It’s Time to Say #EnoughAlready – Put an end to the negativity coming from within our profession!
“There’s an even more disturbing trend I’m witnessing in our profession, one that’s actually coming from within…” – Eric D. Garcia
When it comes to cyberbullying and harassment occurring regularly online, the problem is actually intensifying and happening more frequently than ever before. But, this time it’s about veterinary professionals attacking their own.
It’s important to acknowledge that it’s been long understood within the industry, that pet owners’ critique and ridicule veterinary professionals online all the time. I know this firsthand from traveling all around the world, working one-on-one with veterinary practices, and speaking publicly.
Veterinary practices often ask me “how to handle” these situations as they arise, especially because they can be distracting in the workplace and personally harmful to those being attacked as well. I’ve learned that while some countries experience this issue more acutely than others, it’s still a universal problem. Veterinary professionals let me know about their experience either by speaking up, or even letting me know in private conversations, sometimes when the experiences are too painful to discuss otherwise.
I’ll continue to do my part to help veterinary practices deal with the pain, anxiety, and fiscal consequences that come from online harassment and cyberbullying. However, there’s an even more disturbing trend I’m witnessing in our profession, one that’s actually coming from within…
It’s not uncommon to find that, occasionally, veterinary professionals like to vent online. In fact, for a while I considered this to be an innocent practice that could allow some to blow off some steam. If someone had a bad day, didn’t agree with a specific policy at work, or was treated disrespectfully by a pet owner, it’s understandable that they could be frustrated. We’ve all felt that emotion before, and sometimes we look to commiserate with others when we’re feeling this way. And, in the right environment can help us feel like we’re not alone. However, over the last year and especially the last few months, I’ve actually seen this venting take a new and dangerous twist. Now, veterinary professionals have begun venting and complaining about other veterinary professionals and prominent leaders in the industry.
I’ve watched this problem exacerbate in private message groups, public social media posts, viral screenshots, and dedicated Instagram channels. I’ve always found this to be a disturbing trend, but the more I see it, the more infuriating it becomes.
The question I’m forced to ask is: What do we gain by bringing others in our own profession down?
This recently became an emotional experience for me when several people who are very close to me became victims of this egregious form of public shaming. Some time ago, I was scrolling through social media content (we can talk about the difference between active online activity and passive online activity later) just like I normally do. When I engage online, I’m delighted to see a picture of a close family member or a friend celebrating a major life milestone or hitting a new career benchmark.
This time, however, the experience served as a rude awakening. Someone close to me, who I’ve known for years and who is a good-hearted person, was absolutely shredded into pieces by other veterinary professionals for attempting to help and encourage others by sharing a personal story. Just days after that, I found another post by an individual who was promising to bring industry leaders down and to force them out of the industry itself. Just days before this, I came across a newly created Instagram account with no other intention than to spread negative information about corporatization in veterinary medicine. The most disturbing thing of all that was revealed through these experiences, was the sheer level of hatred that was showcased in the comments section.
Like I mentioned, I had actually become familiar with this level of negativity before, but never from within the industry – those who were attempting nothing other than to break the spirits and reputations of individuals who are otherwise well respected. Once I contacted some of my peers about this, I quickly realized this was happening much more frequently than it was previously and is a trend that’s gaining an alarming amount of momentum.
To be entirely honest with you, what I witnessed in these experiences brought me to tears. Even in writing this, it brings me to tears. I have to wonder, what do we gain by engaging in this type of behavior? We’re describing human beings when we post negatively, even though we don’t know what’s actually happening in their lives. Much of what is said online would rarely ever be told to a person’s face. All too often people are quick to single out their peers online but rarely do people reach out to share concerns privately. After all, if we truly care about one another and if the issues at hand are so important to us, don’t we owe that courtesy to our peers? This way we don’t end up doing what pet owners do to us online all the time? The very thing that breaks us down.
I’m here to say that it’s time to say #EnoughAlready and that the alarming trend of cyberbullying within our industry needs to be treated seriously. But this isn’t someone else’s responsibility. This is our problem, and we need to fix it.
What I found the most troubling when I came across these accounts, posts, and forums, was that rarely was someone posting any possible solutions. Rarely, did someone say, “Bringing someone else down isn’t going to solve the problem. Let’s do something productive about this. How about trying X, Y or Z?”
It’s simply so easy to complain instead, but what’s lost in this process is the courage it requires to present a solution.
I’m not saying we all have to agree about everything. On the contrary, I think much of life’s richness and intrigue involves how diverse we can be, including our opinions. But the repercussions of spreading hate are far more dangerous than many of us may be willing to admit, or even have a true sense of.
Our profession is already at the highest risk for suicide amongst other vocations, and increasingly, many studies are citing social media attacks as a growing factor in these suicide cases.
Research has shown that cyberbullying makes young people twice as likely to engage in self-harm or attempt suicide. An additional finding from PR Newsweek points out that more than a third of Generation Z (from a survey of 1,000 individuals) states they were quitting social media for good because 41% of them describe that it makes them feel anxious, sad, or depressed.
All of these examples and data points raise real questions for the future. Social media is a known depressant for both youth and adults alike, so why add to the issue with hateful posts and rhetoric that could directly lead to depression and suicide?
Again, I’m forced to ask: What is the end game here? What do we accomplish when we post negatively about others without offering a solution instead?
If we post negative content online, make hateful comments, or even allow others to do so, we’re condoning behavior that is making our world, our profession, a darker, more dangerous place. Think about how many people start their day in the morning, whether consciously or not, bringing negative energy to work that they’ve subconsciously inherited online? How much of this hatred is passively consumed online, be it through arguments in private groups, public posts, or an ongoing cycle of both?
I’m convinced that no matter how difficult it is, there is a better way.
Join me by saying #EnoughAlready and following the steps below to put an end to the cyberbullying and hate within our own profession:
- Instead of Being Angry, Be Productive
You might get a temporary thrill by making a negative comment or even reading someone else’s, but you’re likely making yourself even more unhappy. If you’re unhappy about your job, your peers, or something else, learn to use your voice in an active and engaging way.
You might be surprised at how far a professional, well-crafted letter can go when it’s sent to your colleague, employer, State Association, or another local organization.
I suggest including an outline of things that could be done to make the situation better or active steps that can be taken. Great leaders in history have shown that incredible change is possible not by tearing people down, but by inspiring others.
Even when I was feeling negative about this entire situation, I chose to use my voice productively. Now you’re reading this, which is helping to spread awareness about the issue.
- Don’t Engage with Hateful Content
When you witness one of the conversations we’re talking about, whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, or even in-person, you don’t have to engage. Your first instinct may be to chime in, but if the behavior being exhibited is truly destructive, you may be brought down in the process by being dragged into the vicious cycle of negativity.
If something is truly hateful and dangerous, you can Report the post, which may be a good idea, and won’t involve you in the conversation. You can also simply Unfollow posts, log out of the app, and walk away.
One of the trickiest components of this entire issue is that anger can elicit more anger. That’s just another reason why opting not to engage can often be your best bet. If you’re deciding what to do, ask yourself, “Does this post make me feel happy or hopeful?” If the answer is, “No,” then it’s probably best to walk away or channel your energy in a productive way. Simply say to yourself, enough already.
- What Happens When You Need to Vent?
Venting can actually be healthy when done appropriately. We’ve all had those acute moments of being upset about something. If we vent to a friend, sometimes we feel better almost immediately. Finding productive ways to deal with frustration, sadness, and anger (this can also include spending time in nature, meditating, exercising, #unplugging, or other) will give negative emotions less power over you.
When you do need to vent, venting on social media isn’t usually the place to do it: do it offline. When you vent online it attracts negativity (this can also work in reverse when you post hopeful content) and can compound the issue at hand.
When you vent negatively, it can actually prolong your own recovery process. Even when I originally posted about #EnoughAlready on my own public and private social platforms, the comments that rolled in over the course of the week caused me to focus on the issue for even longer. Thankfully, all positive responses.
However, I’m making a conscious choice to create awareness and put my own advice into action by offering positive, actionable steps in this article.
- What Happens When You’re a Victim or if Online Negativity is Impacting You?
If this is the case, call someone and speak out about your situation. Since I’ve become an advocate about these situations, I’ve received tons of messages from people who have been victims of these attacks by their own colleagues online. Although those experiences were damaging, many of these individuals were able to cope by speaking to a trusted friend or peer.
Here is an example of an email I received recently from a Veterinarian brave enough to share her story with me (several pieces of information were redacted to allow the sender to remain anonymous):
“I also wanted to say a huge THANK YOU for #enoughalready. I have unfortunately been on the receiving end of vet bashing [veterinary professional to veterinary professional cyberbullying on social media]. They spread lies about me and tried to sabotage my practice. This resulted in clients starting cruel post on local Facebook groups calling me names and threatening me. It’s been a year now, and I am much better off. The first 3 months were pretty terrible. I had to do a lot of soul searching during that time but made it through. Unfortunately, I have also known many that did not. Thanks again for making a difference by letting everyone know [about] #enoughalready.”
Sometimes, you need more professional resources to give you insight and help you through the issue. If that’s the case and you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, bullying, self-harm, or loneliness, you can easily connect with a live, trained Crisis Counselor. You can seek this help by text message if you reach out to the Crisis Text Line (US and Canada: text 741741 | UK: text 85258 | Ireland: text 50808) or www.crisistextline.org, you can talk to someone by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing +1 (800) 273-8255, or dialing 988.
If you know someone who is affected, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to you, too. This is a great resource that can help you to determine whether a friend or colleague is in need of professional intervention. You can learn more about their services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/safety-and-support-on-social-media.
- A Better Choice is Possible
Even though these issues are troubling, there’s a lot that can be done. I’ve learned to disconnect from Social Media at least several times a year, which is a tremendous boon to my physical and emotional well-being. I recommend trying to #unplug at least once to see if it can work for you too. It has dramatically positive impacts for people of different ages, professions, and across all walks of life. You can learn more about getting started at ericgarciafl.com/unplugged-your-stories.
Learning to unplug is life-changing. If you haven’t unplugged before you might feel like this brave professional that sent me this email:
“I went to your website and read the “unplugged” references. Suddenly found myself crying (I NEVER cry). I need to do this! I’ve been aware for some time now that I’m totally caught up in the “I have to be available 24/7″ and “I have to respond ASAP” trap but have been unable to break free. Can’t wait to read more and start practicing your advice. It may just save my life!”
It’s not just healthy to unplug from work, but also the constant negativity that is often associated with social media.
To everyone reading this, I’m here to tell you that a better choice is possible. Let’s stand together and put an end to this constant flow of negativity online occurring from within our own profession.
We have so much to gain by lifting each other up and bringing the best out in one another. We have so much to lose if we give in to anger, jealousy, and hatred instead.