DROP THE SEEBOHM: learning the lesson of social media hype


(Drop The) Seebohm: #totesdevo

Emily Seebohm. Oh the poor thing. With a name like that, it’s open season without even trying. She even calls herself emcbomb on the Twitter – her “handle”, so I’m told that’s called.

I don’t know about a handle, but her reaction to winning the Silver medal in last night’s 100m backstroke final certainly sounded like she was yanking someone’s chain!

So what do we have here? We have a 20-year-old professional swimmer, already attending her second Olympic Games, having previously swum on the Gold medal-winning 4x100m Medley Relay team at Beijing in 2008. She’s been winning Gold medals since she was 14 years old, she’s been both Australian and World Record holder in several strokes at various times over the past five years and was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia at the tender age of 17.

Cut to July 2012 and she gets to London, gets into the backstroke final – in 2008 she placed ninth and missed the final altogether – and comes second, winning the Silver medal. Then she promptly dissolves into an inconsolable mass of tears.

Talk about first world problems.

In her first out-of-the-water interview, with former Australian Olympic swimming great and Nine Network Olympic Commentator Grant Hackett, a positively distraught Seebohm conceded she really was happy about the whole thing, but that she felt she’d let down her family and her country.

It wasn’t until later that the truth really came out. Emily Seebohm was a victim of Social Media Karma – that is, believing her own social media hype. Which is to say, the hype generated via social media about her and about her chances of winning Gold, as posted by tens of thousands of adoring fans who know absolutely nothing about her. Or if they do, at best they’ll know little more than the most casual observer of Olympic swimming would know. Important stuff like… her name is Emily Seebohm… she’s a swimmer… she’s totes gonna win some kind of medal thingy tonight… stuff like that.

And yet, in that curious way that today’s teens and twenty-somethings do, Emily Seebohm casually waved aside the fact that the vast majority of all this online love was based on approximately no actual knowledge of what she was capable of and probably even less of her competitors’ abilities.


(Drop The) Seebohm: #stilltotesdevo, #firstworldproblems, #icametolondontwentytwelveandalligtwasthisrancidsilvermedal

This, to one commentator’s mind, was clearly a question worth asking of Seebohm. Quite shockingly, Seebohm agreed. “I don’t know, I just felt like I didn’t really get off [social media] and get into my own mind. I obviously need to sign out of Twitter and log out of Facebook a lot sooner than I did”. I could say something about the poorly constructed and loosely connected statements she made, but really, the girl deserves an award for having been able to say anything at all through all the blubbing and tears and snot flying about everywhere. Given her somewhat unexpected ‘coming out’ as a social media whore / addict, I should probably cut her some slack.

The lesson that Emily Seebohm learned last night was a valuable one. She’s learnt it in the most publicly humiliating way too. In the old days, support came in a few fairly limited, reasonably restrained forms. Love and phone calls from the family and friends, maybe some texts in more recent years, a bit of press time, an trackside interview with the Games-sponsoring Australian TV network and that was more or less that. Back then, I imagine that support was a way to balance out what must be enormous pressures associated with competing professionally at Olympic level. Today I can only imagine that support has gone toxic. As if social networking and the online universe of instantly available information isn’t already too much for the average man in the street, our youngest and most impressionable Olympians have “support” streaming into their mobile device of choice constantly, endlessly, 24 hours a day. Most of it will be from people who they’ve never met before, nor are they ever likely to.

How many 20-year-olds would truly be savvy enough, mature enough, not to get sucked into all the hype surrounding themselves and their own ability, the weight of a nation’s hopes on their shoulders and an endless stream of drivel feeding through to them on the Twitter or the Facebook or even on the email.

Poor Emily Seebohm. It was such a sad performance, on so many levels. Like a car crash, I couldn’t stop watching. I felt for the girl on the one hand, I lamented her awful first world problems on the other hand while on the other hand I saw her as perfectly representing all that is bad and wrong and silly about the Gen Y addiction to social media and their inability to separate tweet from reality. I know that’s more hands than I actually have, but what-the-hey. I bet Emily Seebohm wished she’d had three hands last night – she might’ve won that race if she had!

If I were her, I probably would’ve just dropped the c-bomb and moved on. But I guess you only roll like that if you haven’t spent your entire existence in a pool and actually have some understanding of what life in the real world is really like.