Outing Bad Breeders or Online Bullying?
By Sarah Hartwell
On the face of it, social networking forums for outing bad breeders are a good idea, right? They identify backyard breeders, breeders who sell sickly kittens, and cat hoarders. I’ve found that it’s not that straightforward because such forums can be full of those with axes to grind or grudges to pursue. These forums may do some good, but they do much harm by deterring breeders, who may have had a change of circumstances or poor health, from asking for help. Breeders overwhelmed by a reversal of fortune are too scared of vilification to reach out for help. Ultimately the breeders remain overwhelmed and depressed and the cats suffer because of online bullies claiming their moral high ground.
Let’s face it, people have committed suicide because of online bullying. And other people jump on the bandwagon of what they view as a cause or crusade. It is too easy to hear only one side of the story. The target of the campaign may be blocked (social media sites generally have a “block this person” function, or an “unfriend” function) from responding to allegations so hir voice is silenced.
Maybe you think photos and videos don’t lie. Photos and videos also don’t show the whole truth. They can be cropped and not show the surroundings or the context. Accompanied by false claims that there are worse things not shown in the photos and there is a recipe for outrage. Ask yourself what the poster has got to gain from the claims. Do they have an axe to grind or a hidden agenda regarding the target of their campaign. All too often it isn’t about the welfare of the animals, it is about breeder politics.
Here is a case I was involved in (I am using gender-neutral “s/he” and “hir” pronouns). Buyer “A” bought a young pedigree cat from Breeder B. The cat was neutered and had the standard vaccination and was healthy when it left the breeder’s premises. A few months later, A began an email and web campaign alleging B had sold hir an unhealthy cat, citing an illness that affect the cat throughout its lifetime. B, who was known to be a responsible breeder with a good reputation and an interest in the long-term welfare of hir cats, offered to take back the cat and reimburse the buyer. A declined the offer and continued hir online campaign.
It was ascertained that “A” worked in cat rescue and regularly took in stray cats, including potentially unwell cats, but did not keep these quarantined away from her pedigree cat. The pedigree cat was frequently exposed to pathogens and parasites which could have caused the illness and its long-term effects, however the owner chose to vilify and harass the cat’s breeder rather than accept any responsibility for its condition. S/he could not sue the breeder because the fact of its exposure to strays would have been revealed.
Over several years “B” was the target of an email campaign alleging hir to be a bad breeder who bred and sold unhealthy cats. As a result of the harassment and allegations and attempts to ruin hir good standing in the cat fancy, B suffered stress-related ill-health and was unable to continue breeding.
In this case, the buyer refused to accept hir own part in hir cat’s illness and maintained a campaign against a reputable breeder. The internet makes such bullying tactics easy.
In The End The Animals Suffer
Social networking is a great way of being in contact and asking for advice and even practical help. It is also full of false friends with their own agendas. If breeders or hoarders – or anyone else who has become overwhelmed due to physical or mental health issues – is scared of asking friends for practical help then the situation continues unchanged and the cats will suffer.
Maybe, on balance, the bad breeder forums are counter-productive because they attract the wrong sort of people – people who want to post inflammatory things, and start campaigns and online petitions, people who believe out-of-context images without question and who are not interested in what is really going on. The online mob is baying for blood and anyone with a grudge against the target of the hate is rubbing their hands in glee. Anyone who tries to inject some sense or facts into the forum is shouted down.
After what I’ve read over the past week I think it will be highly unlikely for any breeder in over her/his head will not likely ask for help. Whether or not the breeder, in this case, asked doesn’t really matter because enough people will believe each and every comment on the Facebook community page whether it’s correct or not. In the end, it’s the cats who will suffer.