If it weren’t offensive, it might be almost quaint: an Olympic sponsoring committee seeking to impose arbitrary limits on social media. That’s what organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are trying to do. Journalists covering the games will lose their credentials and be booted out if they take and post unauthorized photos or video with a smartphone. It’s possible that specators will face restrictions on photography as well.
The motivation here is more profit than censorship. The Games are big business and event organizers understandably want to wring every conceivable rouble from their sponsorship. To do that, they want absolute control of images, and there’s precedent for such an effort: Organizers of the 2012 London Summer Games sought similar clampdowns on use of social media.
As for censorship and eavesdropping, fear not, comrades: the Russian government has the games hard-wired and will be monitoring all communications, filtering as needed.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Sochi Games sponsors and their control issues.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Accept forces beyond your control or risk coming to grief. Social media is like a fire hose you can’t turn off – your best bet is to keep it pointed in the right direction. Competition in this case is among the athletes, so there is reduced reputational and competitive downside for the organizers. Instead Sochi’s sponsors could channel their repressive impulses in a different direction to promote goodwill without affecting profit – a photography contest, for instance? Better to channel the wisdom of crowds than to risk their wrath.