Monday, May 16, 2016

Cyber Bullying


As a child, I was inspired by stories of courageous people who did wonderful things and changed the world around them.  They were my heroes.  Some of them were real, others were not, but each one followed a code of moral ethics, persevered in the face of adversity, and were dedicated to helping those who could not help themselves.  They had honor and integrity.  Nowadays, there simply are not enough heroes and, in my opinion, if you cannot display the qualities of admirable character, then at least do not be cruel.

For this article, I am not talking about animal cruelty.  What I am discussing is a development that is occurring frequently on social media.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. are superb venues for animal advocacy groups, rescues, and shelters to network animals in need, spread awareness about welfare issues and promote events.  However, if you spend much time on these sites, you will come across a number of individuals who are just downright nasty and cruel.  They appear to take pleasure in spreading rumors, damaging reputations, broadcasting half-truths, and often acting as self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner, all of which they accomplish in a few  posts and comments.  Do not let anyone kid you, this is bullying.  While it may not be the elementary- or high-school variety, it is definitely not benign.  It is called cyberbullying and it can happen to anyone.

Unfortunately, cyberbullying has surfaced as a disturbing trend in animal advocacy/rescue work.  Believe it or not, even charitable organizations and veterinarians are not immune to this unacceptable behavior.  It is important to remember that animal advocates and rescuers are just ordinary people who are trying to do the best that they can for animals in need.  These people spend days networking, transporting, fostering, volunteering at shelters, or rescuing animals to facilitate their adoption.  They often put their own life and needs on hold while also devoting an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and money to aid and support these helpless creatures.  It is unclear what the motivation is but, whatever the reason may be, cyberbullying within the animal welfare/rescue community causes unbelievable harm.

Cyberbullying extracts a huge emotional toll on the target.  It also has the potential to dissuade many others from trying to be an advocate or rescuer and, perhaps most of all, it takes time away from the true goal of helping the helpless.  If we are dealing with these people, we are not working on everything else vital to protect and save animals.  Programs to improve animal welfare, transporting, fostering, rescuing, fundraising for crucial revenues necessary to provide food, shelter, medical, etc. all take a back seat because of the need to protect reputations that years of painstaking work have built.

Perhaps the worst part is that these cyberbullies claim they are also animal welfare advocates.  They vocalize vehemently on how they have nothing but the best interests of the animal in mind.  Yet, instead of assisting, they merely agitate and incite.  For those of us involved with animal welfare, it is difficult enough to deal with the end- result of constant heartless acts perpetuated on the animals without having to deal with the aggressive acts of supposedly “one of our own”. 

What can we do prevent cyberbullying?  We can report abuse and harassment.  Facebook, for example, provides information at (https://www.facebook.com/help/reportlinks) on what to do, depending upon where the abusive content is located.  We can block or delete offenders from our sites.  If you are a bystander (not the person or group targeted) step up on behalf of the victim and encourage others to do the same.  Do not spread malicious gossip and, if you see or hear see something that is wrong, inform the person or group being besieged, for they may not be aware.  It takes courage for someone to step up on behalf of a bully’s victim, but remember that using insults or threats to defend does nothing to diffuse or aid a situation. 

The positive, life-saving results of those active within the animal welfare community speak for themselves.  They have strength of character, they persevere against tremendous odds, they work together towards a common goal, and they positively encourage others to do the same.  For the animals that benefit, these people are true heroes!  If you do not wish to work alongside these individuals and get in the trenches with them, then do not hinder or hurt them.  Do not become a villain.  Not one animal has ever been saved by online harassment, verbal abuse, or acts of cruelty. 


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