Community Standards -Ruler or Rubber Band?

Aug 10, 2015
If you get on Facebook, the ubiquitous social media site and call someone fat, fat, ugly, disgusting or a variety of other less than flattering terms, you will likely find yourself banned.

"Cyber-bullying" is a big deal with the nanny-statists, er, those more highly evolved individuals who seek to protect nearly everyone's self-image. I've written "nearly everyone" because it appears these same keepers of the common good, have decided there are some lower life forms to whom these protections aren't extended.

Those less-evolved types seem, primarily, to be made up of hunters, anglers and others who enjoy the outdoors- and the bounties thereof.

Now, it seems this non-protected category has broadened to include everyone who hunts, not just those who post what is now called by many in the outdoor industry "hunting porn." It used to take those "grip and grin photos" to turn out the "haters" of the anti-hunting movement.

But it seems we can now thank Cecil, the black maned Zimbabwean lion and hunter Dr. Walter Palmer of Minnesota- who killed him (that's not in question, only the legality of his hunt)- for a loosening of the protections against cyber-threats or cyber-bullying.

Indeed, if the Sunday, August 9, London Daily Mail is any measure of the sentiments against Dr. Palmer, he may well be the most hated man currently living on planet earth. Dr. Palmer is given credit for the killing of one of Cecil's cubs, although the actual deed was by a rival male attempting to mate with the cub's mother. According to the lengthy piece - which includes photos of Dr. Palmer in his office and posed with another trophy- the other cubs in the family "may only have days to live."

Just another "ugly American story" to some- but a call to action for others. So the "hunting haters" are out - again- on Facebook. And once again, they've targeted the Dallas Safari Club for a lot of their invective.

One particular piece crossed the line from semi-intelligible invective to outright threat.

"I will fight to shut down your disgustingly immoral witchcraft..." it said, "carry out what you do & when it is done, I will complete the past, I will come right to your Dallas Safari Club with an AK47 & a grenade and wipe out the whole lot of you out!"

Having already seen the level of hate generated from their attempt to auction a legal black rhino hunt to benefit game management efforts in Africa, DSC contacted federal authorities- and reported the invective to Facebook.

DSC provided me the actual screen shot of what they submitted to Facebook. You can see it for yourself- along with the Facebook response. It might be eye-opening for you.>

Late yesterday afternoon, I spoke with Ben Carter, Executive Director of Dallas Safari Club about this latest episode. Like me, Carter was "very surprised" at the lack of empathy or response from Facebook. "I always thought they were a very fair and equitable group," Carter told me, "it's really disappointing and scary that Facebook really seems to care about you - if your views agree with theirs."

"If not," he said, "I guess death threats are OK. What we got was the equivalent of internet terrorism."

So, I asked, is he saying that Facebook, through their apparently flexible standard, approve terrorism? His response was simple "yes, if that's OK, then they support terrorism."

So what constitutes a "threat" on Facebook? Here's Facebook's own standard-taken directly from their website:

Direct Threats: How we help people who feel threatened by others on Facebook.

We carefully review reports of threatening language to identify serious threats of harm to public and personal safety. We remove credible threats of physical harm to individuals. We also remove specific threats of theft, vandalism, or other financial harm.

We may consider things like a person's physical location or public visibility in determining whether a threat is credible. We may assume credibility of any threats to people living in violent and unstable regions."

But there's a little "gotcha" in Facebook's standards which could-in certain instances- allow them to decide that "all's fair" - their definition of "private individuals" . To them, the only private individuals are "people who have neither gained news attention nor the interest of the public, by way of their actions or (my emphasis added) public profession ."

It would seem in this case that the "safari" in Dallas Safari Club would be enough to enable Facebook to turn down this latest threat of violence-even though DSC is in no way directly connected to the event, nor the hunter accused in it.

That having been said, I'd doubtful that a "rubber ruler" standard such as this would shield Facebook or its corporate officers should one of these threats turn into action.

Local, state and federal authorities, however, aren't treating this as "OK". In fact, Carter told me that, once again, local authorities were on increased alert to possible threats to both the Dallas headquarters and its employees. Federal authorities as well are keeping a heightened watch for other activities.

Despite this latest personal and professional assault, Carter says neither he, nor the organization will stop trying to spread a simple message: without the continued practice of sustainable, legal hunting in Africa, there will be no money for conservation. And without that money, there will be no more animals in Africa or other parts of the world where the money spent by ethical hunters support everything from game rangers to combat illegal poaching to breeding programs to help assure the survival of endangered species.

But, Carter added, even with the obvious benefits hunters bring to wildlife, there is simply no room for illegal practices. "I feel bad for the doctor," he said, "because if it turns out he hasn't done anything wrong, that won't change what's been said, done and written about him. His life is changed, forever."

And if he's found to have broken the law, I asked?

"If he's found to have broken the law, he should be punished according to the law," Carter said without hesitation, "what hunters -all hunters- have to realize is there's not universal support for hunting. To keep hunting alive, we have to follow the rules- all of them- down to the smallest detail."

"If we don't," he said wearily, "everyone loses, including the animals."

--Jim Shepherd