Free Solo Confidential: An Update

On March 2, I published an article about how Steven Munatones’s “Free Solo (Confidential)” led to proof that he sabotaged Openwaterpedia. Since then, a lot has happened: the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) announced an investigation, Steven Munatones began spamming Openwaterpedia with links to a revenge blog, and then everything went deafeningly quiet.

When WOWSA blocked Steven Munatones’s Openwaterpedia account on January 30 for “Inserting nonsense/gibberish into pages,” he must have felt that his own organization had betrayed him. When the WOWSA board unblocked him on February 22, I assumed Steven was back in WOWSA’s good graces, and they wouldn’t take my accusations seriously.

I’m pleased to say I was wrong. “WOWSA takes these allegations seriously,” they wrote on March 4,

and has initiated an investigation to determine the veracity of these claims. To the extent any of these allegations are found to be true, appropriate action will be taken.

Needless to say, that development didn’t please Steven. As a WOWSA co-owner and the most prolific contributor to its blog, he must have felt this as a second betrayal.

Throughout February, Steven laid low, even after having his Openwaterpedia privileges restored. He made only a handful of edits between then and early March. Odd behavior for Steven, given that he’d made over 1300 edits in January and over 1500 in December, and the number of his revisions over the years dwarfs those of any other of the few people permitted to edit the site.

What’s more, he stopped posting to WOWSA’s blog. He published his last post, “Winter Swimming Clubs Around the World Compete Internationally,” on January 30 — the day he lost his Openwaterpedia editing privileges — and never posted again. All articles since have carried a WOWSA byline.

For years, Steven’s Openwaterpedia User page has identified him as Simon Holliday, “a Hong Kong based open water swimmer.” (Simon Holliday is, in fact, a marathon swimmer based in Hong Kong.) On March 6, a WOWSA administrator added a notation to Steven’s User discussion page:

This profile is not Simon Holliday. It is an Admin account used by Steven Munatones.

Recall that the vandal (i.e., Steven) hid behind swimmer-related usernames like Jolyn12 (see Jolyn swimwear of Huntington Beach, Steven’s hometown); and KCassidy, MarcyMacD, and AlexArevalo (see Kevin Cassidy, Marcy MacDonald, and Alex Arévalo).

Steven’s Pique Performance

Steven’s lack of activity made me suspicious. He had to be furious, so what was he doing with his anger?

On March 7, we found out.

Indignant at what he perceived as mistreatment by WOWSA, Steven had created his own blog, Open Water Swimming News & Views. He began quietly publishing there on February 20.

Above: Detail from “The Contemporary Waterworld with Bruckner Chase,” the first post Steven published on Open Water Swimming News & Views.

By March 5, Steven had added 19 titles.

The March 6 addition to Steven’s User discussion page was probably the last straw. On the 7th, he began furiously spamming Openwaterpedia entries with links to his new blog. He wanted to siphon traffic away from WOWSA-owned sites. Between 3:08 am and 4:18 am, he visited 127 Openwaterpedia pages, spamming most of them with multiple links to Open Water Swimming News & Views posts.

At one point, he spam-linked nine pages in one minute. That has to be some sort of record:

Though Openwaterpedia calls itself “the Wikipedia for the open water swimming world,” it is not that for many reasons, including allowing link spamming. Openwaterpedia has no policy regarding link spamming — what Wikipedia defines in its anti-spam guidelines as “Adding external links to an article or user page for the purpose of promoting a website or a product.” In 2010, Steven almost lost his Wikipedia editing privileges after repeated warnings about inserting spam links:

An entry from Steven’s Wikipedia User talk page. Steven learned the hard way that Wikipedia would not allow him to run rampant on their site the way he does on Openwaterpedia.

Steven has always done this. For instance, all but five of the 126 “External links” on Openwaterpedia’s Cook Strait entry are not external. Instead, they circle back to WOWSA-owned sites: Openwaterpedia and the WOWSA blog. Those links serve less as support for the article and more as ads for WOWSA entities. Wikipedia would consider them spam.

Of the five external links, the newest two link to Steven’s revenge blog. Since March 5, Steven has added such spam links to over 200 Openwaterpedia pages to draw as much traffic as possible away from WOWSA sites and onto Open Water Swimming News & Views.

This can’t have pleased WOWSA. However, since they announced their investigation on March 4, they’ve remained silent on the vandalism, not to mention Steven’s subsequent activities. Here’s hoping they’ve been just as busy as Steven was during his dormancy.

Why does any of this matter?

For one thing, because the truth matters and Steven has spent years lying about the Openwaterpedia sabotage to me, his readers, his fellow swimmers, and WOWSA.

Then there’s Diana Nyad. She surrounds herself with reputable people, as many con artists do, flogging their credentials and parasitizing their good names. Steven has functioned as Nyad’s marathon swimming “expert” for years, buttressing her reputation with his presumed credibility.

However, unlike her other experts, he will lie for her. He sabotaged Openwaterpedia for the sole reason of making her look like one of the best marathon swimmers of the 1970s. I’d be extremely surprised if the makers of Nyad’s upcoming biopic didn’t use Steven, her compromised fixer, as a consultant. That means he has lied to them, too. The sooner WOWSA reveals the truth about Steven Munatones, the better.

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