Best of 2016: Facebook trolls and the 106 West Triathlon
December 30, 2016
Editor's note: The 106 West Triathlon, Summit County's first half-Ironman, debuted earlier this summer to fanfare and vitriol. A small but vocal group of locals bashed it constantly on our Facebook page for reasons I'll honestly never understand. I still stand by everything I wrote the week after it came and went.
Earlier this week, I got two emails from two different sources with one thing in common: last Saturday's 106° West Triathlon, the first half-Ironman in Summit County and the only open-water swim allowed in Lake Dillon.
The first was from the event organizers (via interim Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons) and it tells about Lydia Young, a Summit County local who was the absolute final person to cross the finish line. At 67 years old, the only thing she wanted was to swim in Lake Dillon — even if that meant she also had to suffer through a 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. And she did.
The second was from Frank Piszkin, a Fort Collins local who happened to see his photo online and asked for a copy. The race was his first half-Ironman, and after placing third in the 55-59 age group he wanted something to commemorate a day he won't soon forget.
"Just living in the High Country should be (a) treat enough so racing isn't that necessary," Piszkin wrote me. "(But) sometimes just being a part of such events is fulfilling and a positive experience — without any of the drama and inherent anxieties."
These emails were personal, private and sincere. I've never done a triathlon, but Piszkin and Young might have convinced me.
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Then there were the comments on the Summit Daily Facebook page. Some were observations about low attendance and closed roads (both true). Others were legitimate complaints about lost business (hard to verify). Still others implied no one in the community wanted this event and that the Summit Daily was cashing in a big, fat, pension-feeding check to cover this historic half-Ironman. (It's the same thing I'll most likely hear about this very column, since I'm talking about 106° West all over again. Trust me: If I were getting paid to promote this stuff, I'd be working for a marketing agency and not the free local newspaper. There's a difference between promotion and coverage.)
The way I see it, Facebook comments are the digital version of letters to the editor, only less articulate and way more incendiary. They're written by people who want to be heard, plain and simple, and there's no problem with that. I believe media should inspire dialogue, not quell it.
But this small and vocal group usually knows that being contrarian is the best way to get noticed — the whole squeaky-wheel-gets-the-oil thing — and that attitude is magnified in small Summit County. Negativity, finger pointing and, sometimes, pure hate are substitutes for legitimate dialogue, but would you talk that way with someone at the bar, or in the grocery store?
The whole thing reminds me of schoolchildren squabbling over a tetherball: everyone yelling, nobody listening. You see the same happening with commentary on the presidential election, which is an entirely different (and more frightening) can of worms than complaining about road closures for a one-day triathlon. When entire platforms get boiled down to "my way or the highway," the democratic system needs a reset.
There's a point to all this: I don't really understand why our audience gets so down on things. We live in a beautiful place with incredible opportunities, not only for us locals, but also for like-minded folks who love this slice of the world as much as we do, people like Piszkin. Why choose a public forum to bash on trivial things when he'll never forget that day for all the right reasons?
I wish I could say I get it — freedom of expression and all that — but I don't. Part of it is how I use social media: I don't. Outside of work I rarely get on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and comment boards, and a lot of that boils down to the shocking negativity from everyday people. The only platform I browse is Instagram, and that's because it seems like just about everyone there loves seeing and sharing cool s***. My feed is like Mack Dawg meets Warren Miller meets screensaver, only with amateur photographers posing as pro athletes and pro athletes posing as amateur photographers.
Are these Facebook commenters trolls — the faceless, nameless commenters who cyber bully for fun? No, I don't think so, but they share the same need to incite through spite. It might all be a game, but I honestly can't understand why any of it is fun.
So here's a thought: Instead of pounding out an angry Facebook blurb between work shifts or bong rips or whatever, try writing a few thoughtful paragraphs about the debilitating road closures on U.S. Highway 6, or maybe the evil, money-grubbing motives of your local town council. When you do, send it straight to me at email@example.com and I'll share with the triathlon organizers. (You can also go online to TownofDillon.com and fill out the impact survey.)
Or, even better, try writing a thoughtful treatise on your favorite biking trails, or maybe why you're looking forward to ski season. No one else might read it (unless you give me permission to print), and it probably won't roll off the fingers like a Facebook screed. But I'll bet it's something you'll remember writing a week or two or eight down the road — long after the internet forgot all about a Facebook rant.
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