Being angry is understandable: there’s a lot of suffering in the world, and for those of us who are empathetic toward non-human animals, it can be overwhelming. But when what we write in moments of anger online can have repercussions in the real world that make it harder to help those non-human animals.
While there are many anecdotal incidents of difficulties caused for advocates and the ability to affect change by violent online comments, there is one case that had a very clear set of actions that impacted animals negatively.
A conservation officer killed an apparently orphaned bear cub near Dawson Creek, British Columbia, even though the individual who found the cub had arranged for care at a wildlife rehabilitation centre and the cub did not appear in distress. The Fur-Bearers ultimately initiated a complaint process that led to a legal challenge all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (it’s still proceeding).
There was legitimate outrage at the officer’s actions. However, individuals began threatening the officer: his dog, his life, his home were all targeted in online comments. Some will consider this acceptable – at The Fur-Bearers we do not. Beyond this simple dispute on language, however, it began to affect the animals negatively. A Freedom of Information Act request detailed that due to the threats – whether they were threats that could be acted upon or idle comments – caused a flurry of activity by the Conservation Officer Service, including issuing new equipment, changing phone numbers, and investigating several of the threats.
While we have many problems with how the Conservation Officer Service operates, one of the biggest problems is the lack of resources afforded them by the province. And all of these actions taken in response to threats took resources away from catching poachers, environmental polluters, and even just responding to calls to prevent human-wildlife conflict in the future.
We were able to document all of this through Freedom of Information materials, and we are aware that other cases can tie up emergency services and interrupt discussions of policy with municipalities. Not all of these can be made public due to the confidential nature of discussions and sources. However, we can attest that The Fur-Bearers and other non-profits also have to spend time managing these comments – time that we aren’t spending helping the animals.
It may not always be apparent that an angry response, or a quick quip, can cause problems. But it can – and we’re asking you, on behalf of the animals, to consider the impact your words can have, both to help them, and to harm them.
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