The 2012 Olympics have begun and around the world, social media engagement levels have reached nearly record highs since the opening ceremonies. Millions of users have taken to networks such as Twitter and Facebook to voice their opinions on the athletes, events and even network television coverage of this year’s Games.

On Twitter, “#NBCFail” and “#Rule40″ have been consistently ranking as trending terms. In fact, the hashtags have even gotten mainstream publicity, with major online news outlets such as CNN and FOX Sports covering the social phenomenon. To NBC and the International Olympic Committee, however, the popularity of these hashtags is somewhat problematic. The “#NBCFail” hashtag is a reference to NBC’s broadcasting of the Games, as many fans feel that the network hasn’t provided satisfactory coverage of all of the Olympic events thus far. However, NBC has publicly responded to the social media backlash with the following statement from NBC Sports Chairman, Mark Lazarus:

“We’ve had some challenges. They’ve been documented by some of you and some of our critics in social media. Some of it is, in fact, fair and we are listening. We knew it wouldn’t be perfect and we said that before the games – we are trying new things.”

NBC’s acknowledgement of its social media detractors is not only a clear indicator of the influence of networks such as Twitter on the mainstream media, but it is also a testament to NBC’s ability to monitor the social space and pay attention to its viewers.

The “#Rule40″ hashtag refers to the IOC’s mandate regarding athletes’ mentioning of sponsors throughout social media for the duration of the Games. Many believe the rule is unfair to the athletes themselves, who rely largely on the income generated by their sponsorship deals. The presence of “#Rule40″ on Twitter has effectively brought the rule to the forefront of social media; but the IOC currently shows no signs of changing their policies regardless of public opinion.

As the 2012 Olympics continue, these and other trending topics related to the Games are likely to gain even more momentum across various social platforms. The importance of social media and online trends pertaining to this year’s event are undeniable and it is expected to be the single most discussed event throughout the online community in the weeks ahead.