Before we are dog lovers or dog owners or even dog trainers, we are people. We are people with interests, opinions, values, and feelings. If you are reading this, you have found yourself caught up in the strange and sometimes comforting tides of social media. In the ocean of information that is the Internet, social media venues like Facebook and Pinterest provide a myriad of attractive harbours where we can gather and share our special interests with like minded souls. If only it were as simple as that.
The evolving landscape of social media has become a dizzying mix of familiar social conventions and new social dynamics that are only possible in these online environments. With Canine Nation, I have always been committed to getting to the bottom of things; to do the work and find out what is true and what is speculation. For me, social media is no different than the world of dogs, behaviour, and training. We need to understand it and how social media affects us in order to use it well.
Consider a few terms that are becoming common in describing online interactions. Urbandictionary.com defines a “Hugbox” as “a group with similar interests gathers to discuss topics in what they intend to be a safe, comforting, and confrontation-free environment.” The entry goes on to describe these groups as governed by “militant” moderators who suppress unwanted opinions in the group. The end result being that the group enforces a consensus on certain opinions and any challenge or deviation is met with hostility and offenders being marginalized or dismissed.
An “echo chamber”, as defined by Urbandictionary.com (definition #2) is “an insular communication space where everyone agrees with the information and no outside input is allowed.” Similar to a “Hugbox”, this type of online community is more concerned with the frequent repeating of agreed upon values than consideration of new information. Unlike the “Hugbox”, an “echo chamber” is more concerned with propagating an ideology than making the members feel good about themselves.
And then there are the ways that online participants can conduct themselves in these various groups. It seems that people can behave very differently from behind the security of their screens and keyboards than they might in face-to-face encounters. Wikipedia defines “Gaslighting” as “a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.” Another term, “Gish Gallop” is defined by Rationalwiki.com as a “debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time.”
The online world of social media seems to have made it easier than ever to engage in questionable conversations that either lead nowhere or can lead us to false ideas and counter-productive methods. Sprinkle in some of the more traditional debating tactics like personal attacks and “straw man” analogies and we can quickly find that the “safe harbour” we were looking for can actually prevent us from learning and growing as dog owners and dog trainers.
I value science. But maybe more than that, I value scientific method. I think we need to question things and we need to always challenge our own ideas to make sure they still stand up to current information. It is easy to be drawn in by the seductive tides of “Hugboxes” and “Echo Chambers” but we need to be careful that our very human desire to have community and to be liked and respected do not overshadow our commitment to being good dog owners and trainers.
Be smart. Navigate the online waters with care. Keep your wits about you. Keep Occam’s Razor close. And never ever take someone’s word without making sure it stands up to reasonable scrutiny. Including everything I’ve written here.
Take care out there,