Fish guy Angel Ampil offers two cautionary tales about listening to online advice without proper clarification.
Text by Angel A. Ampil
Social media has had such an impact on fishkeeping that it has brought the hobby to new heights. Facebook (FB) has been instrumental in this, enabling hobbyists to form their
own FB groups, thereby maximizing interaction among them.
There are so many FB groups for fishkeeping around that it is almost impossible for a fishkeeper not to be a member of one if he or she has an account. I for one am a member
of over 40 fish-related FB groups; I have been added to most of these by peers and even by strangers.
But since I don’t belong to the smartphone generation whose life revolves around the phone in their hands (and its mobile Internet), I hardly spend time with these groups online. In fact, I have not even visited some of these groups. But with thousands of these groups around,
surely, you will be invited to one if fishkeeping is your interest.
“Fishy” friends online The biggest advantage of these fish related FB groups is that there are friends to help you with any kind of problem you encounter in the fishkeeping hobby.
Nowadays, it is so easy to ask for the advice of your fellow fishkeepers. When I started fishkeeping during the time when the most exciting fish in the aquarium was an Oranda
Goldfish, we had nobody to turn to for information and advice except the fish shop staff members. This person most likely didn’t know much about fish and would surely end up selling you another goldfish. He or she may not have answered your question, but at least you went home smiling.
With fish groups, the information a fishkeeper needs is just a few clicks away. There is a lot of information available for reading, and so many experienced fishkeepers to ask help from. Information in the form of ideas, theories, experience, advice, and whathaver-you is very much in the palm of your hand… and very quickly at that!
Of course your friends in these fish groups mean well and would like to help their fellow fishkeepers. However, no matter how good the intention is, some miscommunication is bound to
happen. Maybe it is due to the sheer volume of information being exchanged through these groups that the law of averages will eventually catch up.
Maybe some replies to queries are just the wrong answers.
While social media provides us with a convenient way of communicating, it does have pitfalls. After all, social media is just a medium, and somewhere in the process of transferring these
ideas, human error comes in. Perhaps what you said is not understood, and because of this misunderstanding, the person asking a question actually gets into a worse situation.
This is not the fault of the FB page—sometimes, it is that of the person asking the question or the person replying to the question. There are many ways to bungle the transmission of information. To illustrate, let me share some recent cases I came across.
Case 1: Failure to Communicate
A recent post by a fishkeeper who observed that his water had a slight green color included a photo of the tank (showing the slight green coloration) and the question, “What should I do to
remove the green color?”
Of course many eager fish hobbyists replied to his query; one suggested he do more frequent water changes while another recommended the use of algaecides to rid the tank of algae and
a third suggested installing a UV filter. And there were many more suggestions. Of course those who replied meant well, but with so many recommendations, I guess the poor guy was more confused than ever. Which of the suggestions would work best for his case?
Well this was a case of one person asking a question with really no substance at all and the only thing we know is that his tank water is green. As for his question about how to get rid
of the discoloration, how can we help him when he didn’t say much anyway? He did not even bother to gather information that would be pertinent and could give responders clues so that they could give the right recommendations.
I admire those who made suggestions. You could feel their genuine concern—not for the
fishkeeper asking for help, but rather, for their image! The more “high tech” their suggestion sounded, the more “Likes” or affirmations it got from other fishkeepers.
While there were 4 or 5 suggestions offered, NONE of the suggestions ever mentioned the possible root cause of the problem. Everyone assumed the cause of the problem was algae because the water was slightly green. But no one—absolutely nobody—ever mentioned, or bothered to find out what caused, the algae.
If the poor guy accepted all the recommendations made, he’d be poorer because he would have spent some money on a higher water bill, the purchase of algaecides, and a sizable investment in a UV system. But would these work and remove the green color of the water? We can’t say that because all solutions were offered without anybody figuring out what caused the
I sent the guy who posted the question a private message; unfortunately, he did not reply. I wanted to ask if he had just used medication in his tank. There are some medications that stain the water a light green color.
If this indeed was true, then algae did not cause the coloration; activated carbon together with a regular water change should do the trick.
Since I could no longer get additional information from the one who asked the question, I looked at the picture he posted and searched it more intensely for clues. If algae were the reason, then something must have triggered it. Normally, an intense amount of light will encourage algae to grow. However, looking at the picture, I ruled out strong natural lighting from the sun.
It just didn’t make sense for strong sunlight to hit the tank at all because the tank was situated at the bottom shelf of a cabinet or a bookshelf. In this location, the noontime sun will never reach the tank; at that time, it would be most intense and more likely cause green water. If ever some sun hit the tank, it would be in the late afternoon or early morning; thus, it cannot turn the water green for lack of intensity. The tank was simply located in the darkest part of the cabinet, so intense natural light could never reach the tank.
Further observation of the picture led me to a hypothesis. Since the tank was located at floor level inside a cabinet and was naturally dark, it made sense that the owner would illuminate
it with artificial, fluorescent light; otherwise he couldn’t see his fish. A quick check in the picture validates the presence of aquarium light.
So if I could only ask how long he keeps the aquarium lights on, then this might support my hypothesis. I know some fishkeepers keep aquarium lights open 24/7, and their water does turn
green. If this is the case, then turning off the aquarium lights and limiting the exposure to a maximum of 6 hours a day will surely solve his problem.
Remember, it is the responsibility of the person asking a question to give the background of the problem. Describe it to the best of your ability so that others will get a clearer picture
of what you are talking about. With a clear understanding of the problem, other fishkeepers can give the correct solution. Get your message across…clearly!
Case 2: Failure to Understand
Let us now reverse the problem. A question was asked and a lot of fishkeepers gave the same correct answer, but somehow the asker completely misunderstood the solution offered.
When I was a grade school teacher, I was aware that not everything I said was understood by my students. (Otherwise, all my students would have been honor students!) Let’s face it; our level of comprehension is not the same, especially in a technical field like fishkeeping.
Some can understand highly technical terms and are comparable to scholars and honor students, while others are such laggards, so slow to understand things (if in school, they’d be barely making passing grades), you wonder why they are still in the hobby and haven’t picked up a new one.
A recent case I encountered literally almost knocked me out of my seat when I figured out why his Arowana died. I was following the post of someone who introduced himself as a newbie who had purchased his first Arowana. Of course like any proud fishkeeper, he posted photos of his fish. And like any responsible fishkeeper, he asked the opinion of the experienced on how to properly care for it.
A lot of fishkeepers shared their wisdom and expertise with this newbie: proper tank size, filtration, tank covers, background color, feeding, maintenance—everything one needed to know to successfully keep an Arowana was discussed in detail. And he followed these correctly until a day or two later, when he reported that his Arowana had just died.
When asked why, he said all he did was to do the 30% water change suggested by everyone. This was when the Arowana slowly slipped away and died. A day later, I found a message from this guy asking me what went wrong. So I returned his messages and asked probing questions so I could find out exactly what he did. He said he followed the 30% water change rule to the letter and left 30% of water in the tank, and filled up the tank up as suggested by all. That’s when I asked for his number and called him up to investigate.
His replies hit me as a shock. He totally misunderstood the concept of 30% water change; what he’d done was to leave 30% of the water in the tank and tap up the 70%! This is completely the opposite of what everyone was teaching him. Of course no one knew that he did a 70% water
change because he insisted he did a 30% water change!
“WHAT?” was my first reaction. No Arowana would survive a water change that big. But then the bottom line is, he didn’t know what he was talking about. He thought he did, but he thought
wrong. After all, he did declare he was a newbie.
Personally I think that people answering questions should be responsible enough to check if their suggestions were understood correctly. Throwing back a question like, “Please tell me how you understood it” or “Tell me what you would do” should verify if he indeed understood you the way you explained it. This verification should confirm what he learned from you.
As for those asking the question, it is also your responsibility to know more about your problem and understand what was taught to you. Sad to say, sometimes I feel that some newbie
fishkeepers would like to have the answers be spoonfed to them—which is why they no longer find out for themselves why the answers make sense.
Miscommunications are everywhere. Explaining and understanding things correctly may seem simple, yet as human beings, we sometimes just bungle this.
For comments, suggestions, and questions, write to Angel Ampil at AngelAmpil@yahoo.com
This appeared as “Miscommunication: Did you say it wrong, or did I get you wrong?” in Animal Scene’s December 2015 issue.