Putting an End to Catty Behavior in Social Media



Definition, per Google: 

1) Deliberately hurtful in one’s remarks; spiteful
2) Of or relating to cats; catlike


Let’s be honest.  Cats can be jerks.  For all their warm, fuzzy companionship, and their amazing elegance and charm, we also know that they can be lazy, impolite, demanding and arrogant little beings who don’t give a sand-crusted turd about your feelings or anyone else’s. But we don’t care!  For one thing, cats are absurdly cute when they behave this way, and even when it ruffles our feathers a bit, we still open our homes and our hearts to felis catus with the wholehearted acceptance that its very nature comes with a package of quirks.  In short, catty behavior is acceptable and even adorable….in cats!

When it starts to spill over into human interactions, however, the amusement grinds to a snarling, pooping, fur-flying halt.  No matter how you crunch the numbers, this behavior in people is just plain ugly…and I’m sorry, but you cannot even mop up a hairball with the excuse that cattiness is a “part of our nature!” Although it may actually be a part of human nature to a certain extent, also natural to humans are the advanced cognitive mechanisms for recognizing catty tendencies, having the awareness of their negative impact on our relationships, and caring enough about other people to nip ugly behavior in the bud before it escalates.

Nowhere else does catty behavior in humans present itself more spectacularly than in online social media outlets such as Facebook, where total strangers of “like minds” can verbally assault one another from the five-star comforts of their safe abode.  Thanks to the digital barriers of the 21st century, we can finally “exercise our First Amendment rights” with the unbridled (and all too often un-fact-checked) display of inglorious stupidity, worthy of a Jerry Springer episode.  Except….on Facebook, no one gets punched in the face, which is the beauty of it, right?  The unpleasant saga continues until either the defeated party exits the conversation, or the keyboard simply crumbles under our flailing digits, whichever happens first.  Or more likely, the page administrator deletes the entire post, pulling the plug on what might have actually been an interesting discussion in polite company.

Pet-focused pages seem to be especially prone to the kind of discussions that carry a high risk of elevation to cat fight status.  I think it’s important to remember that this is very likely the result of a lot of hearts being in the right place. We communicate with such venom, not because we’re mean-spirited people by nature, but because we are all very passionate about the welfare of animals, particularly cats, and the package that naturally comes with that is a lot of head-strong, conflicting views on how cats should be treated, and what constitutes responsible pet ownership.

Whether to spay and neuter, whether to declaw, proper nutrition, the best way to manage behavior problems, and how many cats a person must own to be labeled a “hoarder” are just some of the topics that I’ve seen stir controversy among cat lovers.  Sorry, although they are worthy of discussion, I won’t be sharing my personal views on those topics here.  Many of you already know where I stand on them anyway, and ultimately, it’s not about where we stand so much as how we treat people when we talk about it. With that being said, the next time you find yourself online, in a heated exchange with your fellow cat people (or any people, for that matter), I ask you to please consider the following:

1) Obey the rules of the page that you’re commenting on.  Or, at the very least, understand that if your comments are deleted, or you are blocked from participating in future discussions, it’s neither an infringement on your right to free speech, nor a personal attack on you for stating an opinion.  It’s a sure sign that your written communication skills need work, so take the hint, and come back again when you’ve learned to speak your mind in a way that shows respect to the other readers on the page.

2) Before you publicly roast an individual, consider whether you would take a softer approach if you knew that they:

  • just lost a child to suicide
  • were recently diagnosed with a terminal illness
  • nearly got beaten to death by an abusive spouse, or
  • need I go on?

When the life circumstances and/or state of mind of the stranger with whom you are chatting are unknown, please consider that your negative comments might be doing more harm than you think.

3) Opinions can be stated very effectively without the use of sarcasm, name calling, profanity, or personal attacks.  When somebody says something that you don’t agree with, simply explain, in a matter-of-fact way why you don’t agree, and move along.  There’s no need to criticize, and you’re just there to present your thoughts alongside everyone else’s, not “win the argument,” or take over the entire discussion.

4) What we believe to be “facts” are sometimes really no more than just things we heard, somewhere, at some point.  Do some additional research before you comment, especially on topics that you haven’t read up on for a while.  Sometimes new studies emerge that bring long-held beliefs into question, and it’s always better to be armed with the most up-to-date and relevant knowledge, especially if you’re about to light someone on fire over it.

5) Just because a person is wrong, doesn’t mean they’re stupid, and just because they won’t take your advice doesn’t mean they don’t care about their cats.  They may simply prefer to take the advice of their vet over that of a stranger on the internet, and you have to admit, it’s kind of hard to argue with that logic.

6) It’s about the cats, not your lofty credentials. If a discussion that started over the grain-free diet controversy has suddenly erupted into a squabble over which of you has the least embarrassing resume´, then you’re on the wrong topic.  Quit stroking your ego, and get back to the cats.

7) As they say at the local tavern, “Take it outside!”  Suppose we agree that no one can be nice all the time, and that sometimes there’s just no way to respond to an imbecile than going balls-to-the-wall medieval on their ass.  Fortunately, there is an outlet for that too.  It’s called private messaging. Keep it off of the public page, so that others may continue engaging in a civilized talk.

In conclusion, social media is a wonderful tool that allows us to discuss more topics of interest with more people. Catty behavior notwithstanding, overall, I have benefited greatly from the discussions that I’ve had with my online cat-loving friends.  Although the anonymity aspect of online communication does make it easier to burn people without any obvious consequences, don’t forget that it also allows us the ability to put more thought into our comments.  Unlike face-to-face communication, where the pressure to respond immediately often interferes with our ability to say the right thing, when engaged in online chat, we can actually take time to put together well-crafted, thoughtful comments with the power to enrich the discussion, rather than take it in an ugly direction.  And finally, if we’re going to allow our cat’s behavior to influence us, perhaps we should stay focused on being more playful, resourceful, and low-maintenance.  We should probably take more naps too.

Best Regards,

Suzie’s Cat Refuge


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