet has given to gymnastics enthusiasts looking to isolate and admire the athleticism of the world’s top gymnasts. That emphasis on athleticism is something that, as Elspeth Reeve recently explained, hasn’t always been the focus of mainstream coverage of the sport, despite its incredible skill and difficulty. There are few better ways than short-looped videos like GIFs and Vines to show how astonishing Simone Biles is, as this great New York Times feature makes clear.

It’s clear that the IOC doesn’t want media outlets to GIF the Olympics — and it can enforce that prohibition with the threat of removing accreditation for media organizations that do. But how would the IOC even begin to enforce such a prohibition against fans? If it tries to do that, the history of Internet culture tells us that they will certainly fail to stop it.

(We asked the IOC’s press office about how the GIF prohibition might apply to the Internet at large, and whether it’s using any particular tools to enforce prohibitions like these beyond accredited media, but we haven’t yet heard back.)

The rules discussed above are basically supposed to ensure that no one sees any Olympic moments from sources that don’t hold the rights to show them. In the U.S., the rights holder is NBC, and it’s going to do as much as it can to try to control the social conversation around the Games this year. Again, any Internet veteran should be skeptical of plans to bring order and rules to the viral Internet, but here we are.

NBC partnered with many of the platforms that might otherwise compete against its coverage, including Snapchat, BuzzFeed, Facebook and Instagram. There will be Facebook Live feeds from the Olympics, but for U.S. viewers, the rules aim to make sure those moments come only from NBC or other authorized accounts. There will be GIFs, but NBC is hoping they’ll come from official sources only, shared by the public through the official “2016 Rio Olympic Games Keyboard.”

There are even “social media personality” partnerships. Some, like hiring Logan Paul to “capture all the Olympic excitement for his fans and followers” actually isn’t the worst idea NBC has ever had. Paul has his own significant fan base, and he has a pretty strong sports bro vibe going on. And hey, the Olympics are sports! But if they’re looking to foster any goodwill from YouTube creators at large with these team-ups, their partnership with the Fine Bros. might have needed a second look. 

The Games begin tonight, and it is inevitable that they will be memed, GIFed, and remixed beyond the IOC’s control. It will be interesting to see how they choose to respond to it.

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