Don't feed the trolls

Article

As hard as it may be, let negative stories about the veterinary profession lie and they'll die out sooner than you'd think.

Recently, a bunch of veterinarians and practice management consultants got up in arms about yet another story that put veterinarians in a negative light. The problem is, when we go online as veterinarians and industry professionals and react to what are usually ridiculous, exaggerated, unfair accusations, we're "feeding the trolls." Never heard the phrase? Let me explain.

What's a troll?

Wikipedia defines a troll as a person who "sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."

Here's a basic tenet about interpersonal communication from Psychology 101: No rational person gets upset about negative comments that, even to the casual observer, are obviously untrue. It's only when criticism touches on a near truth—a topic that we are uncertain about, insecure about, not 100-percent sure about, or that might actually contain a bit of truth—that we get offended.

When reporters and biased sources in news and TV stories insinuate that veterinarians are overcharging clients, they're challenging our self-image. If no one responded to their taunting, it would soon become clear that these insinuations are so ridiculously untrue as to obviate the need for response.

If, on the other hand, we respond with righteous indignation, the inference to the general public is clear: "The author touched on a nerve with this one. Veterinarians must honestly believe they really are overcharging if they're getting this upset about some tiny little newspaper article."

The same paradoxical indignation occurred in late 2013 with a certain TV news program, which also shed veterinarians in a negative light. Did you see it? Did anyone you know see it? Have any of your real live clients said even one word about it? If veterinarians had stayed quiet and refused to acknowledge even a shred of truth in the program, it would have passed into the annals of history unnoticed. Instead, like a bunch of fools, we made a big deal about it, in print and online, and magnified the problem identified by the show's producers a thousand fold.

Let the drama go

My message is clear. If someone writes a ridiculously, patently false article about the veterinary profession somewhere, or about your practice in particular, just ignore it. Or, if you are unable to ignore it, reiterate in your calmest voice with as few words as possible, that the author is incorrect and "Have a nice day." Any response past that will only bring undue attention to a fly-in-the-ointment annoyance, and worse than that, adds the full weight and measure of our humble profession to something that should otherwise disappear into the ether without a second thought.

Please, don't feed the trolls.

Dr. Greg Magnusson is a 2000 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Canada and owns Leo's Pet Care, a small animal practice in Indianapolis, Ind.

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