The highs and lows of social media

Its amazing to think that over the last ten years, we've all become such keen users of online spaces and digital technology. For some of us, its been a natural extension of things we were already doing, and for others, its been an up hill slog into a crazy jungle full of trolls, witch hunts and general bad news. When I started this blog, it was about talking to my friends and family about this new phase in my life - living with J and his/our Siberian huskies. I was learning heaps, trying new skills, meeting new people, and my friends were politely interested. I was telling the same stories over and over, answering the same questions, researching lots of things to find answers to my own satisfaction. Of course, not everyone wanted to hear all my doggy stories all the time, so I created a Facebook page for the blog and tried to keep most of the crazy over there. Some of my friends "liked" the Facebook page and some didn't, and that was ok. I got used to chatting to people who knew minutiae about my life from the blog. It was all pretty small and intimate.

I installed a map link on my blog that showed me where my readers were. At first, I could pretty much name every reader, especially those in places like the Channel Islands & Denmark, where I knew one or two friends were living. Big cities like London were a bit harder to be sure about, but I still suspected I knew most of the folks who were reading my blog. Gradually I started getting more hits in places - I knew one friend was living in San Francisco, but was he really giving me dozens of hits up and down the west coast of the US? 

These days I get between 5,000 and 9,000 hits on the blog per week. 8,000 is pretty average. Popular content tends to include the latest blog post, as well as things that someone researching huskies might be looking for - husky socialisation, adopting huskies, appropriate housing for huskies. But far and away, the posts that get the most hits are the ones about cross breeds. My article "So, you think you'd like a pomsky" was written a couple of years ago now, but in the last seven days has received 6,640 hits. That's a pretty normal weekly stat. A massive chunk of my weekly hits, obviously. Here in Melbourne, the pomsky fad seems to have died down, but obviously there are still lots of folks who think the idea of a miniature husky is pretty cool. I'm always pleased to see that people are doing good research - I get search terms like "health issues for pomskies" and "how to raise a pomsky". Obviously not questions that I can answer, but recently I had a couple of FB emails from a nice guy in the UK about his three pomskies. He agreed with me on some important fundamentals about responsible, ethical breeding, and answered lots of my questions about the genetic variation in his dogs. It was a pleasant interaction, and I'm hoping he won't mind me sharing some of his photos and stories at some point soon.

Although I started the Facebook page to help people locate the blog articles (I have never figured out the "subscribe" thing), it has to a certain extent taken on a life of its own. Its especially easy for me to share random photos and videos of the dogs being cute on the Facebook page, and the videos seem to be pretty popular. I'm a little embarrassed about this - I put a lot of research, thought and editing into most of my blog articles, but my videos are just me pointing an iPhone around my yard! Our dogs aren't especially gorgeous (they are my cute furbabies and I love them to bits, but there are MUCH more glamourous huskies out there in the interwebs) and we don't have amazing facilities (Sometimes I'll take a pic and then realise my dirty dishes are clearly visible in the background, much to my embarrassment!) but the videos get heaps of hits and likes.

Yesterday, the Facebook page reached 200 Likes. I am extremely chuffed by that, and love that about half of those likes aren't people I know personally, but they're still saying "we like this and want to follow it." It keeps me motivated to write more, to share more, even at times like this when there's nothing very exciting happening (yes, I know, I'm growing a baby, and that's exciting, but its not very doggy, since it's a human puppy!). THANKYOU to everyone out there for their support!

There are lots of Facebook pages devoted to huskies out there, with far more Likes than my page. And its from these pages that I've seen a lot of sad stories, poor behaviour, trolling (is that a word?) and general social media lows. I know that some pages have been very tightly locked down to prevent anything getting posted without it being carefully checked as appropriate, which makes them more pleasant, but harder to use. Others are more open and anyone can post a question or an idea, but the reaction is often passionate to the point of being vitriolic. As one friend likes to say, Facebook is a tool like any other, and its usefulness is determined by the skill level of the person using it. Sometimes, a reasonable question degenerates into a slanging match that does nothing but put everyone's blood pressure up.

Recently, on one such Facebook page, a person posted a statement saying that they wanted to get a puppy of a specific arctic/sledding breed, and wanted advice about talking to breeders. Most of the responders refused to name specific breeders, but talked about the need to understand what you were signing up for when you got one of these dogs. My response was "do your research". Other people had specific stories, videos, and warnings about these dogs being high needs. Several people suggested a great rescue group to adopt from in the capital city of that state. None of us actually asked the person about their experience, their family situation, their other dogs, their yard, etc, but I guess they felt like they were being patronised. They stated that they knew what they were doing because the dogs they were interested in were very similar to another breed (not an arctic/sledding breed) that they had lots of experience with. Several people told them they were wrong. Next thing I know, a very experienced breeder, who would probably have been really happy to help someone new to the arctic/sledding breeds, was being told to "f--- off" because he "clearly didn't know anything". Obviously part of the issue here was that the people in this conversation didn't know each other at all. The poster has since left or been removed from the Facebook group. The sad thing about this is that that person is probably still set on getting a puppy, and they will probably find a shoddy breeder who is happy to take their money and then never return their calls, when the puppy goes through its "terrible twos". If the person doesn't get support, the chance of that dog ending up in a pound is massively high. I'm not sure what could have been done to stop the conversation getting so negative and aggressive - maybe it just wasn't the right forum to ask that question? Maybe I didn't see the responses as being as offensive as the poster did, because I knew and respected many of the responders? Maybe that person was just having a crappy day?

Thinking about social media, the online world and all the amazing support and information that's available to us today, I guess I am really appreciative that I get to be part of the online world, and I get to connect with other dog lovers across the world. I'm always mindful that people have really different, passionate views on many things about animal rights and I'm happy to have a respectful debate. But I increasingly feel that Facebook is not the right forum for those debates. It is too easy for people to get upset and angry because the faceless person at the other end of the conversation doesn't seem to understand them. Until we all learn to "THINK", this is an area of social media that needs to be used cautiously.