British Columbia

Can Miley Cyrus get the B.C. government to stop the wolf cull?

Animals, celebrities and social media — it's the not-so-secret magical formula that generates online buzz and spawns water cooler conversation. But does it turn into change?

Celebrities can bring attention to their pet projects, but does that chatter actually turn into action?

Miley Cyrus asked her Instagram followers to sign a petition to stop the controversial wolf cull in B.C. (Reuters/CBC)

Animals, celebrities and social media — it's the not-so-secret magical formula that generates online buzz and spawns water cooler conversations. 

Miley Cyrus did it Tuesday when she waded into the conservation of the controversial killing of wolves in B.C. The province says the cull is part of its effort to save an endangered cariboo population, but the program had its critics from the get-go.

Now that Cyrus has urged her Instagram followers to sign the petition calling for a stop of the killing, Pacific Wildlife — the advocacy group — says its call to action has gained new life, collecting roughly 15,000 signatures since her post on Tuesday. 

"The response in the last 24 hours has been incredible (our website has never seen that kind of traffic!) and media are giving this another look," the group said. 

Alfred Hermida, the director of UBC's School of Journalism, says social media can make people feel empowered and connected when they sign a petition or retweet a celebrity. 

"There's tremendous power to celebrity when it comes to social media, because they have a ready-made audience ... people who are just waiting for the latest Instagram post or tweet from that celebrity," he said. "It really is a call to arms and it's gets people talking about an issue they might not otherwise have known about."

Shock value

If you don't have a celebrity, then go for shock value.

A graphic video of the violent, bloody shooting of a grizzly bear somewhere in B.C. has been making the rounds on social media this week. The bear is shot several times and rolls down a hill before it dies. The snow around the bear is stained with its blood. 

(Warning: Some might find this video too graphic). 

The Wildlife Defence League took an older YouTube video, cut a shorter version and posted it anew on its Facebook page on Monday. Tommy Knowles says his group wanted to draw attention to B.C.'s grizzly bear hunt, which about 87 per cent of residents want banned, he said.

"We want people to feel that outrage that we feel and it's evident through our Facebook that the video has gone viral ... that people want the grizzly bear hunt to end."

If the Wildlife Defence League sent a press release with this old video, chances are some media would ignore it, simply because it's dated. 

"The difference today is that group's like this don't need the CBC," said Hermida. "It can actually reach the public through social media ... and bypass the traditional gatekeepers of media and reach those people directly who care about these issues."

Hard to measure long-term impact

But what is the outcome of such calls to arms? There has been an upswell of emotional chatter on social media, but the B.C. government isn't changing its position. 

It has indicated it will continue with its wolf cull for at least four more years and says it allows a grizzly bear harvest based on the best available population numbers.

The government didn't bow to pressure either when self-described animal avenger Ricky Gervais tweeted the province should reinstate the conservation officer who refused to kill two bear cubs. 

Bryce Casavant had been suspended without pay for refusing to kill two black bear cubs near Port Hardy after their mother was killed for repeatedly raiding a freezer full of meat and salmon.

Since then, Casavant has been transferred to a new job and has said he wishes he could go back to the job he loves. 

It's difficult to judge the long-term impact of these celebrity campaigns, Hermida said. 

"Perhaps what it does is reach some people who didn't know about this issue, makes them want to get involved and do more than just sign a petition," he said.

"And that's much harder to chart, because it doesn't happen on social media ... it happens in bars, in coffee shops and people get together to talk about these things and join institutions. 

So what we see on social media is the start of action ...and what campaigners hope, is that initial flurry and that wave of enthusiasm will carry on."


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