These are not my thoughts on a dog that suffered and died in a hot car last July.
These are not my thoughts on a man who battled addiction and eventually took his own life.
Rather, these are reflections on my own behaviour — my poor, childish behaviour on social media.
I realize now how this type of behaviour could have played a role in the death of Jeremy Quaile.
For animal welfare advocates, social media can be a useful tool. We can campaign for the safety of animals, share knowledge about cases of abuse and organize events that aim for change. We can speak up for those that cannot speak for themselves.
But we can also be vicious.
We can scold anyone who brings pain upon an animal, even without knowing the whole story. We can type out a smorgasbord of hatred in an instant. We can snarl from behind a keyboard, summoning the harshest of words and hurling them at an absolute stranger.
I know this because I’ve done this. So many times.
Assumptions and knee-jerk reactions
In July 2017, I found myself heaving with anger as I read an article about the death of a black lab named Knightley.
She had been trapped inside a hot car for as much as three days. She met her demise helpless and alone. Her owner, Jeremy Quaile, was charged under the Alberta Animal Protection Act.
As I type these details, I feel the same fury seething in me, as it did when I first read the story. It’s a combination of agony and vengeful rage. I can physically feel it in the deepest part of my chest.
Last summer, bursting at the seams with empathy for this dog, I took to social media to spread the story and recruit others to share in my outrage. I posted it on each of my social media platforms. I felt everyone should see this. I had to implore them to share in my anger and my demand for justice.
Months later, Jeremy Quaile’s name showed up on my computer screen again. An arrest warrant had been issued after he failed to make his court date for the death of Knightley.
Pathetic, I said to myself. I’m going to post about how pathetic this is.
“This coward didn’t show up to court. Spread the word and make sure JEREMY QUAILE is found,” I wrote.
I tweeted this, along with the link to the article about the arrest warrant, and sat back with satisfaction at my contribution to publicly denouncing this man.
Months later, I received a response to that tweet, pointing out that Quaile had died on Dec. 9, 2017.
“Good,” I tweeted back.
I’m still not sure why, but I had I assumed Quaile had died of natural causes. There was no reason to have thought this; I simply decided in my head that he had some kind of medical condition that caused his death.
About a week and a half later, an article began circulating about his suicide.
Responding before reading
Suddenly, I found myself on the receiving end of social media attacks.
My “Good” tweet was dredged up. It stood out prominently in a sea of sympathetic messages about Quaile.
And people were angry — very angry — at me.
One person highlighted my tweet and tagged my employer, saying they hoped anyone searching Quaile’s name saw what I had written.
“Whatever mistakes he made aside, to celebrate the suicide of someone who is mentally ill is garbage,” she wrote.
I was astounded, at first. There was no way I could calmly read this and not defend myself. And so I thought, buckle up lady. Prepare to be put in your place.
I took to Twitter and fired back: “For someone who apparently advocates for mental health, you sure do a good job at slandering people online.”
But that wasn’t enough. I had more to say than I could fit in one tweet. I wanted to teach her for trying to slander me.
“But yeah, totally get on Twitter and try to spread some more negativity and anger online,” I continued. “The world definitely needs more of that right now.”
Still not enough.
“I’m sorry you’re upset by my reaction to a man dying after what he did to an innocent dog, but I didn’t know he committed suicide or that he was mentally ill,” I concluded. “Jumping to conclusions about my character and defaming me like this is very shitty.”
Finally satisfied with my rebuttal, I clicked on the link this person had tweeted and started to read the story about Quaile.
I’m sure you can already detect how backwards this is.
As I read the details of his life — and his death — I was hit with a wave of nausea.
I read about what Quaile was like, as a person. I read his side of the story about what had happened to Knightley. I read about the massive reaction to the death of his dog and the horrible things people wished upon him, on social media. I read about the horrible toll this took on him.
My God, this was sobering.
I realized the Twitter rant I had just gone on, on a much smaller scale, encapsulated the problem I was now reading about. These types of knee-jerk reactions go far beyond our computer screens. They have an impact in the real world.
I realized I had been behaving like the childish keyboard warrior I had always looked down upon.
I realized I was part of the problem.
This brought up a complicated array of feelings.
On one hand, I was still angry at what happened to Knightley. The fact that her owner struggled with addiction was never an excuse. Knightley should have never suffered and died the way she did.
On the other hand, I was intensely regretful about my initial reaction to her death. What if my hateful comments were among the ones Quaile had read? What if one of my tweets or posts was the final straw that led to his suicide?
Of course, I wanted him to know how I felt. And I wanted him to feel guilty about what happened. But I never wanted to push him to the point of taking his own life.
I don’t imagine any of us did.
Think before you type
It’s difficult to calm down and summon your logic when the reactionary part of your brain flares up with rage.
But we have to try, as part of our ongoing evolution into a social media society.
And besides, apart from the harm my vicious comments could have done, did they help my cause in any way? Did they actually promote the protection of animals? Did they influence anyone to make animal welfare more of a priority?
I don’t believe they did.
They only added more negativity to an already venomous online world.
I’ve learned from my careless conduct and I hope you will too. I hope the next time you feel that surge of outrage deep in your chest, you don’t immediately let it travel through your fingers and onto a keyboard.
Instead, I hope you breathe and ask yourself: Do I know the whole story? What information is missing? If I write what I want to write, what impact will it have on others — and on myself? Can I channel this emotion in a more productive way that will actually help my cause?
And if you’re not sure of the answers to any of these questions, maybe just get up, and back away from the screen.
If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, help is available nationwide by calling toll-free 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645 or chatting online with Crisis Services Canada.
Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary’s special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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