Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trolling in the Deep: The Best "Under the Bridge" in Swimming

If you follow the most popular swimming websites, it's easy to appreciate what's out there these days. It wasn't so long ago that there was nowhere to discuss swimming, swimming related topics, or even for two former high level swimmers to post their online chats. Now we have all that. That greater opportunity however, comes with a cost. Behold, the terrors of internet fun: trolls.

Before we move on, let us at least have a working definition for "troll". A troll is somebody who's conversations in an online discussion who engages in behavior purposefully off topic and/or with the intent to rile people up (also known as "flaming" The inspiration for this post comes from the collegeswimming.com forums, which, despite a recent challenge from Swimswam, remains the heavyweight champion for righteous indignation when discussing swimming on the internet.

Last week, a post from frequent collegeswimming forum poster "PurpleKnight" appeared in the general discussion forum. Entitled "An Open Request to XCHRIS8SIRCHX", PurpleKnight, aka University of Bridgeport Head Swimming and Diving Coach Brad Flood, took issue with above named, also known as "I forget", but who was at some point involved with Limestone college swimming. In this instance, Flood is upset with "Chris" over his use of variants of "retard" as an insult in forum discussions. The two have been at each other on the boards for years, even getting to the point where collegeswimming founder Greg Earhart once created a forum specifically for them to duke it out. The consensus from the boards seems to be that "Chris" is the troll of collegeswimming.com. I'm sure from "Chris's" perspective Flood is the real troll, and at times their arguments have gotten out of hand.

Which begs the question: what does one do with a troll? I've been writing a blog about swimming since 2008, and in my time I've come across many angry people on the internet. I can't say I've perfected how to handle this situation, but I have learned a few techniques:

1. If possible, ignore. This is what you should do almost all the time. Often people react to angry, off topic comments or personal attacks immediately and emotionally. This is a bad idea, you quickly get sucked down to level of whoever is "trolling" you and look equally bad.

2. If you must engage, do it calmly and carefully. At times, someone will include an actual on topic argument sandwiched with trolling. If you don't want to let the substantial part of their argument go, wade in and take the high road. Make a good response and let anyone who stumbles by the thread think "wow that person was totally reasonable and the other person was a total jerk!". Resist the urge to embarrass the other person if you have the high ground.

3. Keep an open mind. Even those most twisted, fictional and crazed responses can teach you something. It's never a good idea to get entrenched in an internet argument that becomes more about proving you are "right" more than actually figuring out what is "right". Even the wildest internet trolls can teach you that in fact, yes, there is someone out there who thinks that way. Knowledge is power!


  1. Charles E. Morton, TrollsquireJuly 17, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    I'm glad I'm not an American-hating pessimist like Chris DeSantis. Then I wouldn't pick fights with the head of USA Swimming and root against America at the Olympics. Go back to the North Pole, or wherever it is you Dutch people come from.

  2. Charles,

    That really hurts coming from you.