Can Big Data solve the Olympics' Twitter problem?

The Olympics are showcasing the thrill of victory and the agony of the tweet.

olympics-600x450_0.jpgREUTERS/Chris Helgren
Switzerland's Olympic team chief Gian Gilli reacts during a news conference at the London 2012 Olympics July 30, 2012. Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella was expelled from the London Olympics on Monday for sending a racist message on Twitter after his team's defeat by South Korea, the Swiss team said.

There’s a great line in Heathers, a late-80’s movie in which Winona Ryder and Christian Slater play a misfit teenage couple who (in her case, unintentionally) murder the popular kids in school. When she realizes what she’s done, Ryder writes in her diary, “My teen-angst bulls--t has a body count.”

This line popped into my head this morning when I read about the latest Olympic athlete to get kicked out of the games for a tweet.

Twitter may not be a teen yet, but it does have a growing (thankfully, figurative) body count at these Olympics.

In addition to the Swiss soccer player who just got the boot for tweeting a racist remark, there was a female triple-jumper, who was kicked off the Greek Olympic team for also making a racist tweet.

Then there was U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo who used Twitter to complain about NBC soccer commentator (and former Olympian) Brandi Chastain (not in a racist way - whew!). Solo is still on the team and has refused to back down from what she tweeted, but, at the very least, it’s proving to be a distraction at an important time.

So far, they are only the athletes brought down (or at least weighed down) by their comments on twitter, though the day is young.

A reporter for The Independent had his Twitter account suspended when he used it to post the email address of an NBC executive as a way to encourage others to complain about that network’s Olympic coverage. Twitter itself is now taking a PR hit thanks to its handling of this situation.

It’s early yet but, by my count, Twitter has already been responsible for more athletes being ousted from the Olympics than have performance enhancing drugs.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: there was also the case of bandwidth in London being brought to its knees by too many people tweeting.

In short, Twitter is wreaking havoc with the XXXth Olympiad. What can be done about it? Well, at this point, short of the complete shutdown of the worldwide Internet backbone, not much.

But I see a potential solution that may prevent this from happening in Sochi in 2014 or Rio in 2016: Big Data.

Big Data and analytics are already being used to detect art fraud, feed the planet and improve the efficiency of government, so why can’t they be used to predict which Olympic athletes are likely to go off the rails on social media? Let’s put the power of Hadoop to use identifying these nutjobs, so we can temporarily revoke their tweeting privileges before they torpedo their own Olympic dreams.

While we’re at it, let’s also apply the analysis to the media and spectators to save them from themselves, and perhaps to save on some bandwidth too.

But that’s a long term solution. In the meantime, just sit back and enjoy the beach volleyball, er , I mean, the games as best you can; and, if you’re in London over the next 2+ weeks, for the love of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, ease up on the tweeting.

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