Anyone who’s ever been on the internet has experienced the utter, bile-filled hatefulness that goes on in the comment sections under any politically-charged news story — or just about any story at all, in fact. But surely, if any comment section could provide safe haven for those seeking refuge from the endless parade of furious internet trolls, it would be those below cute cat videos. Right?
For some reason, even cute cat videos provoke a mouth-foaming rage that puts the politically partisan bloodshed on the world wide web to shame.
Take, for instance, this judgmental response to a video of a cat dancing with its owner:
This self-righteous response to a video of a cat trying on wigs every time it sticks its head through a hole in a box:
This “f*cking evil” response to a video of a cat pulling another cat into a bag:
This extremely violent response to a video of a cat sliding down a staircase in a cardboard box:
These pointed comments, of course, raise a question: Why can’t people on the internet just enjoy cat videos without virtually ripping each other’s heads off?
Cat behavior counselor Vicky Halls believes it’s a combination of passion, misunderstanding cat welfare, and well, the sad state of internet culture.
First, Halls points out, cute cat videos also trigger our parental instincts: Research shows that “cute” features — including large eyes, a disproportionately large head and a high, protruding forehead — kick-start our care-giving impulses toward infants. In humans, this dumb susceptibility to adorableness appears to have evolved way out of control, which is why cats reign supreme on the internet. This “parental outrage” is what motivates threats of internet butt-whoopings in response to cat videos that might be misinterpreted as inhumane.
Secondly, Hall notes that most people don’t really understand cat behavior, so they assume the cats in these videos are being harmed when they’re really not. (Ignorance leads to arguments online? What a shocking development!) “Sadly, it’s easy to be terribly anthropomorphic when it comes to cats, since we judge them by our own beliefs and understanding about what is and isn’t right,” she explains.
For example, some of those who commented on the video of the cat dancing with its owner pointed to its straightened tail, claiming such a tail indicates stress. But it’s actually the opposite: Cats point their tails upward when they’re happy to see you (which some more informed commenters were quick to point out).
Finally, Hall adds that internet culture tends to promote anger no matter the subject at hand. “It’s a source of constant amazement that people not only have time to watch and comment on these videos, but that they also do so with such a level of vitriol (and oftentimes, terrible grammar and spelling).”
This is a valid critique. After all, the internet is most famous for — after porn and cat videos — furious fights between complete strangers, and for three main reasons:
- No One Reads Past the Headlines: Recent studies found that 59 percent of all articles shared by people on Facebook haven’t actually been read by the people sharing them — they only read the headline. Even for the 41 percent who actually click-through, 55 percent of them only read for 15 seconds or less before clicking out, which leads to a whole lot of fighting over literally nothing.
- We Can Get Away With Being Rude: A phenomenon called dissociative anonymity shows that when there are no real-world consequences (because, for instance, you’re not face-to-face with whomever you’re virtually shouting at), many people will choose to behave terribly.
- We Project Our Dislikes Onto People We Disagree With: When someone mentions they’re more of a dog person in the comments under a cat video, a cat-lover may be inclined to immediately imagine them as a stereotype of everything they dislike about dog people, causing them to hate the commenter even more. This is an effect known as solipsistic introjection: When we can’t see the real person, we fill in the blanks to fit the rest of the information we know about them (and if the only thing we know is something we don’t like, those gaps tend to be filled in pretty negatively).
So there you have it: Cat video comment sections are supremely combative because, well, it’s the internet, and we shouldn’t have expected better to begin with. But also because people really love cats despite not actually understanding them — or what’s best for them — at all.
In short, we’re all just a bunch of hopeless morons. Sorry.