Shawn Johnson has a message to Olympians who get the urge to jump on social media: Be careful.
The London Olympics are being called the first ‘social media Games,’ where more fans than ever before will flock to Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere to follow the action.
Johnson, TODAY.com’s special correspondent and 2008 gymnastics gold medalist, warned against athletes getting too wrapped up in social media at the expense of their primary focus. Johnson has 189,000 Twitter followers, so she is well aware of the impact it can make.
“I think it can (be a distraction) if they allow it,’’ Johnson told Al Roker on TODAY in London Friday. “I think they need to almost censor it themselves. There’s going to be a lot of critics, a lot of opinions, a lot of competitors on social media that are going to say and do what they want, and if they read that, it can get to them, but it can also connect the world.’’
The dangers of social media for athletes during the Games came into focus this week when a Greek triple-jumper was removed from the team when a tweet about African immigrants was deemed racist. Voula Papachristou was dismissed by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, which announced that she was placed “outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.’’
After winning three medals in Beijing in 2008, including a gold in the balance beam, Johnson, 20, is adjusting to life on the other side of the spectacle as a member of the media. She retired in June, three weeks before the Olympic trials, because of a nagging knee injury she suffered while skiing.
“It’s a little bittersweet,’’ she said. “I would give anything to be on the team, but coming up a little short and having to retire was the best decision to me. Now getting to interview athletes and have fun with it, it’s going to be interesting.’’
She plans on taking in Friday’s Opening Ceremony as a spectator, four years after she entered as part of the American team in Beijing.
“It’s going to be weird,’’ she said. “I would love to be walking through it. I’ll probably get a little emotional even, but it’s going to be cool seeing my teammates walk through, and I’m very proud of them.’’
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