03/10/2016 10:06AM

Gisser: Rollercoaster ride on the Internet

Derick Giwner
Contrary to some reports, there are no plans for Captaintreacherous to come out of retirement.

A couple of months back I wrote about the importance of our sport increasing its engagement in social media. Since then, a number of things have occurred affecting our online presence, including a misstep on my part.

First, after a bit of a battle, the U.S. Trotting Association’s Board of Directors renewed a $250,000 contract with Converseon for the Social Media Initiative. Second, the sport’s media elite were thrown into a tizzy by a rumor that Captaintreacherous was back in training. He wasn’t. I know that now, because I started that rumor.

It was innocent enough. I saw a post online a couple of months back with a picture of trainer Tony Alagna and ‘The Captain’, with the caption stating “Alagna is pleased with the way Captaintreacherous is training this winter.” So, when I put out a press release naming Alagna as a new Trustee of the Harness Horse Youth Foundation, I innocently added that line, sent out the release and went out to run a few errands. When I returned, all heck had broken loose. My inbox was full. Then my phone started ringing . . . and ringing . . . and ringing some more.

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So, while the post I saw was indeed new, made in January of this year, it turned out to be a repost of an article from 2014. Moral of the story? Like Abraham Lincoln says in a popular meme, “Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.”

It was an honest mistake, but one that I have regularly taken others to task for in the past. Suffice to say, I will check things out just a bit more carefully in the future. That’s the bad of the Internet. Not everything posted is vetted, true or current. Double-check. How many times did Abe Vigoda die online before he really did pass on?

Column aside: A link just showed up on my Facebook timeline touting an “important new video” about the rights of animal owners, a topic which is very important to me. The important new video was originally posted in 2008, by an entity that no longer exists.

Meanwhile, the Presidential campaign is bringing out the online ugly in lots of people, and it is spreading to other areas of the Interwebs, ruining what could have been decent conversations. I respect other people’s opinions, even when I disagree with them. But the tone of some of the rants I am seeing is disturbing.

There is hope, and it comes from a representative of our sport. Recently an anonymous writer calling himself “The Curmudgeon” posted a best drivers list in  Harness Racing Update. Online disagreement on the composition of his list, as flawed as even he admitted it was, after the fact, has been downright collegial. Perhaps if this Curmudgeon character ran for President, he could bring strong opinions, stated respectfully, to the debate. Unfortunately, rumor has it that he was born in Canada.

The good is that the USTA Social Media Initiative renewal happened. While it should have been an easy no-brainer, the discussion became contentious. At times, I was not sure if I was watching video of a USTA Directors’ meeting or a Republican debate.

To be clear, the USTA Directors have every right to demand accountability from Rob Key and Converseon. While we cannot necessarily put a dollar value on the successes of the Social Media Initiative the way we can on the work of Harness Racing Communications (Did you know HRC’s story on Wiggle It Jiggleit winning Horse of the Year was placed in 74 general media outlets and had an equivalent $2.54 million in print ad value?), there is certainly some metric that can be used to measure success, both overall or relatively within segments of the initiative.

Whether it was three or four Directors who voted against the issue, the idea that many wanted to go off the record and vote privately is disturbing on a number of counts. First, it implies that many of the Directors actually opposed the renewal of the contract. Second, it implies they did not have the intestinal fortitude to stand up for their beliefs, whatever they were. Third, it shows a complete disconnect with the realities of 2016, where even I, Luddite that I am, participate in the Twitterverse.

Fortunately, that 23-21 vote did not reach the two-thirds majority required for a secret ballot. Just as the Directors deserve accountability from Converseon or HRC, we deserve accountability from them. Secret ballots do not serve that purpose. The Directors who requested a secret ballot should be embarrassed for themselves.

Initially, I also felt the Directors who voted “no” should immediately tender their resignations for their refusal to assist the sport in moving forward. But, as I listened more to their reasons, as much as I disagree with them, I do not believe they were being obstructionist or malfeasant. Their reasoning makes logical sense to them, so we will just agree to disagree.

I also generally like the makeup of the USTA Social Media Advisory Committee, although with Nick Salvi the only member over 50 and Tony Alagna (who does not have Captaintreacherous back in training) the next oldest at a youthful 43, the USTA may be missing a chance to reach out to the older generation of members who seem to be a bit more resistant to this kind of initiative. That over-40 demographic also makes up the bulk of current racing fans, and while I know a big part of the Social Media Initiative is reaching out to the potential younger fans, we cannot totally ignore the older fan/owner/gambler.

I did feel the hair on the back of my neck standup when I read another recent Harness Racing Update and saw the headline “Where Rob Key has it wrong” by Dean Towers. But Towers, in a well-researched and well-structured article, makes the argument that the $250,000 investment in social media is not enough. He makes a case that an investment nearly ten times that should be considered. If our sport is forward thinking enough, perhaps Key will get that amount next year.

Now go cash. See you next month.

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