On June 9th of this year, Madelaine Bilis wrote an article for Slate about her pandemic dog. She’d adopted a young beagle, who, unknown to her at the time, had serious behavioral issues. Within a few months of adopting Bonnie, she had bit multiple people – strangers and familiars. No warning signs cautioned when she was going to bite. She wasn’t receptive to training and she didn’t find anyone interested in adopting her who could help her. Bilis put her dog down. She felt guilty about her choice but felt she had expended all options. After her article was posted, all of Twitter came to debate. Half the responses were negative – angry at a woman knowingly putting down a healthy dog. The other half condoned her. They understood it was a difficult choice. Across the board, everyone had something to say and nobody was content.
Bilis eventually locked her account, tired of being insulted. There are endless replies to the original post. Everyone criticizing her had countless responses imploring the user to understand how difficult it is to care for a violent dog. Emotions ran wild. Obviously, dog lovers (almost all of us) became irate. We love our dogs, the idea of having a dog we love and care for, no matter how difficult, put down, makes our brains crinkle. Emotional impact always makes people unconsciously speak. This isn’t a bad thing, but is abundant everywhere, especially online and particularly on Twitter. Those who have gone through something as similar as Bilis have the same emotional response to the article, likely finally finding validation and a break from guilt.
So, which side is correct? Do these online debates ever end in a conclusion or are we just getting furious at people who only have moxie before behind a screen? Are people who are Team Bonnie really just concerned about their own dogs? Is Team Bilis just concerned with their own guilt? While I understand people care for the rights of animals – I am one of the millions who cry at dog rescue videos – how much of the rage directed at Bilis is a logically/ethically induced rage? For example, when something is illogical, the reaction is rarely, if ever, emotional. If you’re in math class and the teacher tells you 2+2=5, you probably won’t burst into a fury, demand at the teacher’s address, or coerce them into a match of hand-to-hand combat.
Twitter is rampant with these dynamics, and they’re over everything. Drake recently went on a date with a potential NBA prospect’s mother and Twitter had a debate about it. Joe Biden tweeted about capitalism and there was a debate about it. A man found what looked like a piece of shrimp in his Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Twitter had a debate about it. Bilis’ article opened the debate stage for people to weigh in – is she a monster or not? Obviously, we only know this small facet of her life, but based on this small facet, what is the moral weight of her action?
The Outcome of Twitter Debates
Nobody has ever changed their mind being yelled at by someone on Twitter. I will bet this is the worst way to learn a lesson and, if anything, digs people further into their original point. “I don’t want to be condescended to online. The person condescending me can’t win this debate. I will not change my argument because I don’t want them to win. I want to win.” So why is this dynamic so prevalent?
Online debates are always emotional because social media acts as an emotional playground. In the next tweet, we’re posting about our mom’s cooking. There’s a picture of our summer vacation. We view social media as a casual and loose place. It’s not a workplace where we have to be careful of what we say. Beyond that, a lot of people are anonymous. Even if it did have the environment of a workplace if you don’t know your co-worker by their name or face, how is their action going to impact your perception of them?
As a Scorpio (ha), I am frequent to passionate debates online. And, I’m to myself speaking when I say that people who engage in online arguments aren’t benefitting anyone. I cannot stand getting into fights with people online but at the same time I can’t let a stranger just think that Fight Club is a good movie, they can’t walk around saying that, not on my watch. When I take a step back from my pride, I realize that I just want to best someone for egotistical and emotional reasons. I would love the satisfaction of someone saying “you’re right” but that never has and never will never happen, especially not online. Even if they don’t say the golden words, talking down to people on Twitter always has an element of superiority. I can front as if I know more about something than they do. I’m the moral superior.
Honestly, I feel a lot of debates online are closeted platforms for us to relinquish the ego and act superior to others. Yes, I wish that she had found a better alternative to putting Bonnie down. But would I benefit from her saying “Yes, Adriana. You’re so smart. I’ll go back in time now.” Especially bringing anger into these debates, I don’t think anyone actually learns from them. While anger is of course validated in some of these cases, one has to question if the desired result ever comes from it.
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