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How Twitter is shaping the London Olympics, for better or worse (+video)

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The problem is, it isn't always used that way.

The immediacy and public nature of Twitter and its propensity to induce off-the-cuff irreverence, and sometimes breathtaking ugliness, has added a new and chaotic element to an event where everything from urine samples to sponsors' logos to London traffic is arranged with overcaffeinated attention to detail worthy of a royal wedding.

"Though organizers have spent months touting this as the first social media Summer Games, many of them seem to have been totally unprepared for the huge impact that Twitter has had," said Andy Miah, director of the Creative Futures Institute at the University of the West of Scotland. "I think there was some naivete about the likely role of social media from both participants and from the organizers. Many of them appear to have been wrongfooted."

Twitter has been used in many ways during its brief life — some very organized and tactical, some more spontaneous and disorderly. It has been a tool of protest and organization for the Occupy Wall Street movement and Arab Spring activists. Yet it has also led to the downfall of click-happy politicians, and the sometimes embarrassing late-night revelations of A-list celebrities.

The social network is now at the fingertips of 140 million users, up from a few million when the Olympics were held in Beijing in 2008. The San Francisco-based company says there have been more than 10 million tweets mentioning the Olympics during the first few days of the games. The exponential jump from four years ago has been driven by the rise of smartphones, now carried by spectators and athletes alike, each watching each other watch each other.

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