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Real discussion? Not on Social Media

By Richard Ross - Posted Feb 27, 2012 08:00 AM
The ongoing discussions about and with anti aquarium trade groups have been hopping on Facebook. Sadly they have taken a turn that makes me feel engaging with the anti trade side is often useless and should possibly be avoided.


What these groups are doing is deleting comments that respectfully disagree with them, and then pretending to be generous by replying…while at the same time blocking the people they say they are replying to. They are also assuming that everyone that disagrees with them disagrees with everything they have to say and that everyone disagrees about the same thing in the same way both of which are of course, not true. Because blocking people shuts down all real discussion, these misconceptions cannot be addressed or cleared up in an effort to find common ground and move everyone forward.

It is very hard to take seriously or trust advocates that delete responses that they disagree with and block dissenting opinions - especially respectful reasonable responses that are discussing the issues raised in a public discussion. If a position is so fragile that opposition must be hidden and eliminated it seems that the position is weak enough to be ignored, that the advocate of that position is hiding something, or that the advocate is not interested in actual motion on the issue and instead is trying to change others opinions not with reason but with hyperbole, emotion and demagoguery.

There is a lot to talk about, and the discussion is good. There is always room for reform and change and many see room and need for improvement in the aquarium fishery. Sadly, these anti aquarium trade groups don't seem to want to have discussion, they seem to want to control the discussion so they can feel like they are winning or even worse, give others in print media or in politics, the perception they are winning.

I would suggest that the aquarium community not directly engage with groups that behave in such censorship because each time we engage we make them seem more relevant while the truth is they aren't…at least in social media. They have large followings in the real world, but in social media they don't have much going on and it seems better to keep it that why so I won't name or link their Facebook pages. If these groups were open to real discussion, I would advocate working with them in all media to find reasonable solutions to everyones issues regarding the aquarium trade.

If you do decide to engage them directly, I urge you be incredibly respectful and careful that you don't give them any ammunition they can use out of context to support their agenda. I also suggest that you keep a copy of whatever you write along with a log of what you wrote and when they deleted it. I can imagine a time where that kind of information could go a long way in showing that the aquarium community has tried to engage in productive discussion, even though the anti aquarium advocates have not and has in fact purposefully stifled productive discussion.

In the mean time, is doing a great job of countering the odd positions of the anti trade advocates and has gone out of their way not to exclude anyone or any opinion from the discussion (interestingly, the way Facbook works, people that the anti trade groups have blocked cannot even see what those anti trade people are saying anywhere on Facebook which makes some of the discussion on HawaiiBanFactCheck seem disjointed to the growing number of blocked participants). Instead of engaging the anti trade people directly, support HawaiiBanFactCheck with positive vibes and posts. Harnessing social media in a positive way can only lead to a better future than squelching discussion.

I hope that this situation changes. I hope that honest discussion of the situation can be had because if people really are for the fishes and really want to save the sea, everyone has to work together and that can only truly start with honest discussion.

Author: Richard Ross

Richard Ross, the 2014 MASNA Aquarist of the Year, is a Senior Biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences where he cultures and cares for exotic cephalopods, fish & coral, participates in ongoing field work on coral spawning, animal collection & transport, and manages tropical saltwater displays including the 212,000 Philippine Coral Reef exhibit. He is a prolific writer and dynamic speaker, authoring academic papers and a catalogue of articles on aquarium and reef related educational topics including his Skeptical Reefkeeping series which focuses on critical thinking, responsibility and ethics of aquarium keeping. His work has been covered by mainstream media outlets including Scientific American, National Geographic, Penn’s Sunday School and Fox News.


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