LNT, cyber-shaming, and slacktivism: Public Lands Hate You

Public Lands Hate You is an Instagram account currently making the waves in outdoor circles.

Outside Magazine’s discourse of the account is the latest, and perhaps most public, writing about an anonymous curators crusade to call out “influencers” for their bad behavior.

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Leave No Trace Principle #8 – Share Responsibly⁣ ⁣ I’ve personally adopted this 8th principle, and I encourage you to adopt it as well. Social media is creating new ways to share and celebrate our public lands, but reckless and irresponsible sharing can and IS having a tangible negative impact.⁣ ⁣ Sharing responsibly means think about WHAT, WHY, and WHERE you’re sharing.⁣ ⁣ WHAT – Are you sharing content clearly showing behavior that is responsible and legal? Use of Photoshop and “camera angles” to hide the truth and make your content appear to be something it’s not gives others the wrong idea about what’s acceptable on our public lands. If pets are required to be on a leash, why Photoshop out the leash and send the message that off leash pets are allowed?⁣ ⁣ WHY – Are you sharing because you love a place and want to share information about that place to encourage others to visit, enjoy, and preserve it? Or are you sharing exclusively because it’s a pretty, eye catching location that will get more people to enter a contest?⁣ ⁣ WHERE – Are you sharing a location that can handle a potential influx of visitors if your content goes viral? Norris Geyser Basin in YNP is equipped with boardwalks, signage, and staff to help prevent resource destruction from huge quantities of visitors. A remote hot spring in a wilderness area? Not so much.⁣ ⁣ If you feel the need to geotag a location, PLEASE consider the three W’s. Geotagging gives everyone the EXACT location of a natural feature without any relevant context or information. Would you give the keys to a Ferrari to someone who has never driven a car before? No? Then why would you give the exact location of an environmentally sensitive area to someone who may not have the necessary experience or knowledge to safely visit that area and treat it with care and respect?⁣ ⁣ If you do want to geotag a location on your public lands, consider tagging the local visitors center or ranger station, where others can get all the information they need to visit safely and responsibly!⁣ ⁣ So share your favorite public lands! They belong to YOU! But please remember, what you share on social media CAN have impacts in the “real” world. #lnt

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On paper (or pixel?), a noble idea.

So-called “influencers” have an outsize reach in aggregate. Their actions can impact an area, cause people to buy things, and act in a specific way. Oh, the “influencer” movement is nothing new, of course.  Radio, movies, television, and print long had celebrities, trusted sources, or slick campaigns of one sort or another marketing consumer goods and concepts for people to enjoy.

Be it celebrities projecting a glitzy New York different from the 1970s grit, crime, and recession…

or popular prime-time show characters peddling dubious goods…

Or selling a product in modern times via a well-done lifestyle featurette.

The difference?

With devices that cost a few hundred dollars, the modern-day influencers can reach thousands of people throughout 24 hours.

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You just can’t make this stuff up. One trip to the Tetons will blow your mind! Photo by @mollymccormickphoto

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Even professionally done, social campaigns have a fraction of the budget of their Mad Men-esque forerunners and contemporaries.  And the more grass-root versions? Often done in minutes.

So I can see why the person who runs Public Lands Hate You created a mission for themself.   Such places as Conundrum Hot Springs, Hanging Lake, and Horshoe Bend, among others, have been partially affected by social media. Of course, these discussions ignore the population growth all over the Intermountain West in such places as Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas, but I digress.

Public Lands Hate You’s mission is, by all accounts, a success.  With fewer than sixty posts, Public Lands Hates You boasts nearly 68k followers as of December 2019 in addition to all the media coverage.

More importantly, the account’s audience tends to be an engaged one; there are typically over 2000 likes and 200+ comments on any given post.

However, I think there are some issues with this type of cyberactivism.

I think the person and the followers (mainly) have good intentions. And I’ve struggled with the issues myself over the years.

However, I can see the issue with this type of cyberactivism. You mostly have one person or group making a judgment on what is acceptable behavior based on their criteria with no room for debate.

Just a summary judgment and -POOF- you get punished by the vox populi. Or, as the case with most Internet comment sections, a series of remarks that essentially equates to I CAN YELL LOUDER THAN YOU!

Dive into the comments from both sides of the debate:

  • Shit ur right stacking rocks is absolutely disgusting behaviour
  • Nature should be banned from most Instagram influencers. I hate em, unless they are educational. Nature is my home. My baby.
  • you are seriously the epitome of everything thats wrong with the white-male dominated “eco- shame: narrative.

Etc.

This sentence from the Outside article interview,  in particular, made me go, “Hmm?” :

.created the Instagram account to show how people will ….wander off designated trails

Now, the person might be cyber shaming people who, say, go off-trail at Delicate Arch. A high use area indeed.

Or is the person taking everyone to the task? Many people don’t realize off-trail travel is allowed in many places. And often the only way to explore an area.

Are well defined social trails, OK? Are these verboten, too? What about mountaineering and climbing routes? What about places with no trails? Should we not go off-trail in all environments and areas?

Again, no room for nuanced debate, discussion, and education, especially among the followers.

I’ve experienced this dogmatic view personally. A person wrote to me earlier this fall because I  published an article about off-trail hiking. Or so the person claimed. I have no idea which piece,  the person is not in any hiking circles I frequent from what I can tell, nor do we have any FB friends in common, I rarely use the term “bushwhacking” to describe my travels,  nor had I written such an article in recent months.

You can read the exchange for yourself.

The summary?  Off-trail travel is terrible, dangerous, and irresponsible. Always.

I can see the issues with this type of activism. Or rather slacktivism. 

Some pithy writings, a few mouse clicks, and you feel vindicated about your views.

From Non-Profit Hub:

Slacktivism can be an opportunity for causes to garner more awareness, and in some cases, it can even create so much awareness that it increases donations…The problem arises when your organization gains 10,000 followers on Twitter and gets 25 shares per Facebook post, but never reaches their bottom line financially or can’t get volunteers to help out where capacity is lacking—and the reason is they feel they’ve “done their part” by engaging on social media.

[emphasis mine]

Frankly, I think slacktivism appeals to the same type of people who eschew plastic straws but drive their $100k Sprinter Van from Denver or Salt Lake City to go mountain biking for a day in Moab.

In other words, it is more slacktivism that makes people feel good without people having to do anything on their own.  Something as simple as perhaps not using any straw for their drinks, or, thinking about making their recreation footprint smaller instead?

Ther are no easy answers, which is my point.

Look at the issues, research, and do more than share a photo of your artfully posed photos with some essay about your composting and then chastising people for drinking a beer at a hot spring.

….

Public Lands Hate You can be a starting point for discussion. It is not the endpoint. I suggest reading Wilderness Ethics, Uncertain Path, and Brave New West to look more at the deeper issues and engender some nuanced discussion. Challenge your beliefs beyond affirming them.

And do something!

Where ever you live, some groups can use a hand: Monitor a site, do public outreach, pick up trash or do trail work for the weekend, take some lower-income youth out for a hike, or even something simple as giving $5 to an organization of your choice.

You’ll do a lot more good than any Facebook share or making an Instagram comment before you purchase more Top 10 Tchotkes You Don’t Need.

And a tangential postscript: About that Outside article above? Here’s a screenshot of a piece just after the Public Lands Hate You story– a very non- LNT photo of a campfire…on a “sponsored” (paid) article!

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mike
mike
9 months ago

Great read!

Douche P.
9 months ago

“Frankly, I think slacktivism appeals to the same type of people who eschew plastic straws but drive their $100k Sprinter Van from Denver or Salt Lake City to go mountain biking for a day in Moab.” One of the best lines in this piece. These types drive me absolutely insane. Reminds me of a writer named Wes Siler writing about having a vasectomy in the name of climate change, then weeks later justifying his purchase of a 14mpg SUV for over $80k. No mention of working towards a carbon neutral economy, making things better, doing real work for change, just… Read more »

Harold Sachs
Harold Sachs
9 months ago

And many of these slacktivist Instagram accounts and websites focus 99% of the energy harassing people for taking their dogs on trails or for flying drones. But they almost never chastise those that litter, deface property, or vandalize landmarks.

Harold Sachs
Harold Sachs
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Mags