People have long melted at the sight of puppies, kittens, and lots of other animals. That’s nothing new. Social media, however, has taken that love to an entirely different level. Four-legged cuteness abounds on all platforms, with the corresponding likes and followers to justify the deluge.
In countless feeds across the globe, animal memes, pics, articles, and videos pop up constantly. And lots of pets have their own pages. A cat named Sockington has more than a million Twitter followers. Grumpy Cat has almost two million followers on Instagram. And Mark Zuckerberg’s dog has over two million likes on Facebook. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. People are, quite simply, obsessed with animals online.
It’s such a common state of affairs that almost no one even questions it. My own personal theory for the universal online appeal is simply that animals are neutral and positive territory. They don’t judge people, and people don’t judge them. There’s comfort in that in a world with so many caustic exchanges. A feel-good, animal-centric post is pretty much immune to controversy.
Science supports the theory that pet pics just make humans happy. The BBC reports that a 2012 study in Hiroshima found “Kawaii (a Japanese word meaning “cute”) things are popular because they produce positive feelings.” Moreover, results showed that participants performed tasks requiring focused attention more carefully after viewing cute images.” In other words, as the BBC headline read, “Looking at cute animals is good for (people’s) health.”
Granted, this is not an area into which a majority of serious scientists venture, but there are lots of theories on the topic. One proposes that certain animals, especially young ones, trigger evolutionary nurturing responses in humans. I don’t know about that, but I do know that cats, in particular, seem to dominate the various platforms. A Forbes article quotes a writer who claims that the internet is the equivalent of the dog park for cat owners. Hmmm. Probably true.
Beyond the constant stream of cuteness, however, social media has given rise to incredibly positive changes for animals. Rescue groups are now able to reach more potential adopters than ever before, with compelling pictures and videos. Cruel breeding operations are exposed and shut down. Lost animals find their way home much more quickly when their plights go viral. And owners of sick animals have a fast way to post questions about symptoms at all times of night and day. In short, the internet has transformed animal welfare.
But back to those precious pics. I, for one, enjoy hopping on my person’s laptop when she’s not looking and getting in some serious surfing. My normal stops are Menswear Dog, Hamilton the Hipster Cat, and Sam the Eyebrow Cat. But I like to go out of my way to find the less mainstream animal stars too: Mr. Bagel the Chinchilla, The Pointer Brothers, and Priscilla and Poppington Pigs. I keep telling my people to make me a celeb, but apparently “I don’t photograph well.” (I think what they mean is they don’t photograph me well.)
So, next time you fall down the rabbit (cuuuute bunny) hole and lose count of the minutes/hours you’ve been staring at something adorable, don’t be hard on yourself. You’re actually boosting your health and increasing your productivity. At least, that’s what you should tell yourself. (Repeatedly, until you believe it!)
Albert, a Jack Russell Terrier, is Chairman of the Board of Wylie Wagg, a shop for dogs, cats, and their people, with locations in VA and DC.