Advice for shooters and hunters navigating the social media minefield

Social media has well and truly changed the way we communicate, with information now instantaneously available at our fingertips and the ability to directly and publicly air our concerns with businesses, government and high-profile individuals online easier than ever before. Indeed, nearly every organisation and individual uses social media sites in some way - whether it’s through a post or picture shared on Facebook, mentioned in a Tweet or included in an online family blog.

Facebook itself boasted 1.23 billion monthly users at last count in February 2013. What started as a university student connection website has turned into one of the biggest online communication tools that both government and businesses have had to learn to master - and quickly.

Despite the perils of Facebook - from extreme cases of online bullying to activist groups running campaigns to undermine their opponents - organisations involved in the shooting sports and recreational hunting can no longer afford to be absent from this growing and powerful medium. Vocal anti-shooting groups already use social media networks to spread their message in the form of the Anti Hunting Movement, Animal Liberation and the Australian Greens Party.

However, among such perils there is an opportunity to build online communities with like-minded people who share their enthusiasm for our sport and chosen pastime, as well as create a positive outlet for emphasising the many benefits that the shooting sports bring to society. With this in mind, SSAA National created a Facebook account last year as another way to pool information and connect with our members who also use this medium. The SSAA National Facebook page has run online competitions, updated the latest news regarding the ongoing Senate Inquiry, and invited member feedback on a range of issues and SSAA initiatives, to name but a few.

As with every communication medium though, guidelines need to be in place to ensure the correct and appropriate information is aired, not only to guard the reputation of the SSAA, but also to protect the image of our sport. Shooting and firearms can be emotive issues, with some fiercely opposing our views. According to SSAA National Media Officer Kate Fantinel, it can be easy to dismiss such arguments, but in order to change public perceptions, we have a responsibility to put our best foot - and face - forward.

“It’s great to be passionate about shooting and hunting and to share this with friends and followers, but commonsense and careful consideration of what we post should prevail when sharing a photo or information about our sport and chosen pastime,” she said.

“Activist groups are using Facebook and Twitter as a call to action for their supporters and to spread their negative messages. As responsible shooters, we can use these very same mediums to combat negative stereotypes or perceptions by presenting a positive picture of shooting and hunting.”

Although words can send powerful statements, photographs can also convey the right or wrong message. Photographs of an 11-year-old boy posing with a culled rare albino deer in the United States last year caused controversy, with some criticising the age of the boy, along with the nature of the photos. Some labelled the hunt ‘morally wrong’ and said it ‘made them sick’.

Other photos posted by American cheerleader Kendall Jones, 19, with hunted elephants, lions and other big-game species on Facebook also stirred a backlash, with comments on her hunting skills and dedication to game preservation being overshadowed by comments regarding the emotive nature of the animals displayed. In fact, not long after the photos of Ms Jones and her hunt were posted online came a Facebook page eloquently titled ‘Kill Kendall Jones’ with more than 400 people ‘liking’ the page before Facebook inevitably shut it down. In a sad twist and sign of negative public perceptions about hunting, the photos of Ms Jones with her legally hunted trophies were taken down well before the offensive and life-threatening page was.

The SSAA has a strict policy on the content and nature of any photos published by the Association, with the SSAA National Facebook page employing the same standards and requirements as our magazines and publications.

“It’s all about judgment and commonsense,” said Kate. “The SSAA does not publish photos of people sitting on their hard-won trophies, for example, as we feel it cheapens the activity of hunting and the trophy.

“As ethical hunters, we are proud of our role as an environmentalist and conservationist; we just need to remember to pick our audience and judge the appropriateness of the photo wisely.”

SSAA members can follow the same simple guidelines outlined in our photograph policy to help decide whether the post is acceptable. The principles include being mindful of the position of the animal and how much blood is visible, even moving the animal away from the blood trail or photographing it from a respectable distance to avoid focusing on blood.

Guidelines surrounding posting photos of shooters with firearms include ensuring the firearm is always pointed away from the camera and in a safe direction away from the photographer and other shooters present. In the case of an ‘action shot’ taken during competition, for example, we encourage photographers to avoid photos of the shooter with their finger on the trigger. It’s also worth considering whether the shooter should be wearing appropriate attire, such as visual and hearing protection, especially with larger calibre firearms or when there are younger shooters in the photo.

Victoria Police recently highlighted the dangers of sharing too much information online, with reports of criminals using social media sites to identify and target firearm owners who post ‘selfies’ with their firearms a virtual advertisement for thieves.

“Some criminals trawl social media networks looking for easy targets and items of interest - including ammunition and other weaponry,” said Senior Sergeant Andrew Armstrong from the Victoria Police Licensing and Regulation Division. He pointed to unsecure public profiles or accounts as aiding the criminals in their information gathering.

“This also highlights the importance of checking your privacy settings so only your friends and family can see such photos and personal information, but it’s just as important to make sure any photos do not include overly identifying factors such as your home address,” said Kate.

“Again, we strongly advise against pointing the barrel at the camera as it’s unsafe to do so.

“These are just some simple things to consider next time you prepare to share a photo of your latest hunt or day on the range with your Facebook friends.

“If we want shooting and the use of firearms for sport and hunting to be viewed fairly and in the best possible light, we have a responsibility as SSAA members and shooters to make sure our actions on social media sites promote the safe, fun and enjoyable nature of our sport.”

Shooter’s posting checklist

  • Does my photo contain unnecessary graphic detail; eg, excessive blood?
  • Is the firearm pointed away from the camera and towards a safe location?
  • Should individuals in the photo be wearing protective clothing?
  • Should I conduct a personal heated conversation about my chosen pastime with an activist online, or should I take it offline?
  • Is my comment offensive or a personal attack, or is it a fair and balanced response to criticism?
  • Am I presenting the shooting sports or recreational hunting in the best possible light?
  • Are my privacy settings correct so no unwanted eyes can view my personal information or photos?

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