Turtles, Facebook Shaming, and the Voice of Reason

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It’s a funny thing, when people attack others for things they do, particularly when the attackers are guilty of similar offenses themselves. It’s utterly astonishing that we seem to expect the world to revolve around our own knowledge and ideals, with scant regard for the circumstances or perspectives of others.

The Internet often fights tooth-and-nail over issues, which, when supported by evidence, logic and perspective, would seem like a clear case of “I was wrong, and you were right – sorry”, but that is rarely ever the case.

Suddenly, Facebook went from a copyright-infringing, homophobic den, to an animal-loving vigilante group.

Recently, Trinidad and Tobago’s Facebook circle circulated a photo of a woman, allegedly dressed as a banana, standing on the back of a leatherback turtle. People have been calling for the woman to be kicked in the face, thrown off of a cliff, and even have her children destroy her private regions when giving birth. When local pages, with a thing for “Like if you find this true”, got a hold of various photos, their usually mature and level-headed discourse degenerated to levels that one would never have expected. Suddenly, Facebook went from a copyright-infringing, homophobic den, to an animal-loving vigilante group.

Now, I understand that the leatherback turtles are endangered, and I understand that what she did was deplorable. But to call it the “most disgusting act I’ve ever seen”, in my humble opinion, is a reach.

Don’t get me wrong, I love animals to the point where they don’t annoy me, and I personally find that animal meat is delicious, but could we perhaps just consider that there may be a less-narrow worldview? Consider the possibility – and yes, ignorance is (usually) no excuse in the eyes of the law – that she simply does not know better?

It’s nice to see that we can and do care about things other than…well…nothing, and the fact that people are sharing it means that, perhaps, we can actually make a positive difference for the environment – especially since we’re generally such a clean, non-littering, unselfish society!

Back to the matter at hand, though. What is the issue? Is it that she stood on a turtle’s back, or the fact that the turtle was endangered? Had it not been endangered, would it have been okay for her to stand on its back then? By that logic, if she can defend herself, then we should kick her in a face and throw her off a cliff? Are we as outraged when people throw their puppies off the cliffs at Maracas, or is it okay because there are just so many bloody dogs anyway? Is it worse to stand on an endangered turtle, as compared to beating a homosexual to a pulp?

Again, not to condone what she has done, but to put a bit of perspective to the matter. Should we really be so emotional that we are seemingly willing to give her a thousand horrible deaths for something that she could have simply done in ignorance, rather than as an act of arrogance that we see spewing in society almost daily?

Now, there is the possibility that she did know the dangers of standing on the back of the endangered turtle, and chose to ignore it. She could have sincerely and honestly been an idiot who wanted a really cool picture to put next to the one of her and fellow animal-enthusiast, Nalini Dial.

As I tell some of my closest friends, mistakes are less forgivable if you know you shouldn’t be doing it, and if it is indeed the case that she did know better, and simply chose to do worse, we should let our voices be heard – within reason. Plus, the law does provide sanctions for her behaviour.

The thing with Facebook, and many other social platforms, is that it can certainly define what is cool and ‘winning’ in society, and the collective voice saying that she was wrong can definitely drive the message home about conservation. I’m sure that if the unfortunate woman happens to be a Facebooker, she’s certainly not going to be standing anywhere close to turtles again, possibly not in public at all.

This is the double-edged sword. In protecting the interests of the turtles, and the conservationists, the methods employed by many of the commenters could have easily shamed and embarrassed this person to the point of complete reclusion from society, or even worse, suicide. It may seem like a stretch, but consider if this person were an emotionally vulnerable student who just wanted to enjoy some time in nature and upon returning to school is met with the sort of anger and violence that was directed at her on the Internet? Now, consider the consequences if she legitimately didn’t know.

Don’t get me wrong, the animal lovers, and those who do genuinely feel agitated by her conduct should speak out about it. They should say things like, “This is the kind of ignorance that exists.” Even those asking how she would like it if a 500-pound turtle stood on her back have a point.

My issue is with the violence – beating someone doesn’t usually make them any more intelligent. It simply makes their stupidity less public. What if she decides to be a bigger jerk, and goes back to ride the turtles, but just leaves the camera at home? Think of it like a group of children who only know about eating mangoes from your tree, but you don’t want them to pick from your tree, so you beat them. It doesn’t tell them about other kinds of food, or even that there are other trees. It simply says that you don’t like them picking mangoes. They will then decide that they like mangoes more than they like you, and when you aren’t looking, they’ll pick.

In dealing with issues like these, the focus should be put on education. Firstly, educating yourself about the facts of the scenario, and whether the act was deliberate, reckless or negligent, and secondly, educating the perpetrator of the act as to the consequences. Before we rush to pass judgement and draw conclusions, we should consider the other perspectives – those outside of our ideals and perceptions – and how plausible they are as well.

If it is bothering you, by all means speak up about it! Be passionate. Be agitated! But let your call to action be led by sensibility and reason, rather than emotion. How would we like it, if we got kicked in the head every time we did something that someone else was passionately against?

Denith McNicolls

Photographer, videographer, actor, writer, and more, Denith McNicolls currently runs his photo and video service, Denithy, and is always looking for something creative and exciting to be a part of. Talking is also one of his favourite past times, and he believes that anyone coming from a sincere and honest place has powerful thoughts and words.

9 Comments

  1. Ryan Assiu

    June 18, 2012 at 10:11 am

    You eat meat. Your point is invalid. =p

    Overlooking that, I agree with you. At first I felt like she should be smoked out of her home, shot and dragged through the streets for her cruelty to it. But then I thought that perhaps she did not know better. Most argued that she was probably certainly are that it was prohibited because, who doesn’t know that?! (and signs on the beach) but I was saying that there’s a difference between awareness and knowing better. A point you also made. She was probably are that she shouldn’t didn’t know that weight in a leatherback’s back breaks its fragile bones causing internal bleeding and ultimately its death…she prolly figure that rule was there because its an inconvenience to the turtle (but ah only gunna stand on it for 2 seconds so iz small ting!). Anyways, my end conclusion was that the rage should be directed to conservationist and ourselves who do know better and have failed to educate our neighbors and children…so next time you see me or a conservationist, think of the banana on the turtle and kick us in the balls. :)

  2. Richard Elliott

    June 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    i agree that they should not be condemned as such , but what should be done , which i believe the government of trinidad and tobago could care less about is educate the public, instead they too busy stealing tax payers money and bashing eachother in political campaigns. btw standing on the turtles crushes their internal organs seeing that they do not have a hard shell like most turtles do, something seriously needs to be done to protect these graceful creatures because once they are gone there is no coming back. 

  3. Lonnie008

    June 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    The funny thing is listening to the same people condemn Nalini Dial and her comments on facebook… when the reality is people have been making much worse comments than hers.

  4. jmxm

    June 18, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    thank you. i hope no-one kicks you in the nether regions for eating animal meat. :)
    it reminds me of a picture that was circulating a few months ago – a homeless person had built a shack of some sort on top of a designated turtle mating area (or something to that effect). of all the comments i saw in favour of the turtles, i did not see a single person expressing any sort of compassion for a person who was without a home, and who had to live in a makeshift abode on a beach.

    • guest

      June 18, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      O, and let’s not get into the blatant misogyny of wishing harm upon the banana lady’s vagina.

  5. Empressive

    June 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

    i think the outrage of most of the activists stemmed from the fact that the turtle had landed on the beach to lay eggs and considering that it is an endangered species any egg laying done is vital for the continuance of the species. at least that was my beef. granted that she might not have know it was endangered but really and truly when is it ever a good idea to stand on an animal? i don’t agree with the threats and abuse that the young lady has probably had to deal with assuming (a very good assumption i think) that she is on fassbook (as i like to call it). i think there needs to be some sort of sensitivity programme so people understand that these turtles should not be disturbed especially when they are in such a  delicate state of conservation. but you make very excellent points! 

  6. Jaime Lee Loy

    Jaime Lee Loy

    June 20, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Good Job!

  7. Rachael Espinet

    June 20, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I was enraged when I saw that woman standing on the turtle’s back. I believe my post said something around the lines of having two 300lb men stand on her back and see how she likes it. I agree with your points that we need to educate people properly and that public shaming does not do a good job in teaching and more importantly informing a person on the reasons why what she did was wrong. However, I still cannot foster the sympathy to feel sorry for her public shaming. I cannot accept that a person did not know any better. It was simply that she did not care about another living being and she and her camera person certainly did not have any respect as well. At the risk of sounding like Nalini Dial (whom I deplore btw), the response that she received for her actions were warranted. Social media bandwagonism aside, I understand the reaction of many of the people who saw that picture. I agree that death threats and vulgar attacks on her vagina was overdoing it, but like I said, I cannot muster up any sympathy for her.

  8. ReidDesigns

    July 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Ay. there’s the rub: Emotion. Powerful mover it is, powerful mover. There is a difficult thing to say simply, “Don’t let emotion take over and use your head” but in reality, that’s what’s going to happen. You can’t ASK an individual (or even a group) much less a mob, to be “reasonable.” BUT IN the end things will dies down and life goes on! Good article. Well done!

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