Trolling from within: On how citizen media might *actually* transform the grand narratives of media events

I’ve found myself writing (and been given the keys) for the sister paper of the Daily Mail. So far, I’ve wrote three articles – and if I write another two before the Olympics is over, I am in the chance to win another iPad. It is the new media economy of volunteering in return for access and ‘credibility’ (hey, my mum actually reads (understands and retweets what I write now!) – but what has been quite interesting is that I’ve managed to play a game where I’ve wrote the distinct articles that cover topics not traditionally favoured by said publication. I’ve had an anti-Olympic, call-to-action one (in the spirit of Occupy), I’ve had a pro-Scottish, anti-bunting one – and now I’ve managed to slip a pro-media studies, anti-establishment one under the radar as well.

But what does this mean?

Probably nothing, it is the ‘blogs’ pages, where 100 people who blog about the ‘lympics can now blog about the ‘lympic over on a mainstream hosted platform. But interestingly, it has generated a bit of buzz for the bigger project I’m working-a-million-hours-a-week-on-but-it’s-my-baby, #citizenrelay.

What I really want to raise attention to – but also is starting to become a catalyst for other things, like the partnership with Help Me Investigate the Olympics  and Newsnet from the Media Trust – is the multi-layered trajectories that begin to emerge around small findings in big data. Like breaking a story about the corporate shame behind sponsor nominated torch bearers in the Independent here (first reported here.)

Working precariously between higher education (so getting students involved), journalism (with connections to big projects from big outlets), the cultural olympiad (where #citizenrelay is within the Festival 2012 brochure and funded by Creative Scotland) and academic research (critical informed events and media geeks ahoy!) , we are actually beginning to leave teeth marks behind some of the more general coverage that is rampent within mainstream, accredited broadcasters. See also the Jobbylee.

That being said, we (#citizenrelay) are being fed onto the BBC Torch Relay pages to be included on each day the torch is in Scotland. Those who go to watch the torch live, will be able to click into our humble wordpress site, hosted for peanuts on my server and view content produced by people who, thanks to Adam Perry from Newsnet, have now been equipped with the skills to ask proper interview questions, to anybody – not just authority figures or celebrities – and record and upload them on devices that they already own.

We potentially have more capacity to be on the ground asking these questions than those who are employed to do it. We don’t need to compete in that arena, we just need to go out and do – and make it easy as possible allow others to as well. It is easy as filling out this form. But the really important part of this, isn’t just capturing the citizen’s voice, no matter who they are, it is what we do with it during and beyond the project.

There is real potential, thanks to covering in the context of just one nation as a whole, using a consistant method of aggregating, archiving and visualising social media data – and working in, against and beyond the larger media outlets who might be too cautious, too restricted, too under resourced to attempt what we are about to do, in the way we are going to do it – that we could actually affect, change, transform the wider and dominant narratives of the Games time.

It is always worth remembering that something of this scale has never been done before at an Olympic Games. We didn’t have the tools that made it possible and access to the internet and mobile web has rocketed in the last 18 months. I’m going all out to make sure we can attempt to take on the Olympics at its own media games.

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Presentation: Occupying the Olympics, the use of social media to subvert the course of justice.

On Friday 24th February, I presented a paper that was accepted at the 6th Annual Politics, Sport and Media Conference at Southampton Solent University. I presented the prelim ‘findings’ of a paper that reflects the thought piece that I wrote for the British Library and I aim to review and use as a wider, ongoing study in the coming months. The slides, mainly visuals prompts more than anything, are below:

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New Research Article: Anti-Olympic Protest and the British Library

Back in October I was asked by Gill Ridgley from the British Library to contribute a short article relating to social media and the Olympic Games for their special-issue website for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The article “Occupying the Olympic Games: Resisting 2012” has now been published on (a newly prepared) section on anti-olympic protests on the British Library site. It’s good to see that these issues are now being included in the debate, especially in terms of ‘academic/research’ legacy from London 2012 – making a distinction between protest and resistance and the terrorist attack rhetoric. There is a list of resources and further reading on the site if you are interested in looking further issues relating to the critique of the Olympic industry.

The direct link to my article is here [.pdf] and I will be presenting an extended version of this paper at the Sport and Politics Association Sports Politics, Media and Identity conference in Southampton on the 24th of February.

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Panel discussion: Birmingham School of Media Production Event (1st February, 2012)

Last week I was invited to speak on an industry panel at the launch of the Birmingham School of Media production event at Fazeley Studios, Digbeth.

The Production Event is a first year module in the BA Media and Communication degree at The Birmingham School of Media within Birmingham City University. As part of their studies all first year media students (around 180 of them) will be involved in organising a one day “event” which is based around a different theme each year. The idea is to give them an opportunity to practise the skills they have learned so far in as realistic a vocational environment as possible. Each year they have a different theme for the students to explore and the theme for 2012 will be “The 2012 London Olympiad” – allowing them to explore the alternative viewpoints of the games through the analysis of cultural events and impact, legacy and the cultural, political and social agendas at play, and fold them back into the event that they decide to deliver.

Alongside John Coster (@citizenseye) and Tina Barton (@somewhereto_EM) who I already work with quite closely in Leicester and through my research, we were also joined by Matt Lee from BBC West Midlands and Simon Flynn from Creative England, who presented on their own involvement with the Olympic Games.

I opened the event with an adapted version of the paper that I delivered at the International Olympic Academy in September, focusing on the complexity of the Olympic Games as a subject area and the tension between the mainstream narratives of the ‘movement’ and the impact that it has politically and socially on a community and a country. I also touched on the different types of media that are present during an olympiad and why this is important when considering an event during the run-up to games time, including their potential involvement with #media2012 West Midlands through their event.

My paper was followed on by presentations by Matt on the BBC’s involvement with local coverage in the area and John introducing citizen’s eye and their 2012 pledge. There were also interesting presentations about the film shorts cultural olympiad project and Tina’s (always engaging) somewhereto_ project, where she acts as the broker between 16-25 year olds and those who have empty and unused spaces, in order to encourage them to do something that they feel passionate about in those space.

The event itself will be in the 2nd week of May 2012 when the students will be producing newspapers, magazines or websites, television and radio programmes, photographic exhibitions, musical events etc – all focusing on issues around the 2012 London Olympiad. We will get to revisit the class in that time and see what they have came up with.

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How to use social media as a London 2012 gamesmaker (remixed) #media2012 #occupy2012

Over the past couple of days, the London Organising Commitee of the Olympic Game’s (LOCOG) official guidelines for social media policy has emerged publicly. There have been some reports relating to the Olympic Gamesmakers, the voluntary labour force who are essential to the smooth running of the event this summer, and their use of social media. That being, not to use it. Especially if they are going to document their personal stories as gamesmakers in a journalistic way.

Although the document is apparently shared on a volunteer-only training site, so difficult to access, the BBC, the official media broadcaster for London 2012, reported that it in the dos and don’t section, the volunteer’s were asked:

  • not to disclose their location
  • not to post a picture or video of Locog backstage areas closed to the public
  • not to disclose breaking news about an athlete
  • not to tell their social network about a visiting VIP, eg an athlete, celebrity or dignitary.
  • not to get involved in detailed discussion about the Games online
  • but they can retweet or pass on official London 2012 postings.

I don’t kn0w about you, but when I’m told not to do something, I can’t help but see what would happen if I do. So I managed to get a copy of the document to see for myself – and because there is now a ream of blog posts that are declaring that LOCOG and the international olympic committee (IOC) don’t “get it.” To assume that there is something to ‘get’ is particularly naive, and tends to come from those who are already social media evangelists wondering why the Olympic Games might not want to join in on their own, rather successful, digital and social web revolution. You see, the IOC are not the same as you and I, they know exactly what they are doing when they employ a communication and social media strategy to their game-play – it is about control, it is about access and as always, it is about protecting the stakeholders – the sponsors, the corporate media and themselves. They could not be seen letting a measly volunteer breaking a story that would be saved for their major American sponsors NBC, who’s media right revenue pay for over half of the costs outright. This is their response to concerns expressed ahead of the 2009 Olympic congress in Copenhagen and respond they have.

So here is what not to do (or indeed, what might be quite useful to do if you are thinking about becoming a citizen journalist during the games.)

Over-sharing London 2012 activities or information

From the document:

“It’s understandable that if you are proud or excited about something that has happened while you’re volunteering, you will want to tell people about it. But there are groups of people outside of LOCOG who are paid to scour the internet and target information about particular organisations. Their intentions could be to breach our security, or to affect our reputation, and as you might expect London 2012 could quite easily become such a target as our profile greatly increases up to and during the Games.”

This is a reason not to share information. Because there are boggy men out there who are out there to tarnish or critique the olympic games, or even try and make their own money of the back of their movement (oh my god, where they meant to be a boost to the *entire* economy, not just their own??). The language used implies that you are part of the larger family, that you are the movement by becoming a games maker. The good guys. When really, the corporate communication team is more concerned about keeping to a uniformed message, a narrative of games time, a history that will be remembered collectively. There are many other things that happen outside and within the games experience that will not be reported on, stories that may not necessary target the Olympics but will illustrate that the world isn’t as one-dimensional as corporate communications makes out to be.

They’ve even given an example of what you can tweet. Which is nice of them. This really begs the question now about ownership of twitter accounts, and more philosophically, who owns experiences in these surroundings?

Getting on your soapbox

“We all have opinions that we like to share with our friends and family, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just remember that when posting your comments online it is exactly the same as someone overhearing you in a public place, so please stop and think before posting your comment. Also if people know you are a Games Maker volunteer they could associate what you say with London 2012, or even interpret it as LOCOG’s opinion.”

If you are a known games maker, you are to direct the criticism directed at you to the ‘contact us’ form on the the London 2012 site – a bit like speaking your brains, a bit like neutralizing yourself so they don’t have to. As with more employer guidelines, it’s about you representing a brand or the company, not representing yourself – despite the fact that you are volunteering your own labour on their behalf. The brand is so strong, so omnipresent that it is taken for granted that it is a-political, that you should really think very carefully about stepping outside the party line. I (personally) think soapboxes should be encouraged- but I’ve already been told I have an ‘opinion’ – like it is a bad thing.

Leaking sensitive information

“Some volunteers may be privileged in their roles to have access to highly confidential and sensitive information, on a daily basis. Sometimes we are so exposed to it that we forget how valuable a small nugget would be to a potential intruder. We trust you not to share this information. Please also respect the privacy of people from outside LOCOG who may become involved in some way e.g. visiting VIPs.”

Intruder? What? Seriously. The notion that this is about protecting the Olympics from the lurking bad guy is patronizing at best. It’s about control, it is about access and it is about exclusivity to information. You are caught up in a web of PR professionals and corporate marketing teams, they rule the space and they dictate the relationships that can and cannot be formed in public. It’s celebrity and sport personality culture at best and it is one of the strongest commercial assets that exists on televised and print media. Especially any dirt on those VIPs.

What about LinkedIn?

“LinkedIn is a site specifically designed for discussing work and employment. Therefore London 2012 understands that exceptions need to be made to ensure our volunteers are able to benefit from the networking potential the site allows. However, we do ask that you limit the information you share on LinkedIn about your work while volunteering at London 2012 to the following:   

Job title •    Skill-set you have developed / applied in your work volunteering at London 2012 (in
general terms, without giving specific examples / names of operations involved)”

There is a thing about volunteering. It is meant to make you more employable, give you something to talk about at job interviews, help you get on the career ladder. But if you can’t talk about your role in the detail that you would like, personalize it to suit your own experiences, then I’m not sure what the benefits are working for free this summer.

On aggregation:

“Please be aware that by synchronising accounts you are allowing an outsider to build up quite a comprehensive profile of you, and potentially your role at London 2012.”

Remember guys, we are the outsiders.


This is, for me, is not about LOCOG “not getting” social media, far from it, this is their attempt to set the ground rules for themselves and other big corporations (such as their sponsors for instance) for dealing with the use of social media amongst their employees in the future. This is the start of shutting down channels and establishing new mechanisms of control when it comes to managing employees on the ground. This is setting the benchmark for what we might expect in the future if we are to look at worker’s rights, ways that online behavior can affect or determine future contracts or job opportunities. This is about control, and not about an established monitoring program, it is about hoping that people will be too nervous or too proud to break the rules. They know exactly what they are doing.

But as I mentioned in my “occupy the Olympics” post last November for games monitor, this doesn’t mean that you need to pay attention to this. One of the greatest threats to the Olympic Games is the alternative narratives that might emerge during the time the world’s media is watching. Why do you think Cameron is so keen to ban protest, sweep up parliament square and get water cannons in place?

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Olympic education and the need to protect critique: Guest Post for @Podiumfor2012


Taken at the International Olympic Academy, Ancient Olympia

Last week I was asked to write a guest blog post for Podium. Podium are the official link between the London 2012 Olympic Games and higher and further education institutions – and encourage and promote the Olympic movement through education. I was asked to write about my experience/thoughts on the International Olympic Academy (where I have been for the month of September), an often under looked, but critically important part of the modern Olympic movement.

An extract from the post is below, the full article is available here.

“To those outside of the Olympic studies field, the notion of a educational institution dedicated to academic discussion about one of the world’s largest (and corporate) media events, can seem problematic.

Nevertheless, the link between education and the Olympics is not a new concept. It is embedded within the Olympic charter – the rules that the IOC use to govern the delivery of the Games – and is institutionalised internationally through national Olympic academies and their relationships with the local schools and colleges in each country.

Education is a big deal to the Olympic movement. Education is a way of ensuring that the Games have a future by introducing the Olympics to younger generations, making the symbols, sport and the ‘philosophy’ of Olympism is heard wider and often.

However, it is more important than ever to provide spaces and opportunities to ask critical questions about what exactly is being offered as part of an educational Olympic package – and who exactly benefits from the Games ongoing success?

Furthermore, there are many who do not feel nor experience the benefits that a country hosting the Games claims to offer. This is a huge problem if we are to continue to present the Olympic Games as a force for intrinsic common good.”

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