Embrace new technology, says Alexandra Henton. Show people what we do, why we do it and how it should be done in the future. And fight the internet trolls and anti-hunting social media with common sense.
Anti-hunting sentiment is nothing new, but the medium of social media ramps up the vitriol to unscaled, and altogether unpleasant, new heights. Following the weekend where a tragic accident in the hunting field claimed the life of 9 year old Bonnie Armitage and unleashed a torrent of unpardonable abuse from anti-hunting trolls, it is time to examine how the fieldsports world responds to the online world.
Deputy editor, Alexandra Henton looks at what the online world means for the sporting one.
PROGRESS, BACK THEN
Those elegant Edwardians who set the template for our sporting world embraced the technological wizardry of their doughty Victorian forebears. Without tarnishing their hands with too much of the coal, steel and iron muck of industry they shot, hunted and fished on an enviable scale.
Made possible by the belching, grinding advances of industry and the steam train, the country houses that harboured the sporting squires and new men benefited from modernity. Running hot water? Electric lights? Sporting weekends? Yes please, Your Grace.
The advances in ballistics, gunmaking and motoring reported in the pages of The Field led to increasingly accurate shooting, finer guns and easier transport to the meet. Leap forward a century and those of us with a sporting bent (now more often earned than inherited) face a new technological challenge. And it is one that, if we fail to address it, might unseat us all. That twittering in the trees is not birdsong.
Social media, for those who have managed to remain outside and off-grid for the past 12 years, started with the advent of Facebook in 2004, was joined by Twitter in 2006 and now incorporates a legion of digital companions: Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat to name just some. To understand the different media think like this: Facebook is a common-room full of friends – with the odd “how did he get in here?” lurker; Twitter, a broadcast feed – your personal Reuters; Instagram, a photograph album, but now online and seen by everyone (mercifully without the unfor-tunate mid-guffaw snap); Pinterest, your online pinboard, and Snapchat, the equivalent of the late-night calls you probably wish you’d never made… but no need to worry as they erase themselves. Or might not if the recipient saves them. Cue renewed panic.
Opinions are shared and sought on social media. When my local hunt took the Facebook plunge it was a novelty. Now it would be newsworthy if it didn’t have an online presence. The hunt secretary insists she wouldn’t be without it. Organising a hunt supporters’ pie-and-pint night? Bung it on to Facebook and everyone knows about it within a day. It has been key to the side-saddle hunting phenomenon of recent years, bringing together people from different hunt countries and flagging up side-saddle meets.
The same has happened within the shooting and fishing industries. Going online offers engagement when you don’t have the luxury of the time afforded leisured Edwardian types. On Twitter you can follow sporting pals, brands and media outlets that keep you informed with breaking news and big issues, fun stories and useful content – as well as obligatory pictures of weasels riding woodpeckers (Google it). In a disparate community online links are invaluable.
ANTI-HUNTING SOCIAL MEDIA TROLLS
But outside the private groups and friendly feeds lurks fieldsports’ Mordor, a dark place of creatures possessed of an unquenchable rage, and violent belief in their right to condemn and abuse those with different views. Online they morph into trolls. Whether revelling in someone’s death in a hunting accident or spouting half-formed wisdom about animal rights as they tuck into factory-farmed food, the real world is a place that online antis and anti-hunting social media love to leave behind. To set your blood boiling simply scan the self-righteous Twitter feeds of many who line up against the rural community.
We may have gathered almost 500,000 allies to march for liberty and livelihood in 2002, but peer online and you might think these people were mere Will o’the wisps. For every online country enthusiast there is a legion of anti-hunting social media enthusiasts ready to click. When the Countryside Alliance (Twitter following just over 20,000) took on Chris Packham (150,000-plus) over partiality the reaction was weighted as you might expect. But the point made was valid and important. On Facebook the CA boasts over 100,000 fans; the League Against Cruel Sports more than 200,000; the vitriolic Stop the Cull 58,000-plus. Need we bend our necks under the yoke of the online majority?
Online petitions (propagated by social media) pop up with the regularity of an 18th century good-time-boy visiting his syphilis quack. Here danger lies when MPs and the national press start to take heed of the black- and-white yeas and nays cluttering their inboxes. The press of a button does not carry the force of a reasoned letter to an MP. The digital mark doesn’t have as much clout as the pencil cross. But it carries weight. And if we sit disengaged from the technology of the present we will have given up without even the semblance of a fight. I want the next generation to continue hunting, shooting and fishing, to enjoy, use and conserve the land. We must not let our sports and traditions slip from our grasp as the online opposition deems right.
We will never convince the hordes of Mordor that they should live peaceably in the Shire, to see the values, traditions and the importance of what we do. But by presenting a voice of reasoned debate in a medium dominated by those who rant and rave regurgitated “facts” we give our cause and the countryside the best shot. We must engage online and show people what we do, why we do it and, most importantly, how it should be done in the future. Start by following The Field on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And keep hunting, shooting and fishing.