Bugs in the System - When Virals Pass You By

I committed a Twitter faux pas today, and I'm feeling a little guilty about it.

Out of a desire to do good, to spread a cry for help wider across the social network, I ended up misleading the very people who were asking for that help.

And the reason was, simply, that they hadn't heard of Fenton.

The Situation

Firstly, because it really is the more important element in this story, I'll tell you the background.

At 10:33am today (December 8th), Sian Astley posted the following tweet on her Twitter profile, @Moregeous:
"Black labrador seems abandoned on corner Goulden Rd, West Didsbury. RSPCA been called. Any locals know who's it is?!"
Later, an image was posted too, but that was after the debacle I'm about to go into...

A dog whose name is not Fenton

Now, I tend to retweet things like this, because I've built up a bit of a network of residents in Manchester and particularly Didsbury. So I did:
"Is it Fenton? RT @Moregeous: Black labrador seems abandoned on corner Goulden Rd, West Didsbury. Any locals know who's it is?!"
Only, as I mentioned, Sian hadn't heard of Fenton. So she called the RSPCA, who were looking after the dog.

In turn, they tried out the name by calling the dog using it - and it responded.

So Sian replied, letting me know it was Fenton, and asking if I knew his owners?


I apologised and tried to explain what I'd been trying to do - I'd been hoping the reference to Fenton would get more people to read the tweet, and maybe to retweet it.

However, I'm not sure if the sincerity of my apology came across - when I said "I'm going straight to hell", Sian's reply was "You certainly are."

She's probably right - and I'd like to say again here, that I wasn't trying to mislead anyone or seriously make them think the dog might be called Fenton, I just misguidedly assumed they would already know that name and thought it might make other people pay attention and, hopefully, find the true identity of the dog.

The Problem

If I were to ask you "Have you ever seen Jesus Christ in Richmond Park?", would you think I was talking about a biblical vision? If so, you'd probably have misread my tweet too.

But start typing "Jesus Ch-" into Google, and it's already among the autocomplete suggestions.

Almost three million people - most of whom, I would guess, are Twitter users - have seen the video to which I'm referring:

It has, as they say, 'gone viral' in recent weeks. So I thought making a reference to it would help people to notice the plight of this particular black labrador.

Instead, I offended a well-meaning fellow user who I've been following for some time (I suspect, given that Twitter won't let me read any of her individual statuses any more, that she may have since blocked me), and I wasted RSPCA time, which is funded by public donations. I didn't really want either of those things to happen.

The Power of Social Networking

This is both the power and the problem with social networking - virals, memes and other shared knowledge help to establish rapport among users, but they can also create exclusive groups.

I did manage to get my original tweet retweeted, so I like to think I did raise awareness of the lost dog, but it came at the expense of upsetting not just an innocent bystander, but the person who was trying to help the animal in the first place.

Sian, if you read this, I'm genuinely sorry, and I hope the dog - whatever his name actually is - is reunited with his true owners as quickly as possible.