Posted by drmarkgriffiths
Earlier today, I was interviewed by BBC radio about people that have set up social media accounts for their pets. In all honesty I am not a pet person but I am also well aware of the many psychological studies showing that pets hold a special place in the lives of many families and that many people treat pets as if they are one of the family. Professor John Archer has written many papers on the psychology of pet ownership and in a 1997 review paper (‘Why do people love their pets?”) in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior noted:
“People form strong attachments with their pets…[The owning of pets] enable pets to elicit caregiving from humans…in some circumstances…pet owners derive more satisfaction from their pet relationship than those with humans, because they supply a type of unconditional relationship that is usually absent from those with other human beings”.
In August 2014, the Daily Telegraph published the results of a survey they had done and reported that almost one in four dogs and cats now has their own social feed or webpage. In fact, their survey of 2,000 pet owners claimed that 9% of dogs had their own Twitter account and 13% of cats had their own Facebook page. It was also reported that 2% of dogs even had their own blog. The article then went on to list pets that had high numbers of followers and admirers. This included ‘Boo the Dog’ (the ‘world’s cutest dog’ according to pop star Ke$ha with 15 million Facebook ‘Likes’), ‘Grumpy Cat’ (‘famous for his unimpressed face’ with 6 million Facebook ‘Likes’), Graham The Kitten (singer Ed Sheeran’s cat with 99,500 followers), ‘Maggie May’ (tennis player Andy Murray’s dog with 27,000 followers), and ‘Meredith Swift’ (singer Taylor Swift’s cat with 10,000 followers).
As there is no academic research on pets with social media account I went looking online for information and came across an article on the Social Times website entitled ‘Your dog may be more popular than you – 20% have over 50 Facebook friends’. The article began:
“How many pets are online? How many pet owners are tweeting and Facebooking for their cats and dogs? How many pets have a YouTube page? A new infographic from eBay Classifieds reveals that Fido and Fluffy are hitting the social web a lot more often than you may think! The ‘Social Savvy Critters’ infographic reveals that 14% of dog owners maintain a Facebook page for their pet, 6% tweet for their dogs on Twitter, and a whopping 27% have their own YouTube page! In addition to providing stats about how many pets are online, the infographic also offers up some advice for pet owners looking to get their furry friends online. They provide 8 Twitter tips for dogs, tips on creating a blog from your pet’s perspective, and a list of pet-related social networks”.
The data were collected for a survey carried out by DoggyLoot.com. I have no details on how the data were collected or how many dog owners participated in the survey but in the absence of empirical research it’s the best I could find. The same survey also reported that among the 14% that had set up Facebook accounts for their dogs, 42% of the dogs (I’m not making this up, honestly) had 1-25 Facebook friends, and 20% had 50-100 Facebook friends. The article also made reference to a number of online communities where pets online can get together including petzume.com and petizens.com.
During my research for the radio interview I was surprised to find that Facebook founder had set up a Facebook account for his Hungarian sheepdog (‘Beast’) posting messages such as “I just took a dump and made Mark Zuckerberg pick it up. It was glorious”. The Guardian newspaper did a profile piece on Zuckerberg and his dog after the online social media account had been set up that turned into an article about pets being online. The (2012) article noted that:
“Pets on social networking sites are huge – high-profile Beast is liked by more than 42,000 people so far – and more and more of us are creating online lives for our companion animals, despite Facebook rules that state you must be over 13 to use the site (at just two months, even in dog years, Beast is only 16 months old) and, more importantly, you cannot create a profile for anyone other than yourself”.
The Guardian reporter (Bim Adewumni) asked the obvious question of who befriends a dog on Facebook or follows a cat on Twitter? And (more importantly) why? To answer the questions, Adewumni interviewed people that had set up online accounts. She wrote:
“Yasmin Eshref set up a page for her cat Georgie Coalie, as a joke to cheer up a friend. ‘But then lots of friends started adding her and sending messages to her’ says Eshref. Georgie passed away last year, but lives on in Facebook. ‘I suppose I kept it up for sentimental reasons, like not wanting to throw away the possessions of a dead person. I know it sounds a bit naff, but it’s just hard to let go’ she says. One friend tells me she has befriended a dog belonging to a friend on Facebook. ‘He even posts updates. I love him’. But another follows a puppy she is less than enamoured with: ‘Truly, I think it is slightly ridiculous. I did it to avoid offending my friends. The dog is cute, but I’m not that into him’. Animals on social networking sites have enormous numbers of fans. Sockamillion, a grey-and-white cat belonging to computer administrator and historian Jason Scott, tweets under the alias Sockington and has more than 1.4 million followers on Twitter. His list of followers reveals hundreds of tweeting cats and dogs. There are also spoof accounts for Bo, the family dog of the Obamas, and, of course, Larry, the newly acquired Downing Street cat. Fictional animals are doing just as well. Scooby Doo, Gromit and even Aleksandr Orlov, the meerkat from the car insurance advertisements, have Facebook pages”.
As there is no research on why people set up social media accounts for their pets (or why people follow them on Twitter or ‘Like’ them on Facebook) we can only speculate about possible motivations for such actions. If pets are considered an equal member of some families or act as surrogate children for childless couples, it’s perhaps unsurprising if some set up online social media accounts in their name. As noted in the Guardian article, some may set the accounts up as a joke or for sentimental reasons. Others may find it harmless fun or do it simply because they can. As I have noted in much of my cyber-psychological research, many activities carried out online are usually done for similar reasons including amusement, boredom, and revenge.
Others may do things online to explore facets of their personality that they can’t do offline or as a way of feeling better about themselves. Is someone that writes online from the perspective of their pet psychologically any different from gamers who swap their gender or species within an online video game? Unlike some online activities connected with social media (online trolling, social media addiction, etc.), there appears to be little harm in posing as your pet. Given the unlikelihood of any problematic behaviour, I can’t see how such behaviour will ever become an area for serious scientific study.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Adewunmi, B. (2011). Why has Mark Zuckerberg set up a Facebook page for his dog? The Guardian, March 9. http://www.theguardian.com/global/2011/mar/09/mark-zuckerberg-dog-facebook-page
Archer, J. (1997). Why do people love their pets? Evolution and Human Behavior, 18(4), 237-259.
Bryant, C. (2012). 7 ways to make your dog a social media superstar. Dogster, December 18. Located at: http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/make-your-dog-social-media-superstar-7-tips
eBay Classifieds Blogs (2012). Social savvy critters. January 16. Located at: http://blog.ebayclassifieds.com/2012/01/16/social-savvy-critters/
Fuster, H., Oberst, U., Griffiths, M.D., Carbonell, X., Chamarro, A. & Talarn, A. (2012). Psychological motivation in online role-playing games: A study of Spanish World of Warcraft players. Anales de Psicologia, 28, 274-280.
Hussain, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Gender swapping and socialising in cyberspace: An exploratory study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11, 47-53.
Kealey, H. (2014). The most popular pets on social media. The Daily Telegraph, August 26. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/pets/11056619/The-most-popular-pets-on-social-media.html
Lewis, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Confronting gender representation: A qualitative study of the experiences and motivations of female casual-gamers. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 28, 245-272.
McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Motivating and inhibiting factors in online gambling behaviour: A grounded theory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 39-53.
O’Neill, M. (2012). Your dog may be more popular than you – 20% have over 50 Facebook friends. Social Times, January 18Located at: http://socialtimes.com/social-media-pets-infographic_b88001
Thacker, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory study of trolling in online video gaming. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2(4), 17-33.
Tags: Andy Murray's dog, Ed Sheeran's cat, Human-pet relationships, Mark Zuckerberg's dog, Online gender swapping, Online pets, Online trolling, Pet relationships, Social media use, Social networking, Taylor Swift's cat