May 12th 2013.
Something came to a head this week in the word of cycling. A story which showed all that was good, bad and ugly about following and participating in the sport through social media. It all revolves around a central figure, the Twitter character @UCI_Overlord aka Not Pat McQuaid aka Aaron Brown.
Brown who was much respected and has a depth of knowledge about what goes on in the pro peloton and understands the inner workings of the UCI is one of the founders of the Cyclismas website which takes a satirical look at the world of cycling. The website often focuses on highlighting the way the UCI is run, exposing the weak way it tackles some of the major problems in the sport while rigorously enforcing some silly rules to do with sock length and bike stickers.
A lot of good has to be said about Cyclismas, as well as some people who have found prominence among cycling fans. Most of them had day jobs before airing their thoughts over social media platforms and some have gone on to make a living out of commenting on cycling, mainly using Twitter, blogging and through releasing podcasts. They each have their own style. Some use the medium of snark some are more serious and the rest are both. At the present time when there is much wrong with the sport this varied bunch of social media commentators have done well to highlight where things are going bad. And as more people start using Twitter, more people read things which they wouldn’t find out in the regular press. For example, I hate to do this but I will bring up the Lance Armstrong saga (yawn) now. In his heyday, during and after his cycling career, Armstrong seemed to be able to regulate what was written about him. Through his sponsorship some journalists have suggested they may have lost their jobs when they refused to tow the line. The world has changed a little now. So while ultimately is was the USADA investigation which got Armstrong convicted it was social media which exposed him and may have led to a turn in public opinion which led to his “admission”. Betsey Andreau herself thanked the people who were vocal during this time. So from Armstrong the story moves to Paul Kimmage who, like him or not, was practically leading a one man fight to prove his suspicions that Armstrong was a cheat. Eventually his reporting lead to him losing his job at the Times newspaper and getting sued by the UCI for defamation. So with the UCI case looming social media came to Paul Kimmages rescue in the form of the Cyclismas website. They were to start a campaign where fans could donate money to a fund which would pay for Kimmage’s legal expenses.
Ironically this is when things started turning bad. Some commentators were reminded of being duped by the Floyd Fairness Fund and others felt uncomfortable when Aaron Brown spoke of the Defence Fund as something which fans could buy into, try to topple the UCI and create a better future for the sport. Later there was further confusion as to what, and who was deciding what the money would be used for when the UCI suspended their law action. There was the suggestion that the fund could be used for a counter sue case. There were a few questions asked about the exact purpose of the fund but there were nonly vague and often angry answers. Eventually, last week, a Cyclismas employee decided to check the paypal account where the Defence Fund money was being donated to after it became apparent that she would be liable to pay any taxes due from the pot of money. It seems she found the account to be empty. There are now rumours that some of the money has been used to pay cyclsmas employees. The one person who could explain what has happened here, UCI_Overlord, says he can’t, things are in the hands of his lawyers and there are complex tax issues to be sorted out. The man who called for greater transparency in the UCI hasn’t yet explained why this money has been moved about.
There is much bad about social media. There are many cycling commentators on Twitter who change their views when it suits them and others, usually faceless, make comments just to wind others up. They are not professional journalists. Sources, if any are used, aren’t always checked so opinion and rumour is sometimes confused with fact. What the casual observer forgets is that they should read comments, websites and blogs objectively (apart from this one). Everyone should also be aware when they are giving money over to a campaign it might not be run by professionals who have experience collecting donations. The money could be used for other means. Also perfectly honest mistakes can be made.
During this Kimmage Fund story the ugly side of social media showed it’s self. Debate and argument are good things but sometimes it gets taken too far. Some perfectly reasoned comments were met with vicious responses as some liked to show which side they were on. Many may think this kind of idiotic tribalism would be reserved for race, religion and football but it has been part of following cycling through social media from the start. Unfortunately its something impossible to ignore as these bullies are determined to find someone to abuse, searching for key words on Twitter and digging around forums. So these people simply need to be ignored. No comments. No replies. Most importantly no rising to their level.
The real UCI Overlord must have been enjoying things this last week. So hopefully cycling fans with an interest on matters on and off the road can stick to the good that can be done, as the majority always has, and the minority of bad guys get bored and don’t get heard anymore.