Toxic Twitter abuse could undermine UK wildlife law

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Wildlife conservation efforts could suffer as toxic web series about trophy hunting become increasingly abusive, conservationists have warned.

The scientists analyzed hundreds of tweets about trophy hunting and found that 7% were abusive. This is a similar analogy to partisan content on social media platforms known to highlight extreme views.

The findings, by conservation scientists at the University of Reading and the University of Sheffield, are published today (March 9) in the journal Conservation Biology.

Graphic images posted on Twitter of tigers, crocodiles, giraffes and elephants being shot by hunters often provoke angry reactions from Twitter users. For example, in two tweets reviewed by researchers, one user says a trophy hunter “deserved to die” and another said trophy hunters should “shoot yourself.”

As a result of this hostile atmosphere, arguments by some conservationists, which suggest that trophy hunting can be generally positive for the protection of species and habitats, are often countered by opponents of hunting. This means that different views on conservation are not being heard and policy makers are less aware of them.

“Heaps” of celebrities

Dr Luke Evans, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, was the lead author of the study. He said, “Controversial cases involving trophy hunting, such as the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015, have sparked an explosion of angry tweets.

“These comments are becoming more hostile and angry as celebrities, activists and some politicians risk creating ‘pilebacks’ against any mention of trophy hunting or those who suggest pro-hunting views. For example, a prominent conservationist who regularly advocates the conservation benefits of trophy hunting on Twitter has been called a murderer and a psychopath.

“This strong anti-hunting sentiment is now making its way into UK law, with the UK government proposing a ban on trophy hunting imports. Such a law needs to be properly debated and debated by experts and the public, but it is almost impossible to have this discussion on the internet without seeing extreme anti-hunting views, often coupled with abuse.

“A new UK law banning the importation of hunting trophies could have a major impact on conservation around the world, with negative and positive influences in different locations. This needs to be considered, but it is possible that Twitter toxicity will skew the debate away from the evidence.”

Unnecessary suffering or “necessary evil?”

The research team examined 500 tweets to identify themes and tones in trophy hunting discussions on Twitter. They found that 350 tweets opposed trophy hunting, with Twitter users often expressing sadness, anger or disgust at the suffering caused to hunted animals.

Of these anti-hunting tweets, 7% contained abusive content, such as insults or threats of violence. This is similar to the percentage of abusive posts found on extreme messaging sites such as Gab or 4Chan.

Less than 5 percent of tweets expressed views in favor of trophy hunting, often expressed in a “reluctant” tone or acknowledging the practice was a “necessary evil.” Some Twitter users disliked the shooting of animals, but suggested that trophy hunting provides funding and helps wider conservation efforts by helping other species thrive in habitats preserved as hunting grounds.

All tweets analyzed by the researchers were anonymized to protect the identity of the tweeters. But public searches of the tweets quickly show the levels of abuse and exaggeration seen in hunting discussions on Twitter—including those fueled by celebrities. In a tweet, comedian Ricky Gervais (who has previously backed proposed legislation to ban the importation of hunted animals, which will be voted on by UK lawmakers later on Friday, March 17), uses profanity about a trophy hunter holding a dead leopard. . In another post, actor Peter Egan says trophy hunters are “serial killers”.

Death threats

Co-author Dr Vicky Boult, from the University of Reading, said: “As scientists, we wanted to explore the tone of this online debate in a neutral way.

“What we found was quite shocking, with some people who expressed views perceived to be pro-hunting facing death threats and extreme abuse. We have seen that this abuse can sometimes be traced to the activities of celebrities with large online followings.

“While some people may dislike the activities of hunters, it is important that we do not create laws that actually harm conservation efforts by shutting down genuine debate and replacing it with abuse.”

More information:
Characterizing the trophy hunting debate on Twitter, Conservation Biology (2023). DOI: 10.1111/cobi.14070

Provided by the University of Reading

Reference: Toxic Twitter abuse could warp UK wildlife law (2023, 9 March) retrieved 9 March 2023 from twitter-abuse-skew-uk.html

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