Hunters troll PETA in selfie campaign, but did it backfire?

David Nicolai posing with a caribou he took on a successful hunt in 2016, in PETA’s social media frame (Photo courtesy of David Nicolai).

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When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals rolled out a new social media campaign, it caught on with an unexpected group – hunters.

All across the country, the slogan “shoot selfies, not animals” was co-opted by people putting up social media posts featuring trophy photos of game taken in the field. It’s a bit of social media mockery, but PETA is still counting it a success.

Last week, Anchorage resident David Nicolai spotted something funny online.

“I saw a friend post a PETA frame as he was butchering a moose,” Nicolai said by phone. “It was a pretty great photo for me.”

Beneath the eviscerated ungulate, written in a hip-looking curly font were the words “shoot selfies, not animals,” next to an illustration of a stoic deer.

“Being a hunter myself, I had to just copy it and put it up across all my social media,” Nicolai said.

In the picture he uploaded, Nicolai is posing proudly next to the spiky antlers of a caribou he shot last fall.

According to PETA, the frame has been downloaded more than 400,000 times. Many of the images generated feature camo clad hunters posing over dead deer, bears, squirrels, moose, and a more than a few turkeys.

But if hunters thought they were making fun of the organization, PETA says it didn’t work.

“It totally backfired on them,” said Daniel Carron, an outreach coordinator for the organization at its Virginia headquarters. “It shot our frame to number one on Facebook, got us all kinds of attention, and is bringing the anti-hunting message to a whole new audience.”

With so many gory photos of dead animals flooding social media feeds, Carron said non-hunters may be put off, and people who might not have ever heard of PETA are getting funneled toward their messaging.

The campaign is not directed at people who may hunt out of necessity, which according to Carron is a tiny share of the people who shoot animals nationwide.

“The majority of people killing these animals are doing it for fun, and those are the types of people who are going to post a picture on Facebook in the frame to poke fun of us,” Carron said.

He doubts people who depend on subsistence hunting for food are spending time on Facebook.

But to Nicolai, that sounds out of touch.

“It’s definitely patronizing,” he said. He sees a disconnect between PETA’s campaign and traditional cultural practices in Alaska.

Nicolai is Yup’ik and Athabascan, and while he could get by without filling the freezer with game, he still thinks there are plenty of worthwhile reasons to hunt. And post about it on social media.

“Subsistence is our way of life still, especially in rural Alaska,” Nicolai said. “The idea of not shooting animals means not eating.”

Selfies, after all, won’t feed the family.

Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska.

@ZachHughesAK About Zachariah

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