The Olympics in the Age of Internet Outrage

On Thursday, the USOC picked Boston as the American contender to host the Olympics in 2024. Somehow they were able to do this despite the alleged massive, huge, giant outcry on the social medias.

Now there are lots of weird questions about why the USOC picked Boston over Los Angeles or San Francisco (OK, really over Los Angeles, because even though I was massively hoping for San Francisco or for a joint L.A.-S.F. California bid, that was never going to happen — the internet was even more certain of that). And, I personally am of the opinion that Boston is not going to win the games. They clearly could not beat Rome or Paris or Istanbul or Berlin in a fair fight. Of course, the Olympics bidding process isn’t a fair fight and the U.S. will definitely get an Olympics before NBC’s TV contract comes up for renewal. So, who knows.

But, what really fascinated me was that as everyone started (or kept) speculating, one of the things story after story repeated was that Boston would have to overcome all this opposition from the public. I mean, there was a Twitter account against Boston2024, for Chrissakes, a Twitter account!!

So widespread was the certainty that public opinion was being reflected online and that the internet public opinion could stop the Olympics from coming to the U.S., that I heard it cited in conversation as a reason Boston won’t get the games. I saw this argument in papers and on other social media accounts commenting on the opposition’s social media accounts. (To a degree, it did manage to stymie the San Francisco bid in the sense that everyone knows anything is a hassle in San Francisco.)

And, yet, when I went to the NoBostonOlympics twitter Friday afternoon (after the selection announcement and after all this press, when presumably it would have had an influx of supporters), it had 560 followers. You know who has more Twitter followers than that? Me. Maybe my opinions should single-handedly shape public events.

The account now has about 1,800 followers after more coverage of its opposition efforts. And, you don’t need to convince me that how many followers something has is not the best indicator of anything. But, the fact remains that there was barely an internet movement against these games — until we gave them a platform to become one. (For comparison, the NoSF2024 twitter has about 100 followers and the organization is made up of about four people who know how to work the media, and still they got significant coverage in Bay Area news. Despite actual polls suggesting public opinion was very different.)

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Olympics is going to move forward if no one wants to host it. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about if the cost and burden of hosting the Olympics is simply not viable in a democracy. But, I don’t know if that’s the right question.

People having a voice isn’t a problem. Some people’s voices being artificially inflated until a few sound like a mob is a problem.

The internet has been wearing me out lately. (Like, really, really wearing me out. And, boring me with its over-the-top predictability.) And, I love the internet. When people ask what I do for work, sometimes I just say, “The Internet.” But, I will be the first to tell you that the internet is home to as many problems as solutions. It tends to magnify our worst tendencies and make it easy to rush to judgement. It works in favor of those who do not deal in nuance. It often misreads tone and fails to grant the benefit of the doubt. And, it creates mobs where there have not always been mobs. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been forced to, because over and over again the internet mob creates just one version of the truth. And, perhaps, I often agree with the mob right now, perhaps I’m ideologically aligned with strident liberalism, but what happens when the mob is wrong? What happens when they’re not wrong, but just don’t deserve to be the only voice? What happens when I don’t agree with them anymore, when the mob turns on itself?

I love the Olympics too. I do. Despite all clear-headed skepticism about how it is packaged and sold, I love it. I think there are lies within the games, but that the competition at its heart is one of those capital T Truths. I believe that the Olympics can cost a city money, but I think it can also bring a city a lot in return. I know that there are changes that need to and must be made to how the Olympics run (like athletes being paid better), but I hope those things don’t fundamentally change the Olympics.

And, I really hope the internet doesn’t ruin the Olympics.

From xkcd of course.
From xkcd of course.

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