Here are a few tips and tricks from a wildlife and hunting lobbyist.
I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted. 2020 sent us through the wringer with a barrage of incendiary headlines, actions, and opinions. We all care deeply about our wildlife conservation and hunting opportunities. When we are faced with scary concepts paired with exclamation points and fear-mongering, it seems we let that care manifests into knee jerk reactions and long hours of keyboard warrior training. In an effort to conserve energy and focus while honing our effectiveness, here are a few tips and tricks to eliminate the bullshit and engage purposefully.
Check your sources. An easy moniker to ask yourself is, is this CRAAP?
Currency – the timeliness of the information. When was the information published or posted? Has the information been revised or updated? Is the information current or out of date? Are the links functional?
Relevance – the importance of the information for your needs. Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question? Who is the intended audience? Is the information at an appropriate level? Have you looked at a variety of sources?
Authority – the source of the information. Who is the author/publisher/sponsor? Are the author’s credentials and/or organizational affiliations given, and what are they? What are the author’s qualifications?
Accuracy – the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content. Where does the information come from? Is it supported by evidence? Has it been reviewed? Can you verify any of the information in another source? Does the language seem unbiased?
Purpose – the reason the information exists. What is the purpose of the information? Do the author’s sponsors make their intentions clear? Is the information fact/opinion/propaganda? Is it objective, impartial, and unbiased?
Read articles from different angles and biases.
Media is geared towards one audience demographic. Inherently it is biased, and while many news sources and media outlets try to report “only the facts,” we all know that being human comes with having opinions. An excellent way to avoid being sucked into a false narrative is to make sure you read the same story from many different angles. Be strategic and pick good sources (see above). Be bold; choose sources you may not necessarily agree with. Look at the issue from all sides and find the threads of similarity.
Know a press release when you see it and track its origin.
As you read different articles and pieces- keep in mind that many may be written from a single press release. If every article you are looking at has the same quote or similar wording, the chances are high that it was written from a press release. This means that an individual or organization drafted a “notice” to the press and provided the quotes and initial facts. Good journalists will do the work to check these. However, many sources just wrap a news release into an article without running down its accuracy.
Know your jurisdiction – is this state or federal?
When dealing with wildlife and hunting policy, it is crucial to track down where the jurisdiction lies. For example, while states are in charge of their wildlife, the management of endangered species lies in federal hands. Narrowing down which jurisdiction to contact can help streamline comments and opinions in a more effective manner.
Does this change statute or regulation?
Often, knowing where the policy change is happening helps us run down who is the most appropriate person to talk to. Federal and State legislatures (congress and senate) create statutes. A statute is usually a high-level directive without many details. The fine-tuning of the law (regulations) happens at the agency level and is designed and enforced by departments affected by the directive.
An Over-Simplified Example
A legislature may give the authority (in the form of a statute/law) for an agency to make decisions/regulations. The decisions/regulations, however, are often left up to the appropriate agency.
Reach out to decision-makers and ask for an explanation.
Before jumping on bandwagons, go to the source. Our federal and state elects work directly with policy and usually have access to more in-depth information. Citizen involvement is critical to our democracy, and respectful communications and relationships with our elected officials and decision-makers are fundamental to effective policy creation.
Don’t have knee jerk reactions – contain that keyboard warrior until further notice.
As much as we all love to engage in a good old-fashioned debate, I am convinced that social media is not the place. Policy is wonky, nuanced, and far too detailed to communicate in short 130-character blurbs. I think the rules of debate remain the same, don’t engage unless you know both your facts and your opponents, and you have the time for respectful discourse.
You are a far more effective voice if you are seen as a potential ally.
If you aim to change opinions and to educate, this tip is the most important. People respond to peers, not opponents. Your tone and how you communicate will either open a door or slam it in your face. If you immediately present yourself as an adversary by using aggressive or belittling language, you have lost the debate before it has started. One of your most potent tools is empathy, the ability to see the problems/issues from your opponent’s shoes and understand their motivations.
With a little homework, a touch of empathy, and a commitment to understanding all sides of the issues wildlife and hunting faces, we can make a huge impact in 2021.
Jess Johnson leads Wyoming Wildlife Federation’s efforts to advocate on behalf of wildlife and wild places through policy and local advocacy. She works hard all session long at the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne to help pass good bills for wildlife and ensure those that are not good for wildlife do not become state statute. Contact her at email@example.com