Facebook’s recent takedown of dozens of troll accounts linked to a single marketing firm sheds new light on the intensely deceptive tactics used by trophy hunting groups to sell the public and politicians a bill of goods.
Last week, the social media network announced it was permanently banning Rally Forge, an Arizona-based marketing firm, and removing 200 accounts and 55 pages, as well as 76 Instagram accounts, it was operating. One of Rally Forge’s clients was Inclusive Conservation Group (ICG), which was funded with millions of dollars by leading U.S. trophy hunting groups Safari Club International Foundation and Shikar-Safari Club International Foundation.
The conservation publication Wild Things Initiative first raised alarms about ICG and its aggressive social networking in support of trophy hunting in June. The publication reported that ICG was orchestrating fake accounts and misinformation campaigns called Let Africa Live and Proud American Hunter. Both campaigns, which claimed a reach in the tens of millions, engineered false grassroots support for trophy hunting in the United States and in Africa, claiming it benefited the conservation of these species, and attempted to sway policy on trophy hunting globally.
ICG’s contents were shared by Botswana’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, and the campaigns even claimed credit for Masisi’s lifting of Botswana’s elephant trophy hunting ban last year.
Wild Things Initiative founder Jared Kukura described in his June article an instance of the ICG orchestrating a response to the backlash a trophy hunter, Britt Longoria, received after a photo of her posing with a dead leopard was posted on social media:
“Ricardo Longoria, Britt’s husband and influential hunting figure, contacted ICG Vice President Rick Steiner to ask for help with the negative media attention.
“After being contacted, ICG “immediately went on the offensive.” … In only hours, the slogan “An Attack on One Hunter is an Attack on All Hunters” reached hundreds of thousands of “rabid pro hunting social media warriors” willing to defend on Britt Longoria.”
According to the Washington Post, much of the activity of these fake accounts “drew on the spam-like behavior of bots and trolls, with the same or similar language posted repeatedly across social media, primarily in response to mainstream news articles.”
That trophy hunting groups should resort to help from troll farms to create a false narrative defending this gruesome hobby is not surprising; those of us who watch them closely know just how low they can stoop. And it seems only inevitable that they would try to stop people who abhor trophy hunting from drawing attention to the harm it causes individual animals (like Cecil the lion), even as it puts entire species of iconic animals at risk of extinction. What these detractors especially fear is the fact that social media has helped amplify the message against trophy hunting so effectively in recent years, aided by celebrities like Ricky Gervais and renowned conservation biologists like Dr. Jane Goodall.
We are pleased that Facebook acted swiftly to remove these fake accounts with their dangerous messaging. But this news serves as a timely reminder of the vigilance we all need to exercise as we consume news from so many different sources today, and especially from social media networks with their unparalleled reach. Special interest groups like Safari Club International have wealthy clients and vast resources they can dip into to try and sway public opinion and politicians and as this case demonstrates, they will stop at nothing to get their message out. But their agenda comes at great cost to the world’s wildlife, and we cannot forget that for a minute.