@WhySharksMatter on twitter

Social media and conservation: a real life cautionary tale

Shark Spotters shared this very interesting video about social media and the role it can play in conservation efforts. It’s just under ten minutes long and the warning about language and disturbing imagery is serious, so use discretion, but I’d recommend you watch it carefully if, like most of the planet, you’re a social media addict.

I watched the video, and shared it on our facebook page, had dinner, and went to sleep.

The following morning while reading the news (or what I consider to be news), I was confronted by a real, disturbing example of how a social media campaign – one which its participants fervently believed was saving sharks left, right and centre – has actually damaged a conservation effort and possibly led to more of what the activists were trying to prevent.

The campaign was in response to the shark mitigation efforts of the government of Western Australia (#noWASharkCull is the protesters’ hashtag). These mitigation efforts involved baited drumlines to catch sharks near beaches. Target species are bull sharks, tiger sharks and white sharks. Sharks over three metres long that are found still alive on the drumlines are removed from the hooks, shot, and disposed of at sea. It’s unscientific (didn’t work in Hawaii), indiscriminate, and very expensive.

Unfortunately those who disagreed with the WA government’s measures to reduce shark bites took it too far, with vicious personal attacks, death threats – mostly issued via social media – and vandalism being the order of the day. There is also the small fact – ignored by the protesters – that the WA government’s plans are nothing revolutionary, with drumlines in use in Queensland for decades, so their protests are 50 years too late.

Perth Now reports that

The 14-week trial generated “offensive and contained personal attacks on members of the Government and staff involved with the program” on Twitter and Facebook.

Supporters said they had “no choice but to stay quiet due to the level of abuse and vilification received”, describing the level of personal attack and social media postings as “unacceptable”.

“The Government is now more acutely aware of the level of abuse that was directed towards supporters of the program and the reasons for so many staying silent,” the Government responded in the PER.

Partly because of this postulated “silent majority” who approve of the shark cull but are too afraid to express their support because of the behaviour of the anti-cull protesters, the WA government plans to continue it for another three years, with the belief that it has a mandate to do so from this (real or imaginary) silent group of supporters. Good job everyone!

Want to make a real difference? Support Our Sharks, an Australian science based conservation organisation, has excellent resources on how to make a submission against the cull. Be calm, be rational, be science-based. Be quick, because the deadline for submissions is 7 July. And maybe stay off facebook…

Thanks to Martin Graf and DaShark for putting this in my news feed.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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