Well when are we going to turn around and look at ourselves? Businesses are falling apart and lives are being literally destroyed at the mercy of stories going 'viral' and each and every person who shared, commented or retweeted the story go on with their lives unaffected and unaware of the trouble that has been caused. I like to think that I've done my best to avoid jumping on band wagons and have tried to remember that there are always two sides of every story.
Recently I had a bit of a moral dilemma.
There was an incident on Crufts where a dog became distressed during judging. It was just a momentary incident and I'm sure the dog recovered well but from an educators point of view I thought that the footage would be a fantastic educational tool as the dog displayed beautifully clear stress signalling that people often miss.
I teach students to learn about dog behaviour, how to train them and how to understand them. Its very difficult to get our own footage of stressed dogs as obviously, in my profession, and in our doggie daycare centre, we do everything possible to avoid a dog becoming stressed.
Bored on a Tuesday afternoon, I sat down and quickly chopped up the video, breaking it down to different stress signals, and pointing out what the watcher needed to see and learn about body language.
I popped it up on Facebook and asked for those interested in learning about behaviour to share it amongst their dog loving friends.
I thought very little of it, and when I logged back in hours later the video had been viewed a couple of hundred times.
Facebook has messed around a bit with professional pages, so getting a good number of views on a post helps your general ratings, so obviously I was pleased that the video was being watched and shared.
Well, I suppose you could say the video went 'viral'. After 36 hours the video had shown up on almost 300,000 facebook pages, and been watched by just under 90,000 people. I was getting calls from the media about discussing the video further, and messages from teachers who wanted to share the video with their students.
So many comments coming in were saying how great it is to learn about dog behaviour that they had not understood before so the video was doing what was intended, educating people.
As the video was shared far and wide, the owners of the dog who had the stressful experience in the ring had also seen the video. I had hoped that they would see it for what it was, an opportunity for people to learn more about understanding their dogs, but alas, nope. They wanted it taken down.
Hence the dilemma. The video was educating thousands upon thousands of people, which was the intention and was pure and selfless. The video was also getting me free promotion and hundreds of new 'likes', which of course was benefitting me personally. Everything all happened quite fast, and while deciding what to do I was monitoring the comments closely. There were no negative comments against the dog or the owner. A couple criticizing the judge for not backing away, but the overwhelming majority were claiming that the video was educational and were grateful for that.
After 36 hours facebook deleted the post, I'm imagining on the back of the dog owners complaints. And to be honest I was relieved that facebook stepped in as I was struggling with the decision of whether I should delete it or not.
It was a massive learning curve, and with the benefit of hindsight I wouldn't have used the video without contacting the owners directly, though I of course hadn't expected the sheer numbers of viewers.
This week in Limerick, a poor Staffordshire bull terrier was found tied to a tree with horrific injuries consistent with being used as bait to 'train' fighting dogs. The Gardai had to monitor the area in which the dog was found as vigilante groups were scouring the area looking for the young adults who were responsible for this dog.
Yesterday a professional Facebook page in the UK publicly called out a construction company who allegedly accidentally let a customers dog escape. The post named and shamed the business publicly on hearing just the side of the dog owner. This began going viral, and will no doubt have an impact on the business.
All too often, from behind the safety of a laptop, vicious opinions are openly and proudly shared with no compassion or attempts to understand the impact of such words.
I'm often reminded of a life lesson I learnt from ISPCA inspector Lisa O'Donovan. I studied under Lisa on an animal welfare course. Lisa would give us the details of a case. She would describe the condition of the animal and its surroundings. We would then give our opinions of the sentence the owner deserved. Lisa would let us vent, and stand our ground on how this owner should be punished. We would then learn the position of the owner.
More often than not the owner was in a very sorry position, and was prioritising buying food for their animals over food for themselves.
The moral of the story was you NEVER know why a person acts in a certain way, or all the elements that have contributed to the 'story' that you are presented with.
We all need to learn how to put ourselves in the shoes of the persons we are about to publicly bash. We all need to learn to count to 10 before hitting the key board. And finally, we all need to stop clicking send. If you find yourself getting cross in a public forum about a mistreated animal. Stop pointing and start looking internally. Instead of spending Friday evening typing angry or "poor dog, this needs to stop" type messages, instead get up early on Saturday morning and spend just 30 minutes walking dogs at your local rescue centre.
The power of the internet is immense, and I fear that we all, myself included, lose a bit of our humanity when we're behind the bullet proof screen of a computer, but our words break right through the screen of those we are publicly bashing and can ruin lives.
I know I'm going to do all I can to stop and think from now on.
Who's with me?