I would like to believe my veterinary education was progressive in a lot of ways. We had classes in communication, business and professional development in addition to the traditional courses. Topics that the generations of veterinarians in front of me likely did not learn about were discussed in different ways.
One memory that stands out to me the most was a veterinary business management meeting where the speaker was discussing the power of the internet and social media and how it can benefit your veterinary practice.
I was so intrigued- it was the first time I was hearing about SEO (search engine optimization) and web spiders (if you don’t know what this is, you can imagine why that would sound intriguing)! I learned that the internet can be a really powerful tool.
I later learned that it can be a really terrible tool, too. I wish my veterinary education had discussed or prepared us for what I call the dark side of internet and social media. The good news is- as a veterinary student, you can prepare yourself.
And some of the most important steps to being prepared are understanding, gaining awareness and identifying appropriate reactions.
It is important to understand how the internet and social media has profoundly changed our culture and how our clients and customers interact. The internet has made it so that every single person is instantaneously connected to so many other people; the number of people we can reach is way more than ever before. And even though people have had opinions and comments throughout all of history, the value of these comments has changed, partially due to the fact that they can be spread so easily to so many individuals.
The Importance of Reading the Comments
Reading the Comments by Joseph Michael Reagle Jr. is a great book that discusses the importance of web-based comments. In this book, we learn that comments can serve a purpose (to inform and provide feedback) and we have to know how to interpret and react to them.
From this book, we start to understand how even though comments have existed throughout all of history, suddenly these comments have a great power due to their quantity and accessibility. (6) Though the internet has changed the way we interact, expectations on the internet have yet to be established. Unlike in real life where we are governed by societal norms and laws, the internet does not (yet?) have those sorts of filters.
Comments can have various forms on the internet- as a veterinary student- they might take the shape of comments on Facebook, tweets on Twitter or likes on Instagram. As a practicing veterinarian, those types of comments can still exist but there will be other types of comments to react to as well; there are online reviews such as Yelp and Google and sometimes, hospital surveys and quality reports.
Unlike ever before, our generation of Veterinarians is subjected to so many different forms of commentary on the internet. And while I do believe it is possible to harness the power of internet and social media commentary to better your practice (and yourself), some of the types of characters encountered on the internet may pose a challenge to your practice and to your overall well-being.
The Internet and Mental Health
Though internet related mental health disorders did not make it into the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the handbook of mental disorders), there have been numerous studies on the effects of the internet on measures of depression and self-esteem. “Online Social Networking and Mental Health” in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social networking is one resource where you can read more about the potential effects of the internet on mental well-being. (3)
To simplify my overview of the dark side of the internet, I am going to discuss the three main types of unsavory internet personas that you may encounter: Haters, cyberbullies and trolls. While some online identities can have elements of the others, there are some defining characteristics.
Haters are probably the most benign and thankfully, the most common. They may disagree with something you post, leave a negative review or leave a thumbs’ down on YouTube but they usually stop there. Cyberbullies actions, on the other hand, can border on online harassment.
Tips on How to Deal with the Trolls
And lastly, trolls are defined in This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Whitney Philips as “a person whose real interactions is/are to cause disruption and/or to trigger or exacerbate conflict for the purposes of their own amusement.” (4)
Once you understand the power of the internet and are aware of some of the unsavory types that may exist, there are ways to become more informed on what do when (if!) you encounter these folks.
Entrepreneur magazine gives the following ways to cope with online haters:
- distinguish haters from critics
- don’t take it personally
- use it to get better
- humanize yourself
- don’t focus on the negative. (2)
For dealing with cyberbullies, the AVMA has a few different resources available: one is a cyberbullying hotline and the other is a reputation management service. Dr. Tom Meyer, AVMA presidents speaks to the importance of these resources by stating: “Our veterinarians must be protected from cyberbullying, hacking and false reviews; they not only threaten our livelihood; they damage our sense of well-being.” (1) Another article you can read to prepare yourself is “How to handle cyberbullies and other veterinary clinic tyrants” by Oriana Scislowicz in DVM360 Magazine. (7)
And as for the trolls - There are ten steps that Forbes Magazine recommends for how to deal with the "haters":
- establish a policy
- ignore them
- make light of the situation
- unmask them
- don’t provide a platform
- use moderators
- create a unified community
- fight back with facts
- correct mistakes.
(5) I highly recommend you check out these articles so that you can prepare yourself.
As a veterinary student or professional, I recommend checking in with your workplace and management team to see what their policies are regarding internet related concerns. If your concern is very serious, you can also consider reaching out your liability insurance company and lawyer.
The reality is- the internet affects nearly every industry. It can benefit industries, our practices and ourselves but only if we learn how to handle the unsavory internet characters that likely affect most if not all industries.
As much as I would want to tell you to not read the comments (and focus on learning more about the spider bots instead because they’re way cooler), I think it is important to read the comments, be prepared and most importantly, know how to react appropriately and professionally.
- 1)AVMA launches cyberbullying resource for veterinarians. Accessed from http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/avma-launches-cyberbullying-resource-veterinarians
- 2) Haray, Charlie. 5 Ways to cope with online haters. Entrepreneur magazine. Accessed from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/272138
- 3) Pantic, Igor. Online Social Networking and Mental Health. Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social networking. Accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183915/.
- 4) Philips, Whitney. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture.
- 5) Rampton, John. How To deal With Trolls. Forbes Magazine. Accessed from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2015/04/09/10-tips-to-dealing-with-trolls/#47d372c154f4
- 6) Reagle Jr Michael. Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web.
- 7) Scislowicz, Oriana. How to handle cyberbullies and other veterinary clinic tyrants. DVM360 Magazine. Accessed from http://veterinaryteam.dvm360.com/how-handle-cyberbullies-and-other-veterinary-client-tyrants?pageID=3