The internet. Social media. Very good for some things; not very good for other things.
Most of us have WhatsApp and Facebook groups now, for everything from sharing baby or holiday photos to keeping up to date on what’s happening in your local community. As runners most of us are probably attached to some running-related ones. Maybe you have a running club group or a group for a bunch of friends who run together at weekends. Maybe it’s an event-specific group for a race you’re all training for, or just a huge Facebook group where you share tales of running.
In general these groups are wonderful things. They’re inclusive, they’re efficient, they make sure you don’t alienate somebody by forgetting to include them in an email, they’re supportive and I’m sure they mean that more people get out running more often. I’m also sure that they make so many feel connected and part of a community when they may not necessarily have a physical community to run with. Yes, online groups can be a wonderful thing.
Except sometimes they can go bad. Odd things can happen. Just recently I’ve found myself looking at some of these groups on Facebook and I’ve seen people posting about injuries and illnesses and receiving strange, sometimes downright irresponsible, advice. Then one thing leads to another, people will start quite reasonably questioning the merit of asking a group of strangers for advice, rather than a doctor, and things spiral.
Here’s a (sadly only slightly exaggerated) fictional example:
“Hi everybody, I broke both my legs two weeks ago but I’ve got a 50k next weekend and I was wondering if anybody else had experience of breaking both legs and running an ultra three weeks later? I don’t want to defer if I can help it because I’ve booked a Travelodge”
Reply 1: “Actually I broke both my legs last year, but I just carried on running and completed 6 of the world’s toughest ultras by taking lots of painkillers and transitioning to minimal shoes. Go for it!”
Reply 2: “Err, I really don’t think you should run on broken legs, or take lots of painkillers. I’d listen to a medical professional.”
500 other replies, split between the 2 opinions, in increasingly angry tones…
The most annoying thing about all of these conversations is that they’re worm holes that I can fall down for hours. I read the threads, mesmerised by strange goings-on, like a small child at an aquarium. Maybe I don’t get out enough but I can’t recognise this as the running community I know. People who are supportive, encouraging, respectful and, well, have enough common sense to not encourage people to run on broken legs. And it makes me wonder if it’s all for social media, if it’s a sort of arms race in ‘I’m tougher than you because I run through broken legs/kidney failure/pneumonia etc’ or even if people are just making it up!
And I can’t ever imagine having a conversation like the ones in these groups in real life. Either the silly questions or the overly angry responses to them. Is it just because in these online groups people feel, if not anonymous, at least slightly removed from their fellow runners? Do they feel free to bait or go angry mob on people without fear of reprisal?
I contacted a moderator of a big running Facebook group who said:
“Until I moderated a Facebook group I genuinely believed that there was no such thing as a stupid question. Not any more.”
“And I’m not sure why people attach such credence to the advice they’re given on the internet. It’s strange that they seem happy to put their faith in it because it’s online. You wouldn’t act that way in real life. For example, if you wanted financial advice you’d go to a financial advisor. You wouldn’t attach the same level of importance to the advice the person on the last till in Asda gives you as you would to a qualified financial expert”.
So, to help this madness, we thought we’d publish a quick reference guide to what things running groups on the internet are good for and what they aren’t good for:
Discussing running kit
Discussing running races
Arranging to meet up for runs
Saying well done to runners
Looking at pictures of nice places you’d like to run
Diagnosing serious injuries/illnesses
Asking for answers to incredibly stupid questions about serious injuries/illnesses
So you can see that the good still outweighs the bad by a long way. That’s something to celebrate.
Disclaimer: we at Run247 in no way endorse running on broken legs, or asking really stupid questions that you know the answer to really.