Thursday, August 28, 2014

Responding to Animal Abuse - the social media backfire

Over the past few months, I have deliberately disconnected from various social media sites that primarily report on violence against animals.  It is not that I do not care about the topic, but that I do not care for the vitriol in the comments of those responding to the posted reports.  And so I close my computer and chant my new mantra:  “Not my circus.  Not my monkeys.”

Don’t get me wrong – violence against any sentient being is not, in my opinion, to be tolerated.  And therein lies the rub.  When many of those people commenting on a violent act are themselves proposing violence as a solution, often in very graphic terms, we as a society move not one step closer to a nonviolent world.  In fact, we move away from it.

Today, our local paper(1)  reported the judicial decision of a local animal abuse case, which brought the futility of such comments to the forefront.  In a case where a dog owner was alleged to have punched and thrown a dog, the man was acquitted on all charges.  The judge’s decision, in part, was based on his perception of the key witnesses’ character as viewed through the evidence of their Facebook posts, comments, and ‘likes’. 

I have no knowledge of the case other than what I read in local papers and therefore will not offer an opinion of the acquittal.  But if you have ever written or 'liked' a violent suggestion in response to an alleged animal abuse case, please read the first article referenced at the bottom of this post.  

The judges reasons for his decision clearly demonstrate how the comments and even the 'likes' you post on social media may influence the court's opinion – and not always in the way you might hope. 

Note:  There is a caveat which needs to be underlined:  I am not talking about points of law here, but character.  Judges are required to be impartial on points of law - ie, whether an action was or was not a criminal act.  If the law says it isn’t, then the court cannot find the person guilty even if 95% of the population thinks the act should be criminal.  But when a person comes before the court and his/her character as an honest person is in question – whether as the defendant or the witness – comments he/she makes on social media can be used to help assess that character.]

There are clearly unintended consequences of promoting violence as a response to violence.  It incites a mob mentality, it encourages vigilantism, it advocates against a peaceful society with nonviolent problem solving, and perhaps most of all – it speaks to the morality of the person making the comment more than the morality of the alleged offender.

This is a timely issue given the comments I've seen in reaction to the recent video of another alleged dog abuse case - this one in an elevator in a five-star Vancouver hotel.  In the case in point, the video and the man’s apology(2) provide some measure of certainty that the accused treated a dog in a manner many consider immoral. The comments on at least one social media  page dedicated to the issue(3), however, are proposing actions equally as violent as the images in the video.  Do calls to treat Mr. Hague in the same manner as he is alleged to have treated the dog solve anything?  No.  That does nothing to move us toward a society in which violence becomes unacceptable.

So what action can we, the viewers of the video, take in response to the alleged animal abuse by the CEO of Centerplate?  

While Centerplate has imposed penalties of its own(4), those penalties have little or no long term impact on either Centerplate’s or Mr. Hague’s bottom line.  It was corporate damage control.  But there are ways to make your opinions known and to influence long term change. [I will focus solely on British Columbia here, though the same principle may apply to venues in other locales]. 

Centerplate is a catering company contracted by BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo).  PavCo is a crown corporation responsible for operating BC Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre – both huge venues hosting hundreds of events and over a million patrons a year.  And who is responsible for said crown corporation?  The Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone.  An elected official.  Who elects members of government?  We do.  You and me.  Ordinary people. 

When it comes to long term change, politicians are more accountable to the public than are private catering companies.  As the taxpaying public, we have the right to ask that the Minister address the deportment of the CEOs of companies to which his ministry grants contracts.  It is not reasonable to demand that all those contracts be cancelled – events are planned years in advance, contracts are signed legal documents, and event holders would be the ones that suffer.  But crown corporations can certainly set in place policies that guide which companies will be eligible for future contracts. I believe they also have the ability to discipline an individual or organization that violates existing policy or law.  Furthermore, animal abuse laws are, in part, the responsibility of the provincial  government. The government can be held accountable on many levels, and we certainly should expect our politicians in turn to hold accountable all companies and individuals who, directly or indirectly, are recipients of our hard-earned tax dollars.     

So voice your concerns to Mr. Stone(5) .  Let him know Mr. Hague’s alleged actions are not acceptable.  If you believe the penalties imposed by Centerplate are not sufficient, ask that PavCo also impose penalties. If you are unhappy that an alleged animal abuser is the CEO of a company on the government’s contractual payroll, ask that future contracts with Centerplate not be renewed if Mr. Hague remains their CEO.  Ask what policies govern the integrity of those applying for or holding government contracts. Request Mr. Stone’s personal support to lobby for tighter laws, greater enforcement, and stricter penalties for animal abuse. 

But keep it respectful.  Every time we write or ‘like’ a violent comment on social media, we promote violence.  And that is counter-productive.



(5) Contact info for Todd Stone:


Denise from Sacramento said...

Good timing on this subject. I just received my daily email and the talk today was by Sally Kohn - titled: Don't like click bait? Don't click.

Sometimes I flat refused to read comments because of all the negativity and hatred.

Sheryl said...

Excellent post, Jean.
I think part of the problem and the reason for such vitriol in relation to this (except for the haters that gleefully jump on any bandwagon!) is that people feel helpless to change anything.
So, thank you for the suggestions as to what we can do.