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The internet says swirling is fine, but not stirring. Why is that so?

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Actually, I think "the Internet" is wrong on this one, assuming that we are talking about proper caramel sauce.

In most of candy making, you are very careful of crystalization. You are working with a supersaturated sugar solution, and it is looking for the slightest excuse to precipitate. Stirring will clump the sugar out of the solution into crystals.

Some candy types need to be perfectly smooth, while others (like fudge) get their characteristic texture from careful management of crystal size. You shouldn't be stirring there at all.

But once you have reached caramelization, you can stir. What you have in the pan is no longer a supersaturated sugar solution, but caramelization products mixed in a less-concentrated sugar solution. In other words, you have caramel, which is a substance quite different from sugar syrup. And it does not clump into crystals. It is amorphous in its structure, not a crystal, and it's actually got some viscosity (if you leave a clump a solid caramel around for years, it will flow a few centimeters).

And you are not just dealing with pure caramel, but with caramel sauce, which also has lots of liquid added in the form of cream. So much liquid would have also prevented the sugar syrup from crystalizing if it had been added earlier.

So, to summarize, you shouldn't stir a sugar solution during candy making, but you can stir both caramel and caramel sauce.

It seems that somebody learned the rule about hot sugar solutions and decided that it applies in all kinds of candy making, without exceptions. But in fact, it doesn't apply to caramel sauce.

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    "[...] while others (like fudge) [you] shouldn't be stirring there at all." Regarding fudge I'm not sure I agree. Before the soft-ball stage is reached stirring is fine, provided no sugar crystals are introduced by the spoon. While the fudge cools there should be no stirring until a sufficient number of sugar crystals have started to form (somewhere between 43°C and 54°C) after which stirring is necessary to limit the size of the crystals. – Chris Steinbach Jun 29 '14 at 19:04
  • @ChrisSteinbach Agreed. I was trying to keep from going into too many details, such as having to stir the fudge later. As for stirring while hot, it is possible, but fussy (the crystal introduction you mentioned, worrying about possibly already being too hot because of thermometer lag), so there is a good reason to abstain. – rumtscho Jun 29 '14 at 19:23
  • I've heard the same thing mentioned in the question and have done it that way for decades, why do you think it is wrong? Assuming the only ingredient is caramel sauce is sugar. – Gigili Jun 30 '14 at 12:03
  • @Gigili: It is never true that the only ingredient in caramel sauce is sugar. If the only ingredient is sugar, then it's not a sauce, it's caramelized sugar; it will be very hard and brittle when it cools down. – Aaronut Jun 30 '14 at 14:29
  • @Gigili Pure caramel is not sugar, even though it is made from sugar. It behaves quite differently from sugar. Also, as Aaronut says, caramel sauce is not pure caramel, and neither is it sugar. You shouldn't stir sugar, because it can crystalize and turn grainy. It is OK to stir things which are not sugar, for example caramel. You can also make caramel (or caramel sauce) without stirring, and it is not wrong per se, just inconvenient, and serves no good reason. A source which tells you never to stir caramel is wrong. – rumtscho Jul 1 '14 at 14:28

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