When "We Rate Dogs" went to the dogs

If you’re not familiar with the Twitter account We Rate Dogs you’ve been missing out on something great for a long time. A college student by the name of Matt Nelson has racked up a couple of million followers and built what appears to be a thriving private enterprise by posting pictures of pups with clever (and generally hilarious) captions and comments for them. I think I first learned of WRD from Jonah Goldberg at National Review (who tweets out a lot of dingo pictures himself) and was hooked immediately.

Then, because the intersection of American politics and the internet produces a toxic plume which can poison anything, that changed over the last week. It all started when the WRD account decided to get in on the fun of the COVFEFE meme, taking a few pokes at the president. Harmless enough, eh? We were all doing it. But that was followed up by a Twitter announcement that WRD’s online shop would be donating half of it’s profits to Planned Parenthood. In the normal, deliberative, careful and slow paced way that the internet always operates, we were able to calculate that it took precisely 1.00387 seconds before the social media world erupted into the 140 character equivalent of a nuclear bomb. The Weekly Standard highlighted most of the details of the ensuing fallout. Buzzfeed reported that Nelson made something of a half-hearted apology, but the entertaining account had already evolved.

The apology apparently didn’t change anything in the new WRD marketing strategy. When the discussions of the Paris climate deal were heating up, the account posted this.

That was the point where I jumped into the conversation, responding with a #StayInYourLane hashtag.

Is this all a massive overreaction in conservative social media? Not really. Ian Tuttle has a great analysis over at National Review on the subject. It’s framed around Robert Frost’s ancient admonition that “good fences make good neighbors.” After pointing out the various admirable aspects of fences, particularly their ability to “keep out marauders” Tuttle delves into why the PP donations announcement landed like a turd in the dog park from a hound who’d gotten into some spicy chili.

Our politics is besieged by marauders at the moment. On Wednesday, Matt Nelson, the man behind WeRateDogs™, a Twitter account devoted to posting pictures of cute canines, announced that he would be donating profits from sales of select merchandise on his website to Planned Parenthood. Nelson is, of course, welcome to do with his site and his money as he wishes. What conservatives lamented was that he saw fit to politicize what had been, until then, an apolitical account.

Nelson’s left-wing followers responded differently. On his personal account, Nelson endorsed a long Twitter screed by a freelance journalist who suggested that “people literally can’t handle a person running a dog Twitter account and supporting Planned Parenthood at the same time.” Many others weighed in similarly.

I’d like to expand on two points here just a bit. As to the donations question, I’m with Tuttle on that one while keeping the entire idea of good fences and staying in your lane in mind. Nelson is running a business and seemingly doing well. He’s a private citizen, not a politician and I think that’s great. Make your money where and how you (legally) can, young man. And if he wants to take his earnings and give them all to Planned Parenthood or the NRA or blow it all at the blackjack tables in Vegas, that’s his business. If someone were to then go and somehow dig up the list of all of PP’s donors, match up his name and “out” him I would be more upset with the person doing oppo research on a dog pictures account than I would with him. But when you choose to start broadcasting an obvious and politically charged announcement such as that to your two million followers, whether you were giving the money to PP or the NRA, you’ve sullied what was otherwise a wonderful social media outlet for at least half your audience.

That brings me to the second point. Like many people I keep my favorite twitter feeds separated into a group of columns in Tweetdeck. Some are for family and friends, others for the politically oriented accounts I want to keep tabs on. But I also have a couple which are just fun and give me a break from the daily grind of government and politics. Those columns are inhabited by feeds which cover things like (non-political) podcasts, weird news, History in Pictures, Bigfoot, reptilian aliens and the Illuminati. And until very recently that included We Rate Dogs. It’s just fun and sometimes I need to get away from the screaming, blaring, non-stop DEFCON ONE state of partisan political fighting.

Was that too much to ask? Perhaps so. But it was certainly fun while it lasted. And if Matt happens to wind up reading this, I’m not criticizing your politics, buddy. I’m giving a thumbs down to a business decision which was obviously going to damage your brand and reduce your audience. But hey… you do you, as the kids like to say.