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You Belong among the Wildlowers... Unless You're an Instagrammer: The Political Economy of the Instagram Effect iMnich etlhle Gera Nce Perewsleys

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A Thesis submitted to the School of Communication in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts

2020 Michelle Presley defended this thesis on April 6, 2020. The members of the supervisory committee were:

Jennifer Proffitt Professor Directing Thesis

Andy Opel Committee Member

Brian Graves Committee Member

The Graduate School has verified and approved the above-named committee members, and certifies that the thesis has been approved in accordance with university requirements.


For my husband, Troy. And for those vast, quiet corners of the world, the wildernesses large and small, that have had the privilege of exploring. From the salty mangroves of my Florida home to the pinon forests of my beloved high desert, these wild slices have had a hand in shaping everything I am. To these lands and the indigenous hands that have cared for them since time immemorial – thank you from the bottom of my .


Words cannot express my gratitude for the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Proffitt. This project would not have been possible without her feedback and guidance and I am so thankful for her support throughout writing this thesis and in my master’s career. I am also thankful for the contributions of my committee members, Dr. Andy Opel and Dr. Brian Graves and the time spent by all of my committee members reading and offering their valuable feedback for my work.

I also wish to acknowledge the faculty and friends in the Communication department that have shaped my education and growth and the students I have had the privilege of teaching over these years. And to my Sustainable Campus and Outdoor Pursuits families, for all of the ways you have molded and shaped me personally and professionally – thank you. Also, it would be a shame not to acknowledge the wonderful people at Fermentation Lounge who have kept my glass and heart full while I worked on this project.

Finally, I remain humbled and grateful for the unwavering support of my family – the people I love most in this world. To my mother, Tracy, my father, Lee, and my brother and sister, Matthew and Brittany, thank you for believing in me, supporting me, and always being on the other end of the phone.


List of Figures ...... viii Abstract ...... ix


The Problem at Hand & the Wilderness Question ...... 5 Why Political Economy ...... 7 Theoretical Framework ...... 8 Why Instagram ...... 9 Wilderness and Communication: A Convergence ...... 13 The Purpose of This Study ...... 15


Historical Beginnings: Wilderness Explored ...... 21 A Call for Wilderness Preservation ...... 26 Wilderness Legislated ...... 27 Wilderness Becomes Public Land: Parks vs. People ...... 31 Wilderness 2.0 ...... 42 Loved to Death in the 21st Century: The Importance of News ...... 46


Key Terms: Ideology, Neoliberalism, Commercialization, and Commodification ...... 48 Political Economy of Media: A Theory and a Method ...... 52 Political Economy of Journalism ...... 54 Techno-optimism: Can the Internet Save the News ...... 60 Environmental Issues in the Media ...... 64 Maxwell’s Media Studies ...... 67 Critical Textual Analysis ...... 69 Methods ...... 70


Trump Era Controversy: Chaos in the Org Charts ...... 75 Inside the Department of the Interior: Deferred Maintenance, Funding Shortages, and Conflicts of Interest ...... 84 Inside the Department of Agriculture & the Forest Service ...... 96 The Instagram Problem? ...... 98 Hemorrhaging Money: Instagram and Commercial Photo Permits ...... 106 Can the Outdoor Industry Save Public Lands? ...... 111


National News Outlets ...... 122 Local News ...... 134 Public Media ...... 137 Digital News ...... 139 Niche News ...... 142 Alternative News ...... 148 Ideological Influence of Ownership & Support Structures ...... 149 National Press ...... 150 Local News ...... 155 Public Media ...... 162 Digital News ...... 165 Niche News ...... 169 Alternative News: Content Versus Structure ...... 172 Modes of Production and Ideology ...... 174


Government Sources ...... 178 Tourism Professionals ...... 182 Leave No Trace ...... 184 Outdoor Industry ...... 186 Social Media Influencers/Users ...... 188 Outdoor Advocacy Groups ...... 192 Academia ...... 194 Writers and Journalists ...... 195 Lay Sources ...... 197 Sourcing Discussion ...... 199 What is the Instagram Effect According to the News? ...... 201 Claim: Instagram is Ruining Public Lands ...... 202 Claim: The Instagram Effect is a Double-Edged Sword ...... 204 No Claims & Alternative Claims ...... 207 Claim: Instagram Makes Public Lands More Democratic ...... 208


Toward a More Just Future ...... 216 Limitations and Recommendations for Further Research ...... 221

APPENDICES ...... 224


vi B. ACQUISITIONS AS OF 2020 ...... 228

References ...... 231

Biographical Sketch ...... 262


Figure 1. An image from the Instagram account @PublicLandsHateYou taken during the 2019 poppy super bloom in California. Taken from Public Lands Hate You [@publiclandshateyou]. (2019, March 22)...... 2

Figure 2. A graph charting David Bernhardt’s employment timeline, alternating between lobbying firms and the federal government. Taken from the Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/revolving/rev_summary.php?id=19180...... 82


The purpose of this study is to examine the recent reports of impacts on public lands in the United States due to increased use of the social media platform, Instagram, and the app’s geotagging feature. Critical political economy acts as the theoretical and methodological basis for this analysis, accompanied by critical textual analysis in the later chapters. This study begins by situating the historical context of the claims that public lands are being ‘loved to death’ by a review of the wilderness preservation history in the United States. In following the historical perspective, the critical political economy lens allowed for the analysis to probe deeper into the past and present underlying policy and regulatory decisions that may contribute to the Instagram effect. Primarily, this thesis analyzed the Instagram effect as it was reported in 63 online news articles about the recent Instagram effect on public lands. After probing the underlying political economic support structures of public lands and the media, this study analyzed the ownership and advertising support mechanisms of the sampled articles to determine what role production plays in prevailing ideologies surrounding the Instagram effect in the news, finding that the

‘pristine wilderness’ ideology exerts a great deal of dominance, as did pro-business ideologies.

This thesis also examined sourcing choices and how the sources quoted in the articles impacted truth claims about the Instagram effect, finding that a reliance on predominantly government sources who worked for land management agencies narrowed the scope of the issue to only what is immediately visible. This narrowing served to shift blame for problems facing public lands to individuals, rather than larger structures with a few notable exceptions. Articles published in locally-owned, independent , one online source, and two national sources provided a counter viewpoint to the prevailing notion that Instagram users are ruining public lands.



In the early days of March 2019, the barren hillsides of Southern California transformed into a sienna sea of Golden Poppies in a super bloom as rare as it was beautiful. Once the flowers drew the attention of Californians living nearby, the hillsides exploded with people eager to experience the bloom. Unfortunately, all of the attention caused a great deal of harm to the poppies, the hillsides of Walker Canyon where they grew, and the nearby town of Elsinore. Steve

Manos, the mayor of Elsinore, explained that when the buds first began to open into blooms, “a couple of social media influencers…came out and decided to take advantage of the beautiful backdrop” (Stone, 2019, p. 1).

As a result of the first few posts on social media, interest in the location grew exponentially with nearly 100,000 visitors to the area during St. Patrick’s Day weekend (Stone,

2019). As more people crowded into the poppy fields and the town of Elsinore, the situation became increasingly dangerous. After one person was bitten by a rattlesnake and another was hit by a car, Elsinore officials stepped in, shutting down vehicle access to Walker Canyon and closing the main trailhead to the poppy fields by placing barricades around the parking areas.

Despite these measures, the crowds found places to park, walk, and slip through barricades

(Stone, 2019). Ultimately, this chaos inspired names like ‘apoppyclypse’ or ‘poppy pandemonium’ to describe the crowds trying to snap the perfect photo among the flowers. And at the center of all the chaos: the Instagrammer, dubbed the “invasive species” in the California hills (Stone, 2019, p. 1).


Figure 1. An image from the Instagram account @PublicLandsHateYou taken during the 2019 poppy super bloom in California. Taken from Public Lands Hate You [@publiclandshateyou]. (2019, March 22).

In the weeks following the super bloom, news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times,

New York Times, and reported stories of “Instagram-hungry” crowds (Reyes-

Velarde, 2019, para. 1). In the wake of the super bloom, people’s interactions with nature became part of a national conversation; the California poppy became a symbol of the archetypal social media influencer, trampling whatever flowers necessary to create the perfect post. In April of 2019, in the midst of the poppy frenzy, Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment featured Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner playing “Instagram couple” Nico Slobkin and Brie

Bacardi. The pair jokingly offered “romantic picnic tips,” with Day’s character stating that they had recently picnicked at the super bloom in L.A. The segment then featured a satirical

Instagram post featuring the pair sitting in a field of poppies with a flower plucked from the ground and placed in Brie’s hair with the caption, “He thinks the flowers look prettier on me than in the earth” (Michaels, 2019, 0:33). The segment called out Instagrammers who took to the poppy fields by the thousands that spring, demonstrating that something about the trope of the 2 “Instagram couple” nested in a field of poppies, destroying a rare super bloom for the sake of a post, resonated with a national audience. Though the super bloom may have launched the conversation of social media users’ impacts on nature into the mainstream consciousness, this has been a growing issue in many other areas across the United States.

Almost 600 miles to the east of the poppy fields in California, an overlook above a picturesque bend in the Colorado River in Arizona has also reportedly received increased traffic due to the location’s popularity on social media. Horseshoe Bend was once an unassuming pull- off from the highway, but as of 2019, the overlook has reached iconic status on Instagram with nearly 500,000 photos posted under the #HorseshoeBend hashtag. Before the poppy super bloom, Horseshoe Bend was one of the most often cited locations for conservationists attempting to illustrate how social media technologies like Instagram’s geotag feature can fundamentally change landscapes (Garcia-Navarro, 2017; Haubursin, 2018; Knepper, 2017).

In 2017, travel photographer, Brent Knepper, wrote an article for TheOutline.com titled,

“Instagram is Loving Nature to Death.” In the piece, Knepper describes how Horseshoe Bend saw only a thousand visitors a year just five years ago, while today more than 4,000 people a day

“come to see the bend, take selfies at the rim, and dangle their feet over the exposed edge”

(Knepper, 2017, para. 2). The more photos that are tagged at Horseshoe Bend on Instagram, the more other people are inspired to travel to the same location to take their own photo. Knepper

(2017) describes this as the “tourist hive mind” (para. 3).

In a short exposé for Vox, reporter, Christophe Haubursin, states that “digital popularity is fundamentally changing the landscape” of Horseshoe Bend (2018, 0:47). Reporting from

Horseshoe Bend while people mill in the background, he states that this site and other public 3 lands are trying to adjust to the influx of visitors (Haubursin, 2018). Prior to the surge in popularity of Horseshoe Bend, the overlook had no developed trail, no visitor center, and no public restrooms (Haubursin, 2018). Currently, public land managers and local governments and municipalities are relegated to a largely reactionary role when it comes to a sudden surge in popularity of an outdoor recreation site like Horseshoe Bend or Walker Canyon. In the case of

Horseshoe Bend, financial resources have been allocated to expanding the previously mentioned parking facilities and creating ADA accessible paths to the overlook roughly a mile off the highway (Haubursin, 2018). Unfortunately for small sites like Horseshoe Bend, national park level crowds do not equate to national park level resources for dealing with the influx of people.

A lack of resources does not just mean potential harm to landscapes; lack of infrastructure and education has also proven harmful to animals and people. At Conundrum Hot

Springs in Colorado, another location popular on social media, unprepared visitors have had encounters with bears. At other sites, people have been injured and have even died while taking photos (Haubursin, 2018). At least four people following geotagging trends at Kaaterskill Falls in have died while taking or posing for pictures at the falls (Haubursin, 2018). As social media use becomes increasingly ubiquitous and budgetary restrictions and other limitations continue to affect the public land management systems in the United States, this will be an ongoing challenge for those seeking to effectively manage public lands.

Because of social media, the overuse of public lands remains a salient issue, but despite the anecdotal accounts of helicopters landing on poppy fields for the sake of a photo or the crowded ledge of Horseshoe Bend, there has been little scholarly inquiry into this phenomenon

4 and even less consensus reached publicly regarding what to do about any harm that may come to landscapes as a result of increased social media attention.

The Problem at Hand & The Wilderness Question

The question of what to do about social media’s impacts on public lands is part of a much larger question about the purpose of land preservation and governments’ roles in managing preservation areas or wilderness. From the establishment of the first national park in 1872 to the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, people’s (especially American’s) interest in wilderness areas have only grown. Once wilderness preservation was codified through these policies, concerns began mounting that, one day, the wilderness would be ‘loved to death’ by those visiting preservation areas. Decades of interest in the recreational and economic opportunities that wilderness areas provide coupled with the new challenge of social media indicates that it is as important as ever to wrestle with the questions: why do people love the wilderness so much, and what is the purpose of preserving it?

Historically, there has been a divide between those who argue that wilderness ought to be preserved for its own sake (writers like John Muir and the preservationists) and those who argue that wilderness is set aside as a pleasuring ground for people to enjoy and resource extraction to serve the public good (Forest managers like Gifford Pinchot and others who subscribe to the

“wise use” philosophy) (Kalamandeen & Gillson, 2007; Nash, 2014). There are also wilderness revisionists such as William Cronon (1996), who argue that wilderness is a stilted concept resting upon faulty assumptions about pre-colonial land. In the historical review of the wilderness concept in Chapter Two, this debate will be discussed more in-depth. However, in the immediate sense, wilderness preservation satisfies many needs from the biocentric to the 5 anthropocentric (Nelson & Callicot, 2008). In cases like the preservation of the Arctic National

Wildlife Refuge, wilderness preservation has value in supporting biodiversity even in places that the average person likely will never visit (Nelson & Callicot, 2008). Those who do travel to the wilderness will likely reap several physical and psychological health benefits such as exercise, improved mood, and increased creativity (Williams, 2017). Additionally, time spent in wilderness may be correlated with more positive attitudes toward land conservation and pro- environmental behaviors in general (Dunlap & Heffernan, 1975; Thapa & Graefe, 2003; Thapa,

2010). This correlation is known as the Dunlap-Heffernan thesis as it was originally tested by Dunlap and Heffernan in 1975, and it notoriously yields mixed results when tested.

While a number of studies (Teisl & O’Brien, 2003; Theodori et al., 1998; Van Liere &

Noe, 1981) have tested the hypotheses laid out by Dunlap and Heffernan, other means of influencing attitudes toward wilderness, such as the media, have been written about less frequently. It is no wonder that the positive association between outdoor recreation and environmental concern predicted by Dunlap and Heffernan is not always replicated in studies that aim to test their hypotheses; direct outdoor recreation experiences are not the only sources of influence on people who enjoy the outdoors (Van Liere & Noe, 1981). The ability of the media to create and maintain an ideological consciousness among the population is well documented

(Marchetti, Angus, & Jhally, 1989; McChesney, 2004). Depictions of wilderness in the media, be they photos posted on social media sites like Instagram, documentary films, news articles, or travel guides, have a hand in shaping the cultural consciousness surrounding the wilderness concept. However, not all media representations are created equal.

6 In the United States, news exerts a special kind of control over the pervasive ideologies of the public. Although the public is informed on issues by the entirety of the media, “journalism alone is expressly committed to this mission” (McChesney, 2004, p. 57). For this reason, the analysis to follow critically examines the ideologies present in online news articles covering the relationship between Instagram and wilderness in order to explore the crossroads between the media, wilderness, and people in the United States.

Why Political Economy

I will conduct this analysis through the lens of critical political economy for several reasons. First, critical political economy, as a method for media analysis, calls for the situation of current issues related to media within a larger historical context and provides a theoretical framework to examine modes of media production and support mechanisms such as ownership and advertising (Bettig & Hall, 2012). Because wilderness areas in the United States are predominantly public lands owned and managed by the federal, state, or local governments, questions of policy and finance abound: why don’t public lands in the United States have adequate funding to deal with increased infrastructure and ranger presence? Is it the responsibility of the executives of each social media platform to monitor the harmful effects that social networking apps like Instagram have on the environment? Is the onus of resource protection and human safety on the government, land managers, social media users themselves, or some combination thereof? This study works toward understanding the political economic stage upon which these questions play out as the first step in coming up with solutions.

Many scholars have examined the impacts of ownership concentration in media industries, including journalism (Bettig & Hall, 2012; Hardy, 2014; McChesney, 2004). Others 7 have conducted analyses of environmental issues in the news (Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004; Lester

& Hutchins, 2009; DeLuca, 1999). However, the intersection of political economy and the environment is a rich area of inquiry for further study. To this end, this thesis critically analyzes online news covering the perceived effects of Instagram on wilderness and begins exploring questions of power and dominance as they relate to news, wilderness, and people’s relationship with land.

Theoretical Framework

Mosco (2009) defines political economy as “the study of social relations, particularly the power relations, that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption or resources, including communication resources” (p. 2). McChesney (2004) separates two main dimensions of political economy of media: first, political economy examines the nature of relationships between media, communication systems, and larger social structures. Second, political economy examines how ownership, support mechanisms, and government policies interact to influence media content. Therefore, it is the work of political economy scholars to probe how sociocultural structures impact all processes of communication from production to distribution to consumption and analyze the implications for society. Mosco (2009) further distinguishes four central characteristics of critical political economy that serve as the methodological model for this study:

1. Social change and history: political economy builds upon the work of classic theorists,

critiquing systems of political and economic power issues within capitalist structures of

the state apparatus. Critical political economy also takes history into account to examine

the cyclical nature of these systems at work. 8 2. Social totality: political economy is a wholistic approach that explores the relationship of

commodities, institutions, social relations, and hegemony.

3. Moral philosophy: political economy does not operate under the guise of objectivity, but

rather discusses policy problems and moral issues that arise from them.

4. Praxis: political economy attempts to transcend the distinction between research and

policy and works toward actual social change.

Wasko (2005) summarizes the four cornerstones of political economy, stating, “a primary concern of political economists is with the allocation of resources (material concerns) within capitalist societies” (p. 27). The convergence of public land issues and the media offers a rich area of inquiry that this study will begin to explore as this intersection deals with material concerns surrounding a public good in a capitalist society. Furthermore, political economy draws from many disciplines including history, economics, sociology, and political science (Wasko,

2005). This social totality is imperative in the present undertaking as it allows for a more complete understanding of how the media perpetuate certain ideologies about wilderness and what the implications of those ideologies may be for land and people. Finally, political economy’s focus on praxis moves this study toward making recommendations regarding what ought to be done in the face of increased land use, which are discussed in the final chapter.

Why Instagram

This study predominantly focuses on the discussion of Instagram’s impacts on wilderness in the news, specifically as it relates to Instagram’s geotagging feature that allows for the attachment of precise GPS coordinates to any post. When the dust settles at every crowded trailhead or site of outdoor controversy, Instagram remains with all the fingers of 9 conservationists, government officials, and recreationalists pointed in its direction. More so than

Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, or other social networking sites like Twitter or

Snapchat, Instagram’s unique set of features and prioritization of visual content make the app especially susceptible to use and abuse in the outdoors. In several locations, Horseshoe Bend included, a spike in searches can be observed in line with the advent of Instagram’s geotagging feature and the number of check-ins at a specific location on the app (Haubursin,


Instagram is a photo-sharing social networking site that allows users to upload images or videos accompanied by a caption up to 2,200 words long. However, unlike other popular social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, there is no text-only option for Instagram posts on a user’s main feed. The prioritization of visual content is compounded by the native photo editing options in the app. Instagram allows users to stylize their images via editing and image filters.

Other notable features within the app include stories, the “Explore” page, and the “photo map.”

Stories are temporary posts that are separate from a user’s main feed. These typically disappear within 24 hours, although Instagram has recently allowed for stories to be “pinned” to a user’s profile and viewed at any time by that user’s followers. The Explore page is comprised of algorithmically selected images designed to appeal to a specific user based on the posts they’ve interacted with previously and what content is generating the most engagement (likes and comments). Perhaps most polarizing in the discussion surrounding Instagram’s impacts on wilderness, and a primary focus of this thesis, is the photo map and the geotagging feature

(Kyser, 2019; Pope, 2019; Williams, 2019).

10 Any photo uploaded to Instagram can be accompanied with a geotag that attaches location data to the picture. If a geotag does not currently exist, then one can be created by the user, making it simple to associate GPS coordinates with any photo. For lesser known or

“hidden” spots, it only takes one geotag for that location to be easily found by anyone online.

When images are geotagged on a public account,1 anyone can tap the geotag and see the location pin on a photomap. No longer does finding a secluded hot spring in the Rocky Mountains require local knowhow or a detailed map; all it takes is a few seconds on Instagram.

Although there is considerable media attention currently being devoted to the effects that social networking sites like Instagram have on wilderness landscapes, sudden spikes in popularity of certain outdoor locations are not new. When backpacking, hiking, and other types of outdoor recreation became common leisure activities in the United States in the 1950s, guidebooks, advertisements, and magazines all contributed to certain locations or “hidden secrets” becoming less hidden and more developed to accommodate the number of people traveling to these sites (Nash, 2014). This did not sit well with proponents of a solitary wilderness experience and sparked a whole new debate about how many people was too many in the wilderness. As Nash (2014) states, “ironically, the very increase in appreciation of wilderness threatened to prove its undoing” (p. 316). After a hard-fought battle for the preservation for public lands in the early part of the 20th century, the 1970s marked the point in which wilderness was suddenly “in” (Nash, 2014). This created the present dilemma: could Americans love the

1 Instagram accounts have privacy settings that allow the user to have a public or private account. If a user selects a private account, other users cannot see their photos or any of their data until they request to follow the private account. The owner of the private account can then accept or reject the follow request. 11 wilderness to death? (Nash, 2014). Concerns of the wilderness being ‘loved to death’ have only grown with the advent of new technology.

In recent years, technology’s role in preserving or destroying wilderness has become an emerging area of interest in the communication field as scholars have begun to examine the shifting relationships between technology, the outdoors, and people. In the literature, “wilderness

2.0” or “nature 2.0” are the terms most often used to describe the mediated relationships that people form with the outdoors in of constant connectivity (Büscher, 2013; Elliot, 2016;

Stinson, 2017). Some scholars such as Wohl (2013) have gone so far as to argue that, because of technological advances and anthropocentric effects on the climate, “true wilderness” is no longer a possibility since there is nowhere that someone could go that they would not see or feel the effects of humans. There is significant concern within the Wilderness 2.0 body of literature that something in our relationship with the natural world is lost when access to technology is gained.

Whereas wilderness 2.0 scholars such as Stinson (2017) and Smith (2015) have focused on technologies like GPS tracking and cellphones and the impacts location and communication devices may have on people’s relationship with the outdoors, considerably less scholarly attention has been devoted to what happens when social media users are able to share precise location data along with a photo of wilderness to an audience of millions.

The majority of the focus within the Wilderness 2.0 body of literature examines how technology mediates one’s relationship with nature while they’re in the back country. However, images on social media sites like Instagram may have the ability to influence people’s attitudes toward wilderness without them ever needing to leave their homes (Lee & Moscardo, 2005).

Additionally, unlike prior technologies that support connectivity on a more individual scale 12 (early cellular phones allow for, mostly, one to one communication between a sender and receiver of a message), social media platforms and smart phones allow for widespread interconnectivity. This is a rich area of inquiry to extend the tradition of Wilderness 2.0 scholarship.

Wilderness and Communication: A Convergence

In the United States, wilderness and the perceptions of its value to society are especially salient issue as land use and conservation debates become increasingly polarized and politicized

(Doak et al., 2015; Fischer et al., 2014). Americans’ relationship with wilderness areas, especially in the West, is a tumultuous one (Cronon, 1996; Ketcham, 2019; Nash, 2014).

However, this is not solely an issue of ecology. If it were, policymakers could set a maximum capacity for park visitors or backcountry hikers and solve the problem of overuse. The issue at hand is far more complex, dealing with questions of human access and power struggles over outdoor spaces, and has been molded and shaped by portrayals of wilderness in the media. As will be discussed further in this analysis, the ways that wilderness is portrayed in the media have implications for the ways in which people interact with land. As Peters (2015) eloquently stated,

“The ozone layer, the arctic ice, and whale populations are all now what they are not only because of how they are covered by reporters, but because of how their being is altered by media, understood as infrastructures of data and control” (p. 2).

To illustrate this point, a historical perspective is warranted. From the moment the first colonists arrived, to the closing of the Western frontier, wilderness was dismissed in the media as agriculturally unproductive, repulsive, and dangerous country (Nash, 2014). This view of wilderness, reflected in the poetry, stories, and news of the day, ultimately contributed to the 13 destructive frontier ethic that dominated much of the land management practices of the 19th century (Nash, 2014). As writers like Thoreau and Muir began communicating a more favorable interpretation of wilderness to the public, wilderness became the last bastion of American individualism and a source of national pride (Nash, 2014). Over the course of American history, the tide of public opinion turned in wilderness’ favor, marked by a zenith in the 1960s/70s.

During this time, the United States bore witness to the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964,2 the Endangered Species Act,3 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.4 The way wilderness is communicated not only has the ability to shift public opinion, but also to shape national policy and the very notion of what the essential qualities of wilderness are – the wilderness ideology.

The present study not only seeks to understand how the portrayals of wilderness in the media might shape public opinion, but also attempts to situate those portrayals within the broader scope of the media landscape. Communication does not happen in a vacuum, but rather is informed by historical events and the dominant political economic system within which messages are sent and received, reaffirming the decision to ground this work in the theoretical and methodological foundations of critical political economy.

Mass media processes and their effects are inherently steeped in the wider cultural and political environment. How meaning is constructed around the concept of places like wilderness influence the representations and messages that gain traction in the public discourse, but also

2 The Wilderness Act of 1964 created the legal definition of wilderness in the United States and established the National Wilderness Preservation System 3 The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provides a conservation framework for threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats where they are found. The law also establishes penalties for harming listed species. 4 The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 established a system for preserving certain rivers, in free-flowing condition, for ecological, cultural, and recreational purposes. 14 determines which points of view are absent or silenced (Boykoff, 2009). Effectively, portrayals of wilderness and the framing of the problems that plague natural spaces in the media have a hand in how the public views environmental problems and potential solutions (Boykoff, 2009).

The complicated and contested view of wilderness is reflected in the increasing news coverage of Instagram’s effect on public lands. All the while, it is worth acknowledging that, although the issues raised by Instagram use and geotagging in wilderness areas do not exactly center around new themes, Instagram has a far wider reach than previous forms of wilderness advertising like the editorials, magazines, and tourist brochures (Nash, 2014). The

“Instagram effect” is well documented in recent news reports (Garcia-Navarro, 2017; Haubursin,

2019). As geotagging trends continue to draw people into remote areas with the promise of a great photo to post online, researchers, land managers, and governments must consider the questions: what ought to be done when people are injured or killed due to chasing the perfect

Instagram photo in the backcountry? What ought to be done when fragile landscapes are forever changed by the crowds? The forthcoming analysis will attempt to understand the contours of this debate and situate the current issue of the “Instagram effect” on American wilderness areas within the larger history of the wilderness ideology.

The Purpose of This Study

This research is important for several reasons, including those mentioned previously of environmental and human health benefits of wilderness areas, but perhaps most notably because wilderness areas in the United States, much like wilderness areas across the rest of the world, are finite resources. And, as evidenced by the trampled poppy fields, people really can damage landscapes by venturing into them. Portrayals of nature on social media, whether they be considered Wilderness 2.0 or “virtual nature” have been shown to have negative and positive 15 effects on public lands and people’s attitudes toward conservation (Dunlap & Heffernan, 1975;

Thapa & Graefe, 2003; Thapa, 2010). Further analysis is needed to determine whether the news coverage of the Instagram effect is an effective means of understanding and solving the issues of wilderness degradation. First, though, there must be a systematic review of the information about the Instagram effect and how news sources are covering the complicated questions it raises about the role of wilderness and Americans’ access to public lands. By understanding how the most recent iteration of the wilderness question is being discussed in the public forum of news, scholars, land managers, and governing officials are afforded an important look at the ideologies shaping the current conceptualization of wilderness, which have important implications for land conservation efforts.

The central goal of this thesis is to conduct a political economic analysis of the underlying structures that support (or do not support) public lands in the United States coupled with a critical textual analysis of the ideologies perpetuated in online news media about the

Instagram effect on wilderness and the question of whether or not to geotag outdoor images shared on Instagram. Through this analysis, I aim to begin unpacking the relationship between

Instagram use and wilderness in a burgeoning area of research. This research is equally informed by the work of critical media scholars such as Fuchs, McChesney, and Hardy and environmental scholars and historians such as Nash, DeLuca, and Cronon. Furthermore, this research builds upon the extensive body of literature surrounding the history of American wilderness,

Wilderness 2.0, and American journalism by incorporating the political economic lens and taking into account the dominant economic and political structures that shape the production, distribution, and consumption of media. 16 It is important to take a critical look at the historical power struggles that occurred in and over the wilderness so that the land and species may be preserved, not just for the benefits they bring to humans, but also for the land itself (Christensen & Nilsson, 2018; Williams, 2017). By lining up similar power struggles that have occurred recently with the advent of social media, one can follow the trail to the current crossroads – the point of convergence that has led to the debate: how do we save wilderness from being ‘loved to death’ as a result of social media, while also critically examining the power relations related to the communication of wilderness in the

United States?

With this in mind, this thesis is guided by the following questions:

1. What are the political economic factors that contribute to the Instagram effect at the

policy level?

2. What are the ownership and advertising support structures of the news outlets

covering the Instagram effect, and what role does ownership play in determining the

ideologies perpetuated in the news?

3. Who gets to speak in the news coverage of this issue, and why do they receive

coverage over other sources?

4. What are the key components of the Instagram effect on American wilderness being

reported in online news media?

The next chapter begins with a historical review of the wilderness concept to explore the origins of the ‘loved to death’ concerns in the United States contextualized through wilderness- related media such as guidebooks, magazines, and news articles. As Mosco (2014) stated, it is

17 important for political economists to situate current issues within a historical context in order to achieve to the goal of “understanding social change and historical transformation” (p. 1).

However, exploring the varied ideologies surrounding the current issue of Instagram and its impact on wilderness cannot solely rely on a historical examination of wilderness due to the modern variables introduced by new media technologies.

Chapter Three explains critical political economy as a theoretical foundation and method utilized in this analysis. The political economy approach outlined in this chapter also includes a review of the contributions of political economy theorists. Critical political economy also serves as a methodology for examining the production and distribution components of the texts to be analyzed. By examining the ownership and support mechanisms of the news as well as the political economic connections between the government agencies and funding mechanisms that support wilderness preservation and social media platforms like Instagram, this analysis offers a deeper picture of the issue than could be provided by analyzing texts alone. Additionally,

Chapter Three discusses the method of critical textual analysis that will be employed to analyze news articles covering the Instagram effect on wilderness in the United States. Specific filters used to analyze the texts include sourcing (who gets to speak), ideologies, and truth claims made in the articles.

Chapter Four begins exploring the political economic connections between the governing bodies that manage public lands and social media platforms, with a focus on Instagram.

Specifically, I discuss the influencer advertising model and the ways in which Instagram, and its parent company, Facebook, have benefitted from deregulatory U.S. policy in the neoliberal age.

18 Additionally, Chapter Four makes connections between the media and the resources available for land conservation projects in an era of defunding public lands and deregulating industry.

Political economy focuses primarily on modes of media production, then provides a framework for determining how production influences the texts. With this in mind, Chapter Five begins the analysis of ownership and advertising trends in online news articles covering the

Instagram effect on wilderness. This analysis explores how alternative news sources, such as blogs, have been used to shape narratives surrounding environmental issues and how alternative outlets in conjunction with mainstream outlets making alternative claims shape the public conversation about the Instagram effect and the ideologies surrounding it. Chapter Five concludes with an analysis of the ideologies perpetuated within each article.

Chapter Six shifts from examining modes of production and distribution to the textual analysis of the news articles in my sample. To answer the research questions related to sourcing and truth claims, I will discuss who is typically quoted as sources in the news on the Instagram effect and how sources have a hand in shaping truth claims in the news.

Chapter Seven discusses the key takeaways concerning the problems at hand, both with the current media system and with public land policy, provides suggestions for how to mitigate these impacts, and addresses limitations of this study while exploring topics for future research building upon the conclusions reached by this analysis.



As Wasko (2005) states, critical political economy “research incorporates historical analysis, for it is essential to document change as well as continuity” (p. 31). With this in mind, this chapter explores how the historical origins of the wilderness preservation system present a contested view of wilderness and how these contested interpretations have shaped a prevailing wilderness ideology in the United States. In addition, this chapter aims to situate the current addition of wilderness experiences mediated by social media platforms within the larger ideological climate of the United States.

The handful of cases like the poppy fields in Walker Canyon and Horseshoe Bend mentioned in the introductory chapter offer only a brief glimpse at the media attention Instagram and its impact on the outdoors has been generating. Though Instagram is a relatively recent development in the course of wilderness history, there remain longstanding questions about what wilderness is, who ought to have access to it, and what ought to be done when a natural place is in danger of over-use that Instagram has recently exacerbated. This historical review is coupled with a look at how the issue has been covered in the media in past decades. As this chapter shows, these issues are well-documented in the media, which have offered a glimpse into people’s relationships with wilderness and the ongoing preservation debate since the 1920s.

Additionally, a review of the Wilderness 2.0 body of literature helps to show how the questions raised surrounding Instagram are not random and sudden, but rather have arisen out of a longstanding power struggle between people, technology, and wilderness.

20 Historical Beginnings: Wilderness Explored

The word “wilderness” is “powerful, emotive, and loaded” (Lester, 2005, p. 126). Nash

(2014), one of the preeminent wilderness scholars in modern history, argues that the concept of wilderness has evolved alongside human history. Nash’s seminal text, Wilderness and the

American Mind, first published in 1967, traced the wilderness concept from the first mentions of

“wilderness” in the Bible to its current conceptualization. This history has drastically informed the way that wilderness is addressed in the media from early appearances in the news to current depictions on social media sites and vice versa. As illustrated in Nash’s history and in other historical communications surrounding wilderness, how wilderness is portrayed in the media has a hand in shaping attitudes and policy (Vannini & Vannini, 2016).

As was briefly stated in the introductory chapter, during the evolution of the wilderness concept in the United States, the wilderness was painted as a traditionally white, masculine space by prominent wilderness scholars and advocates like , Muir, Leopold, and

Thoreau. It is worth bringing up again to note that this history is the one that has become the default history of wilderness in the United States. In keeping with this tradition, Wilderness and the American Mind centers the wilderness concept around the affluent, white, Euromerican male and rarely takes a critical look at the repercussions of this focus (Callicot, 1998). With each passing generation comes an increasing awareness that the colonial history of wilderness in the

United States was written over the Indigenous one and has silenced a great many perspectives in the process. This has created conflict surrounding American public lands and who belongs there, which social media have recently amplified. This thesis uses Nash’s history as a guide while also exploring the critiques of the wilderness revisionists, who argue that his history reflects the 21 dominant cultural class (Vidon, 2016; Cronon, 1996). Wilderness scholarship requires self- reflection and the awareness that the story of wilderness is fraught with hegemonic colonialism and masculinity (Vidon, 2016).

In Wilderness and the American Mind, Nash argues that, in the beginning, everything was wilderness. Vannini and Vannini (2016) counter this claim, stating that, “the notion of wilderness as an incipient and pristine land free of human interference – with the implicit connotation that the onset of human civilization somberly marks nature’s fall from grace – is...problematic” for a number of reasons (Vannini & Vannini, 2016, p. 4). Vannini and Vannini cite the example of the

Alladale Wilderness Reserve in the Caledonian forest in northeastern Scotland, which was purchased by the English millionaire, Paul Lister, in 2003. Lister’s aim was to ‘rewild’ the property, thus implying that the land was not considered wilderness upon its purchase. If this property, then, becomes wilderness only after being named and regulated as such, Vannini and

Vannini argue that wilderness necessarily becomes a human fabrication. Additionally, Vannini and Vannini call into question the idea that wilderness is pristine because it represents a time before humans, thus implying that pristine nature and humans are incompatible because humans are, somehow, separate from nature. The authors find fault with this, arguing, “Are we not animals too? Are we somehow above nature? Do we not ever catch a cold? Doesn’t nature ever call us to the loo” (p. 11). Despite these concerns, this view of wilderness and its history is precisely the arc that Nash’s work follows.

After describing the biblical origins of the wilderness concept, Nash (2014) moves on to focusing on wilderness in the United States, describing how early Americans were influenced by their Judeo-Christian heritage and European cultural ties to see wilderness as “evil, dangerous, 22 and ungodly” (Lewis, 2007, p. 8; Nash, 2014). These cultural influences meant that, in the New

World, wilderness was undesirable and had to be tamed to make way for civilization. When the

English separatist and eventual governor of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, stepped off of the Mayflower, he wrote that he had entered into “a hideous and desolate wilderness”

(Bradford & Bradford, 1952). Nash writes, so began “a tradition of repugnance” in the North

American colonies (p. 24). However, back in Europe, romanticism began to take hold, drastically altering attitudes toward wilderness abroad (Nash, 2014).

The advent of Romanticism brought about a new wave of narratives in which wilderness began to shed its repulsiveness (Nash, 2014). This was not due to wilderness becoming any less solitary or mysterious, but rather because these qualities came to be communicated differently in texts of the time. Wilderness was still portrayed as vast, chaotic, and complex, but, to the romantics, these were qualities to be praised. In a time of prolific scientific discovery, the universe seemed, all at once, terrifying and awesome. The wilderness of the New World offered

European Romantics another universe to exalt in poetry and literature, writing about far-off paradises to the West (Nash, 2014). With the increasing environmental impacts of the industrial revolution in Europe as well as the expansion and consolidation of capitalism via European colonialism, it was only a matter of time before a more positive attitude toward wilderness made the across the Atlantic into the American tradition.

Well-connected, literary Americans were likely influenced by the shift in culture in

Europe as well as works like Thomas Burnet’s The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1734) and John

Ray’s The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1741). This is important to note because the beginnings of favorable attitudes toward wilderness eventually came to shape 23 the push for wilderness preservation in the nineteenth century. Who, historically, has written and read about wilderness is still of great importance today. A tradition of only the most educated, wealthy, and suburban Americans shaping, for a nation, what wilderness ought to mean has lasting implications for the way the public interacts with wilderness areas that are now, largely, public lands (Adams & Mulligan, 2003; Nash, 2014). Aside from the literary contributions of romantic writers, the eclipsing of the American frontier sparked the notion that wilderness may not actually be unlimited. With the decreasing amount of American wilderness, there came the notion that wildlands may be valuable and an increasingly threatened resource (Cronon, 1996).

Wilderness in the United States

The romantic sublime and the frontier myth converged in the wilderness areas of the

United States (Nash, 2014). Both schools of thought gained traction in the cities of the industrialized eastern United States and gave rise to a westward movement in which men5 could seek out the wilderness, grow close to God, and test themselves in “the last bastion of rugged individualism” (Cronon, 1996, p. 1). In the early 1800s, “it was widely assumed that America’s primary task was the justification of its newly won freedom” (Nash, 2014, p. 67). Yet, a nation is made up of much more than a flourishing economy or a stable, working government. Rather, the creation of a distinctive culture was the metric for true nationhood (Nash, 2014). The citizens of the new republic sought something uniquely American that they could point to in order to define

5 Throughout the history of wilderness in the United States, women are systemically excluded. When one thinks of the rugged and untamed wilderness of the American West, images of cowboys, lone fur trappers, and characters like Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crocket, and Daniel Boone may come to mind. Although a few wilderness women may also come to mind, like Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark’s guide across the vast wilderness, or Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley as members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, most often, the frontier myth is couched in hegemonic masculinity (Bessetti-Reyes, 2014). This thesis cannot possibly explore all of the gender, class, racial, (the list goes on and on) issues with the traditional view of wilderness. However, it is worth noting the implicit and explicit assumptions about wilderness (and who travels there) that underlie the prevailing wilderness myth. 24 their culture, but a short national history, weak traditions, and literary and artistic achievements that paled in comparison to those of the old world made the culture-creating task quite difficult

(Nash, 2014). However, there was one thing in America that had no counterpart in the old world: wilderness (Nash, 2014). American pride in wilderness was made popular by writers who were the answer to the old-world romantics like Wordsworth and Byron. This tradition began with

Thoreau and continued with Muir and Leopold. Thoreau famously stated, “in Wilderness is the preservation of the World” (Harding, 1935, p. 286). 6 The romantic tradition runs deep in the

United States and was born out of concerns in the 1800s that, “core American values were being degraded by the replacement of the wild frontier with industrialization and urbanization” (Hull,

2000, p. 54).

Primitivism was another important concept born out of the romantic tradition that acted as a bridge connecting the frontier myth to the writings of American transcendentalists like

Thoreau and Muir. “Primitivists believed that man’s happiness and well-being decreased in direct proportion to his civilization” (Nash, 2014, p. 45). Primitivism echoes back in the recesses of Western thought, reaching as far back to the Middle Ages when stories and traditions centered around “the noble savage” (Fairchild, 1955). Primitivism laid a foundation for romanticizing the individualist tendencies of the New World as they relate to wilderness.

The frontier myth also had a hand in solidifying wilderness as a quintessential part of the

United States experience and culture. During westward expansion, wilderness was seen as both the villain and the hero of the American story (Nash, 2014). The danger of wilderness was

6 Harding is the editor of the lecture transcripts where this quote by Thoreau initially appeared. 25 precisely what made it a testing ground, a place where “a man could be a real man” (Cronon,

1996, p. 1). With the closing of the frontier came the fear that a key ingredient of American culture might be lost (Nash, 2014). It was only after the destruction of the land and the native people and animals that lived on it that Americans began to decry the loss of wilderness and call for a federal system of land preservation (Nash, 2014).

The wilderness concept went through profound change in a relatively short period of human history at least partially due to depictions of wilderness in the popular media of the time.

Throughout this metamorphosis, wilderness became a mirror of American society, reflecting the power struggles and the valence between a preservationist ethic and a frontier ethic (Nash, 2014).

The rapid changes in popular attitudes toward wilderness fueled a great deal of conflict regarding how and why wilderness ought to be preserved.

A Call for Wilderness Preservation

The closing frontier launched popular wilderness writers like Thoreau and Muir into the national consciousness leading to a strong public call for wilderness preservation policy in the

United States (Nash, 2014). In the early 1800s, Catlin, a painter fascinated by Native

American tribes, first called for a magnificent park to preserve sections of wilderness (Catlin,

1841; Nash, 2014). In his 1897 essay, “The American Forests,” John Muir famously declared,

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, and avalanches; but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that” (p. 157). While the notable transcendentalists – Muir, Emerson, and Thoreau – argued for the preservation of wilderness because of its spiritual value, others such as Gifford Pinchot and other proponents of the Wise

Use and the Game Reserve models argued that wilderness ought to be set aside as a bank of 26 natural resources (predominantly timber) for the future (Nash, 2014). Although these arguments on behalf of a wilderness preservation system have historically been portrayed as diametrically opposed, there are actually similarities between them; according to Kalamandeen and Gillson

(2007): “Both movements perceived humans as potential threats to nature, and thus, aesthetic and economic concerns resulted in the same practical conservation outcome, that of establishing protected areas, free from human inhabitation and where consumptive uses of natural resources was forbidden or strictly controlled” (p. 170). Despite the differences in arguments for wilderness preservation, the U.S. government heeded the call for a federal land protection system and passed several laws that codified the current public lands system.

Wilderness Legislated

The first to preserve wilderness in the United States was President Grant’s designation of Yellowstone as the first national park on March 1, 1872 (Act Establishing

Yellowstone National Park, 1872). The Organic Act of 1872 that established Yellowstone’s park was revolutionary. It was also contradictory. Many are familiar with the famous inscription, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” that appears on the Roosevelt Arch at the entrance to

Yellowstone National Park. This is an excerpt from the 1872 Organic Act that represents only half of Congress’ mandate for Yellowstone. On one hand, the Act does call for Yellowstone to be, “hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the

United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” (Act Establishing Yellowstone National Park, 1872, para. 1). On the other, the Act also calls for the Secretary of the Interior to create regulations for the national park that, “provide for the preservation, from injury of spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition” 27 (para. 2). This represents a contradictory mandate prioritizing the creation of the national park as both a public pleasuring ground and a space for preservation of land in its natural condition.

In the years to follow, several more national parks were designated, thus leading to the

National Park Service Act of 1916 that established the National Park Service to oversee all national parks. As historian Robin Winks (1997), argues, the National Park Service Act of 1916 contains a similar contradictory mandate, which “draws the Park Service in two quite opposite directions with to its primary mission” (p. 575). This contradiction is summed up in one sentence in the Act, which states that the National Park Service is, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life [within the national parks] and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (The National Park Service Organic Act, 1916, para. 1). Winks

(1997) illustrates how this could become a potential source for future conflict, stating,

“’Enjoyment’ reasonably required access, and at the time roads, trails, hotels, campgrounds, and administrative facilities did not seem unduly invasive” (p. 597). As anyone who has been to a national park can attest, the parks are not “unimpaired” in the strictest sense of the word.

National parks boast developed campgrounds, visitor centers, and infrastructure designed to lend people access to the land designated within national parks. It seems, at least in the Park Service’s early days, that enjoyment took priority over unimpairment. In fact, the National Park Service’s first director, Stephen Mather, departed from existing national park policy by reversing the ban on automobiles in the parks much to the ire of the rail industry and many others (Soulliere,

1995). In the wake of environmentalists like Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold, the 1960s ushered in, “a change in tenor of the perception and management of the country’s natural resources” (Soulliere, 1995, para. 8). It was precisely the addition of human-centered

28 infrastructure and roads within and around national parks that led to subsequent legislation protecting wilderness. As Lewis (2007) writes, “...National parks, with their tourist-oriented infrastructure of roads, visitor centers, and lodges were not wild enough for many Americans, and in 1964 the Wilderness Act was passed, establishing national wilderness areas” (p. 4). Nash

(2014) echoed this statement, asserting that, “One man’s wilderness may be another’s roadside picnic ground” (Nash, 2014, p. 1). And so, in 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which, perhaps more so than any other land legislation, moves us toward an understanding of the

American wilderness ideology. The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as:

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the

landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are

untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor and does not remain. An area of

wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped federal land

retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or

human habitation, which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the

forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has

outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation;

(3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable

its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological,

geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

(Wilderness Act, 1964, Section 2)

Now is an important moment to note that, in their book, Wilderness, Vannini and Vannini

(2016) argue that there are two competing conceptualizations of wilderness: 1) wilderness as an

29 area protected by public authorities, and 2) an area that has wild characteristics, but is not officially designated or legally protected. On the one hand, there is Wilderness with a

“W” that signifies specific protected wilderness areas as they are codified by the 1964

Wilderness Act. On the other hand, there is wilderness, lowercase “w,” which may refer to any number of public or private lands with wild characteristics. In the United States, even though

Wilderness has been defined and codified in law, American ideas about wilderness still permeate other protected natural areas. Additionally, the public lands system in the United States can be confusing with numerous agencies managing many different types of land. For this reason, public lands regardless of their legal Wilderness status are referred to as wilderness in popular media and colloquially in the United States.

Before moving on, it is important to note Acts subsequent to the 1916 creation of the

National Park Service that further advanced land conservation in the United States. The foundational legal precedent for public land designations include the Wilderness Act of 1964, the

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the National Forest Management Act of 1976, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. The last two acts call for the United

States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to coordinate their resource management plans with other public land management agencies, including the National Park

Service. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) laid out requirements for federal agencies to state potential environmental impacts of proposed actions.

These acts are notable as legal scholar, Robert Keiter (2005), states, “federal law and policy have elevated environmental values into a prominent position across the public domain”

(p. 1129). Lowercase “w” wilderness relies on the protections put in place at a federal level in order to remain, on some level, “unimpaired.” However, it is precisely the lack of clarity 30 regarding “unimpaired” lands that fuels the ongoing debate about the purpose of land preservation: is it for the land itself and the protection of species or for the people that visit these spaces? A number of scholars have written about this divergence in what I will refer to as the

‘parks vs. people’ debate.

Wilderness Becomes Public Land: Parks vs. People

Historically, the environmental movement has been centered around “preserving pristine places,” disregarding the existence of Indigenous people and distinguishing “the environment” from the places where people live (DeLuca & Demo, 2001, p. 191). Although wilderness has been codified in law as a place that is pristine and untouched by humans, many have been critical of the notion that wilderness is defined by its absence of human intervention especially as wilderness areas in the United States are preserved as public lands for (albeit sometimes limited) public use (Callicot & Nelson, 1998). For example, in an essay that appeared in Callicot and

Nelson’s (1998) The Great New Wilderness Debate, Bayet argues, “the concept of wilderness as natural without any trace of human interaction dehumanizes the indigenous peoples living within that landscape” (p. 318). As Mark Spence (1999) points out in Dispossessing the Wilderness,

“Uninhabited wilderness had to be created before it could be preserved, and this type of landscape became reified in the first national parks” (p. 4). The creation of Yellowstone National

Park, a watershed preservation moment, led to the displacement of the Crow and Shoshone people who were already living in that area (Pretty & Pimbert, 1995). The displacement of indigenous people in the name of preservation is not unique to Yellowstone. Spence (1999) confirms that Native Americans were forcibly evicted from most national parks designated between the 1870s and the 1930s. By creating this schism, the environmental movement

31 systemically disregards people as part of the environment and “prevents people from understanding how these landscapes have developed over time through complex human- environment relationships” (Simon, 2009, p. 1). This separation gave rise to the traditional conservationist belief that there is an inverse relationship between human intervention and the well-being of nature (Gomez-Pompa & Kaus, 1992).

According to wilderness historian William Cronon (1996), the view of wilderness as pure and unpeopled has led to the fetishization of wilderness areas instead of looking realistically at how people can interact with the land. Cronon’s (1996) critique deftly makes the case that the time has come to rethink how environmentalists hold wilderness as “the last remaining place where civilization, that all too human disease, has not fully infected the earth” (p. 69). When

Thoreau, Muir, and others presented wilderness as the antidote to society, they failed to recognize wilderness as a human-created and managed sanctuary (Cronon, 1996). And yet,

Cronon states, “it is not a pristine sanctuary where the last remnant of an untouched, endangered, but still transcendent nature can…be encountered without the contaminating taint of civilization”

(p. 71). The central paradox is this: if people believe that nature must necessarily be wild, then any human presence in nature represents its fall, thereby leaving little hope of arriving at an ethical, sustainable, honorable place for people in nature (Cronon, 1996).

Loved to Death

As the schism between people and public wilderness areas grows, so too do concerns that people will ‘love the land to death.’ Nash (2014) argues that, although wilderness made extraordinary gains in public appeal in the last century, “wilderness could well be loved to death in the next” (p. 316). This sentiment has been echoed across the wilderness literature and in the 32 popular media. In Michael Lewis’ (2007) American Wilderness: A New History, he suggests, “to say that ‘Americans love wilderness’ is far too simple. At times it seems that we might love our wilderness to death” (p. 4). The concern that wilderness might be ‘loved to death’ arose around the turn of the century and has lived on in the media since, but the question of what to do about it has persisted, largely unanswered. Some wilderness advocates argue that increased access to wilderness will lead to more public pressure for land preservation (Lee & Moscardo, 2005). Still others argue that increased access to wilderness defeats the purpose of wilderness preservation altogether (Cronon, 1996). As the ecologist Stanley Cain put it, “innumerable people cannot enjoy solitude together” (as quoted in Nash, 2014, p. 317). Turner (2002) also expressed that increased access may lead to degradation of the land when he stated, “increased access meant increased use of wilderness areas” (p. 469). However, Turner also acknowledges that increased use of wilderness areas may be ultimately positive for conservation, noting that many of the backpackers using the land for recreation would eventually come to “file out of the wilderness ready to spearhead a push for a congressionally-sanctioned wilderness preservation” (p. 469). As early as the 1920s, it was already clear that there was little consensus regarding whether it was a net positive for more people to enjoy wilderness as the public began to grapple with issues of overuse.

Loved to Death in the Media

A 1969 article published in the Journal titled, “The Call of the Wild: Many

Americans, Tired of Crowds and Cities Vacation in Wilderness,” quotes Ray Karr, head of the

U.S. Forest Service at the time. Karr declares, “There’s been a dramatic increase in the use of these areas…and we don’t see any leveling off” (James, 1969, para. 4). While it was 33 acknowledged that increasing numbers of people were traveling to the wilderness for respite from their busy lives, wilderness was still largely seen as a pleasuring ground – a place that existed to be used by people. A 1936 New York Times article that argued that wilderness is “a natural mental resource having the same basic relation to man’s ultimate thought and culture as coal, timber and other physical resources have to his material needs” (Saving the Wilderness,

1936, para. 2). In other words, the article states, “it is…a ‘public utility’” (para. 2).

Only a few decades later, the shift in attitudes toward the purpose of wilderness preservation, and thusly recreation, began to appear in mainstream news outlets. In 1957, an article ran in titled, “To Keep the Wilderness Wild.” The article states concern that, with population increase, “wilderness areas are meeting steadily increasing dangers of invasion” (David, 1957, para. 5). The onslaught of “invaders” threatening wilderness areas consists of “people who want to get into the open country for sport or relaxation” (David, 1957, para. 6). In 1969, a New York Times article titled, “Visitors are Swamping National Parks,” declared that a “warning has been sounded with increasing frequency this year, not only at the national parks and forests but also at thousands of other recreation areas across the country”

(Roberts, 1969, para. 2). The article cites no specific ecological consequence of overuse, but nonetheless warns that, “the wilderness is now accessible to people who like running water and soft beds,” bringing about the beginning of the current wilderness debate that is still largely driven by the media (para. 1).

It is evident through the increasing attention on Instagram and the outdoors that this debate has yet to be settled. It is also evident that the issue of overuse is arguably as much a communication issue as it is an ecological one as the parks vs. people debate plays out in the 34 news. However, news articles were not the only sources of media that have historically weighed in on the struggle for wilderness access and preservation. An article titled, “Saturation of

Wilderness,” ran in the Sierra Club Bulletin in 1947 posing the question of whether backpackers might be over-using wilderness. The Sierra Club’s 1952 Biennial Wilderness Conference was dominated by similar concerns. In the late 1950s, Sierra Club members wrote letters to the club expressing concern for an “over-assault on the wilderness area” (Nelson & Callicot, 2008;

Turner, 2002, p. 468). Concern that outdoor recreationalists would “love the land to death” only grew.

This conflict has led to a lack of clarity when it comes to effective wilderness recreation guidance. Over the course of American history, the parks vs. people question and the idea that wilderness should exist as pristine and untouched has fueled a number of philosophies about what it means to experience wilderness. These conflicts and contradictions have also had a hand in shaping recreation ethics, which still guide interactions with public lands today through the popular Leave No Trace program. However, leave no trace was not always the dominant recreation ethic. Over the last century, the recreation ethic and the moral and cultural foundations it sat upon have changed dramatically from woodcraft to Leave No Trace. Where woodcraft was steeped in masculinity and rugged self-reliance, the Leave No Trace movement, born out of the tumultuous, anti-war 60s and 70s, juxtaposed the violence of woodcraft with the promise that treading softly through the wilderness would help one feel closer to nature and more in-tune with one’s own spiritual needs (Turner, 2002). The introductory chapter began illustrating how the addition of Instagram and geotagging trends is pushing the boundary of effectiveness of the

Leave No Trace ethic. A brief review of the shift from woodcraft to leave no trace highlights 35 how the dominant recreation ethic reifies the hegemonic (separatist/individualist) wilderness ideology. To elaborate, the following section will offer a brief history of the transition from woodcraft to Leave No Trace and introduce the origins of over-use concerns in the media.

The Wilderness Ideology Reflected in the Recreation Ethic: From Woodcraft to Leave No


In the early days of the 20th century, wilderness recreationists practiced woodcraft, a method of using natural materials to fashion shelters, gather food, and sustain life in the wilderness (Turner, 2002). As cultural values shifted and more people began to journey into the wilderness, the recreation ethic began to move toward minimal-impact activities or “Leave No

Trace” (Turner, 2002).

In the 1920s, Aldo Leopold described wilderness as “a means for allowing more virile and primitive forms of outdoor recreation to survive” (Turner, 2002, p. 462). Wilderness as a testing ground for the rugged, individualist American led to the development of the early twentieth-century recreation ethic of “woodcraft” (Turner, 2002). “Woodcraft was steeped in self-reliance, masculine rhetoric, and discomfort with modern consumer economy” (Turner,

2002, p. 462). Leopold and other early proponents of American wilderness envisioned the wilderness as a refuge from the trappings of modern society, in which hunting, cooking on an open fire, and living off the land reconnected people with wilderness and a more self-reliant version of themselves. “Woodcraft promised to return the enervated city-dweller to the mythical frontier, allowing him to play out in leisure Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘wilderness hunter,’ reaffirming both his masculinity and his Americanness” (Turner, 2002, p. 466).

36 Between the 1890s and 1930s, woodcraft was the dominant outdoor recreation ethic and laid the foundation for the modern wilderness movement (Turner, 2002). Woodcraft guides such as The Way of the Woods (Breck, 1908) and Camp and Trail Methods (Krep, 1910) reveal an aim to teach men7 how to modify wilderness so that it would become hospitable to human needs.

This would probably shock the modern backpacker, as today’s land ethic centers around low impact recreation and guidance from organizations such as the Leave No Trace Center for

Outdoor Education. It seems almost inconceivable now that, at one point, wilderness recreation involved going into the woods, building a shelter from trees, and hunting and fishing for sustenance as low-impact activity has been the pervasive guiding ethic for outdoor recreation for the past 50 years (Turner, 2002).

Perhaps the most important distinction between woodcraft and Leave No Trace is the emphasis that woodcraft placed on being a discerning consumer of outdoor gear, urging would- be recreationists to bring only the absolute essentials into the wilderness (Knowles, 1913). After

World War II, backpacking was popularized a new form of wilderness recreation, leading to a shift in wilderness ethics (Turner, 2002). The postwar era made it easier than ever for Americans to reach and enjoy backcountry wilderness areas. A new system of federal highways, a strong economy, increased leisure time, and new technology opened up a great deal of access to the wilderness (Nash, 2014; Turner, 2002). While political battles raged over wilderness, many conservationists pointed to recreation as an acceptable utility alternative to economic

7 Men were the primary audience of wilderness guidebooks until fairly recently in American history. For more information about women in the wilderness, see Glotfelty’s (1996) Femininity in the Wilderness: Reading Gender into Women’s Guides to Backpacking. 37 development activities like logging and dam-building (Nash, 2014; Turner, 2002). However, with increased accessibility to the backcountry, there emerged a lingering threat to wilderness: the backpackers and recreationalists themselves. The concerns that wilderness would be loved to death ushered in a new recreation ethic that still persists today.

Because of the sizable group of wilderness advocates who believed that popular support for land preservation required liberal access for recreationists in the wilderness, the 1970s ushered in a pragmatic balance between use, political support, and preservation (Turner, 2002).

Central to the land use philosophy of the 70s was a new wilderness recreation ethic: “minimal- impact camping” (Hart, 1972). As an answer to the woodcraft manuals with their instructions for fashioning lean-tos8 out of felled trees and cooking freshly caught game over a fire, new books about treading lightly through the wilderness gained traction (Turner, 2002). Manuals such as

Paul Petzoldt’s The Wilderness Handbook (1974) and John Hart’s Walking Softly in the

Wilderness (1972) aimed to reeducate recreationalists and wean the nation off of the woodcraft ethic.

This shift away from woodcraft meant that a working knowledge of nature was no longer at the core of wilderness recreation. To participate in low-impact camping, one had to have the right gear. No longer could a backpacker build fires, hunt wildlife, or construct shelters out of trees. Instead, low-impact recreationalists had to be entirely self-sufficient, carrying everything they’d need on their backs. This equipment included propane stoves, lightweight nylon tents, sleeping bags and pads, and lightweight, synthetic clothes made from polypropylene and Gore-

8 Lean-tos are basic wilderness shelters that provide overhead cover and walls to block wind. 38 Tex (Turner, 2002). In this way, the minimal-impact backpacker “had become a showcase for advanced consumer technology” (Fletcher, 1974; Turner, 2002, p. 474). Leopold (1949) foretold of the low-impact revolution in A Sand County Almanac when he wrote, “A gadget industry pads the bumps against nature-in-the-raw; woodcraft becomes the art of using gadgets” (p. 216)

The movement toward low-impact wilderness activities in the 1970s eventually led to the concept of “no trace” outdoor recreation (History of LNT, n.d.). In 1987, a “no trace” program was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management making “no trace” recreation the prevailing land ethic of the time. In the early 1990s, the

National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) was enlisted by the federal government to develop

“hands-on, science-based minimum impact education training non-motorized outdoor recreation activities” (Cole, 2018; History of Leave No Trace, n.d., para. 2). Then, in 1993, NGOs and members of the outdoor industry convened in Washington DC to form the 501(c)(3) nonprofit,

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, that is still the dominant organization concerning outdoor ethics today. Upon its creation, the Leave No Trace Center put forth six voluntary restrictions on the behavior of wilderness visitors, all with one goal in mind: preserve the wilderness as unpeopled, untrammeled, and pristine. The first set of six principles included:

In popular places, concentrate use and impact; in pristine places, disperse use and impact;

stay off places that are lightly impacted or just beginning to show effects; pack out

everything bought into the wilderness; properly dispose of anything that can’t be packed

out; leave things as they were or in better condition.

A seventh principle was added shortly after the original six that implored recreationalists to minimize noise and intrusion. Popularity for the Leave No Trace program grew exponentially 39 and has been adopted by state and local park systems in the United States as well as outdoor recreation corporations (Cole, 2018; Simon, 2009; Turner, 2002). As a result, Leave No Trace has become “widely accepted as a popular, common sense, and uncontroversial environmental ethic” (Simon, 2009, p. 1). To date, “leave no trace” is likely one of the most recognizable environmental slogans in American culture. The assumption that the best way to interact with wilderness is to “leave no trace” has influenced many conversations about wilderness in the media (Simon, 2009).

Despite all of the public support for Leave No Trace as a practical environmental ethic, there remains the reality that wilderness communication, even the principles disseminated by the

Leave No Trace Center, tends to reflect the interests of the dominant cultural class due to the assumption that everyone can afford the equipment required for minimal impact outdoor recreation (Simon, 2009). Additionally, outdoor recreation requires leisure time and transportation that may not be available to everyone. Furthermore, the seven existing Leave No

Trace principles do not take into account the previously discussed irony of wilderness: there is no way that humans can enter into the wilderness and truly leave no trace.

In this way, Leave No Trace confuses human relationships with non-human wilderness by making the case that any modification that humans make to nature is unacceptable (Simon,

2009). Leave No Trace is one instance out of many in the history of wilderness in the United

States in which humans have othered themselves from nature. Additionally, as Lewis (2007) points out, “When Americans are not on vacation, their lifestyles seem distinctly anti-wilderness

(Lewis, 2007, p. 4). One fundamental concern with Leave No Trace is that it only applies when

40 people are in wild spaces. However, when people get back into their cars and return to their urban lives, it is permissible to return to environmentally harmful behaviors.

Scholars like Simon (2009) as well as contemporary wilderness advocates have argued that a new recreation ethic ought to build upon the strengths of Leave No Trace, but should ultimately move in a “more collaborative, participatory, productive, [and] democratic” direction

(Simon, 2009, p. 1). However, instead of critically examining the effectiveness of Leave No

Trace, many members of the contemporary outdoors community have taken to pressuring the

Leave No Trace Center to add an eighth principle addressing responsible social media use in the wilderness (Hikers for an 8th Leave No Trace Principle, 2017; Ruggiero, 2017). One group in particular, Hikers for an 8th Leave No Trace Principle, has spearheaded the movement, providing information and a letter template for concerned citizens to request the addition of the 8th principle such as “Be mindful when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts that rapidly increased use can have on wild places” or “Use discretion when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts of creating a ‘buzz’ about specific destinations” (Hikers for an

8th Leave No Trace Principle, 2017, para. 4).

The closest this movement has gotten to achieving the addition of the 8th principle is a blog post published by the Leave No Trace Center in June of 2018 that urged people to think before they geotag, be mindful of what their images on social media portray, encourage and inspire Leave No Trace principles in posts on social media, and invest time through volunteering and stewardship to outdoor spaces (Walsh, 2018). Interestingly, the Leave No Trace Center issued an update on this blog post in May of 2019. The update mentions shaming, likely as a result of social media backlash. The LNT Center states: 41 Shaming Is Not the Answer — Remember that everyone’s experience in the outdoors is

unique and personal. Online shaming and bullying in the name of Leave No Trace is

never endorsed by the Center nor is it effective in terms of influencing choices in the

outdoors. Instead, spread awareness of Leave No Trace by engaging in respectful and

meaningful conversations on social media about stewardship of the outdoors. (Walsh,

2019, para. 7)

The Leave No Trace Center’s 2019 update ponders whether the social media debate will be a thing of the past in five years. The Leave No Trace Center concedes, “none of us know,” and states that, “social media, if used the right way, is a powerful tool that can motivate a nation of outdoor advocates to enthusiastically and collectively take care of the places we share and cherish” with no mention of how exactly social media accomplish these ends and who gets to decide what “the right way” to use social media in the wilderness is (Walsh, 2019, para. 9). It is for these reasons that an in-depth analysis of the growing relationship between social media technologies and the outdoors is desperately needed. Though many scholars have questioned how advances in technology have begun shaping human interactions with nature, rarely has this question been examined through a communication lens. The following section outlines the concept of Wilderness 2.0 and argues for the need for media scholars to advance this body of literature.

Wilderness 2.0

The assertion that digital technologies have changed lives, economies, cultures, and societies is widely accepted (Arts, van der Wal & Adams, 2015). While the Information Age has ushered in new ways of doing business, communicating, and governing, scholars have argued that it has also begun to change the way people interact with nature (Mol, 2008). Whether or not

42 emerging digital technologies have had a net positive or negative impact on nature remains unsettled.

In 1999, Levi and Kocher predicted that “in the future, virtual reality technology will allow people to experience nature in a simulated environment” (p. 203). Twenty years later, Levi and Kocher weren’t far off with their prediction. Virtual reality technology is available to consumers, and many people are turning to technology to get their nature fix. But if people no longer need or value the real thing, what good are natural spaces like wilderness parks and preserves? Additionally, some scholars have questioned whether experiencing artificial depictions of nature, whether through virtual reality or doctored photos, affects humanity’s relationship with the reality of public lands (Smith & Kirby, 2015).

The fear of people losing their appreciation for the reality of nature and the consequences for conservation initiatives that this ambivalence would have has led some scholars to explore the concept of “Wilderness 2.0” or “Nature 2.0.” The Wilderness/Nature 2.0 body of literature focuses on “the effects of media and communication devices on peoples’ ‘connection’ with nature” (Stinson, 2017, p. 176). As a concept, Wilderness 2.0 has recently come to refer to portrayals of wilderness in the digital communication sphere. Ultimately, this study aims to extend and add nuance to the Wilderness 2.0 body of literature by examining how a major social media platform like Instagram has made its mark on wilderness through a critical lens.

Critiques of technology’s intrusion into the outdoors are numerous (Shultis, 2001;

Wesler, 2012). Wesler (2012), for example, claims that, “technological development is leading to unintended yet inevitable degradation of wilderness areas and the demise of the potential for wilderness experience on Earth” (p. 147; Hitchner et al., 2019). Wesler goes on to note how 43 satellite phones and global positioning technologies may contribute to people taking unnecessary risks when they venture out because they are lulled into a false sense of security by the technology in their possession (Wesler, 2012). Wesler argues that spending time in nature encourages independence and creativity and that technology is antithetical to these experiences because it robs people of opportunities for self-reliance and an unmediated encounters with nature (Wesler, 2012). Remaining critical of technology’s place in nature, Wesler notes the role social media play in encouraging people to seek out wilderness experiences that may lead to overuse of the land and dangerous encounters with the land and wildlife.

This concern for information sharing technologies’ impact on nature also extends to environmental activism. Some Wilderness 2.0 scholars argue that conservation NGOs that encourage clicking on or liking awe-inspiring natural landscapes or cute animals create a hyper- real version of wilderness that is detrimental to conservation efforts in the long run (Büscher,

2013, 2016; Checker, 2017). In this way, social media attention by way of liking and retweeting becomes a stand-in for “real” environmental activism (Büscher, 2013). Additionally, confining environmental activism to corporate social media sites may relegate environmental action to the same corporate structure that consistently downplays environmental concern and maintains the status quo.

Stinson (2017) states that, “in this new era of virtual-nature, outdoor recreation occurs as much in the statusphere and blogosphere as it does in the biosphere” (p. 174). The concept of

“virtual nature” has important implications for portrayals of wilderness on Instagram and other social media platforms and the effects of those portrayals on real life conservation efforts and outcomes. Although Stinson and others mentioned remain critical of technology’s encroachment 44 into the outdoors space, there are other scholars who argue that marrying technology and nature may be a net positive for people and the environment (Levi & Kocher, 1999; Agrawal, 2005;

Mayer & Frantz, 2009). For example, Agrawal (2005) argues that the primary goal of many advocates of natural spaces is to use Nature 2.0 to turn people into “environmental subjects,” or people who care deeply about the environment and conservation initiatives. And, as the history of outdoor recreation in the United States has shown, when people have access to wilderness and experience nature firsthand, they are more likely to care about it (Lee & Moscardo, 2005).

Although many previous scholars have raised important criticisms surrounding technology’s encroachment into nature, communication technologies, apart from cellphones and radios, warrant further study. As noted previously, wilderness and access to it is rife with power struggles in the United States. As people vie for their wilderness paradigm to rise to the surface of cultural ubiquity, the Instagram effect represents yet another testing ground for these ideological clashes. Much of the scholarship surrounding social media and social movements comes out of the dominant positivist-oriented mass communication research paradigm (Bettig,

2002). Positivism has afforded mass communication scholars validity and placed emphasis on the “science” of the social sciences. However, narrowing the scope of communication research to quantitative, positivist methods has greatly reduced the degree to which scholarship is situated in social totality and historical events that have shaped the present media landscape. Taking

Mosco’s (2009) four cornerstones of political economy into account, by addressing the political economic and historical underpinnings of the current media landscape, the forthcoming analysis aims to bridge the gap between positivist mass communication research and critical political economy. 45 Loved to Death in the 21st Century: The Importance of News

The Instagram effect on wilderness is a unique convergence between Web 2.0 technologies and a continuation of the parks vs. people debate and an opportunity to reexamine what it means for the land to be ‘loved to death.’ A gap in the literature exists between these concepts that this thesis aims to fill. Despite the lack of scholarly attention at this crossroads, there has been increasing media attention devoted to the issue of Instagram in the wilderness by news outlets from small, personal blogs to mainstream, national news sources like Good

Morning America, The New York Times, and NPR. Mass communication scholars have consistently found that news framing can have a profound impact on individuals’ attitudes and opinions toward social and political issues (Chong & Druckman, 2007; Gitlin, 1980). By focusing on certain issues, news frames influence decision-making and deliberations by those who consume the news (Druckman, 2001). However, it is not only news frames that influence the attitudes of the public. Critical political economy provides a framework for exploring how the way the news is produced exerts influence over the content in news articles. In this way, who owns the news and who gets to speak on the issues as sources have a large hand in shaping public knowledge and decision-making.

For environmental news, these concepts have become increasingly important as environmental issues have been silenced in mainstream news outlets that are owned by large media conglomerates. Historically, these outlets preferentially place business interests and ad- driven profits over other issues, including environmental information (Bettig, 2002; McChesney,


46 The preceding two chapters introduced the problem as it seems to be presented in the media: Instagram, and the people who use it, are ruining wilderness, and offered a brief historical review of wilderness media to illustrate that claims that people can “love the land to death,” have been raised for the better part of the last century. Historically, this has not only been an issue rooted in ecological facts of carrying capacities and the fragility of certain landscapes. Rather, the way wilderness is portrayed and discussed in the media furthers a certain wilderness ideology and carries important implications for the health of the land and people’s attitudes toward it. The following chapter builds on this historical understanding and presents the theoretical and methodological approaches that I employ throughout the rest of this study.



Critical political economy serves as both the theoretical foundation and a methodology for the forthcoming analysis. Critical political economy of media focuses on the modes of production and distribution of media as well as how these modes impact consumption of texts by audiences (Hardy, 2014). This study will be arranged in much the same way, focusing first on the production of media related to the Instagram effect on public lands, then on the distribution of online news, and finally the potential impacts of the articles’ content. In order to examine the production and distribution of wilderness media, I will heed Maxwell’s (2009) call for research related to environmental issues and the media. To understand the content presented in the articles that have arisen out of the current political economic climate, the present chapter will also discuss textual analysis as described by McKee (2003) and others that I will use to understand ideologies perpetuated in online news regarding the Instagram effect. First, because critical political economy serves as the theoretical foundation and the primary methodology for this analysis, I offer a review of key terms that are relevant to this study in the following section.

Next, I review theoretical concepts and methodological models associated with political economy before addressing how different methodologies answer each of my research questions.

Key Terms: Ideology, Neoliberalism, Commercialization, and Commodification


A key component of critical political economy is the examination of how the media serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful (Hardy, 2014). Ideology refers to a way of looking at

48 the world or the underlying structures that guide one’s worldview. Critical scholars study ideology in order to understand how these worldviews maintain relations of power and dominance (Hardy, 2014). Although ideological critique has been regarded by some political economists as too concerned with texts (forgoing considerations of the conditions in which they were formed), ideology critique provides an important avenue for “challenging the construction of reality in discourse and truth claims” (Hardy, 2014, p. 12). Ultimately, “ideology critique analyzes the claims that are made about reality and how true they are” (Fuchs, 2017, p. 121).

Ideology critique remains a salient lens through which to examine the news. van Dijk (1998) argues that the news cannot be fully understood without the awareness of implicit ideologies of elite groups that are embedded in the news. Furthermore, Oktar (2001) claims that the media do not passively describe events in the news, but instead reconstruct them along their own ideological lines. With this in mind, Chapters Five and Six will work toward understanding the contours of the Instagram effect on public lands and the geotagging debate in the news, guided by an ideology critique that will help illustrate how the ownership, advertising support, and sourcing practices of the news maintain or challenge the status quo.


Neoliberalism “refers to the set of national and international policies that call for business domination of all social affairs with minimal countervailing force” (Hardy, 2014, p. 14;

McChesney, 2001). Within this system, market competition is assumed to be the best mechanism for fostering economic growth and guiding the distribution of resources throughout society. In this way, neoliberalism “equates generating profits with generating maximum human happiness”

(Harvey, 2005; McChesney, 2004, p. 12). Neoliberalism has become the dominant ideology in 49 much of the Western world and has placed a strong emphasis on individual property rights, deregulated, free markets, and free trade (Harvey, 2005). Thusly, neoliberalism praises competitive individualism and vehemently opposes government intervention in the marketplace unless intervention would benefit corporations.

Despite neoliberalism’s focus on intense competition and free markets, unregulated competition naturally trends toward oligopoly and monopoly as larger firms consume smaller firms. This has been evidenced across the board in media studies as radio, telephony, cable television, and journalism have all experienced mergers between huge firms, resulting in horizontal and vertical integration (Bettig & Hall, 2012). Neoliberalism, though propping competition up as a commonsense approach to satisfying consumer needs and desires, creates a system whereby competition cannot persist without government regulation like anti-trust laws.

As will be discussed in the following chapter, the trend toward deregulation has concrete consequences within the present scope of analysis. Whether they be executive orders that remove federal protections for public lands or approvals for large media mergers that affect the production and dissemination of the news, neoliberal policy decisions have a large hand in shaping both public interactions with public lands and the media that the public has access to regarding these issues.

Commercialization & Commodification

A large body of critical political economy research focuses on the media as commodities that are produced and distributed by profit-seeking organizations in capitalist industries (Wasko,

2004). Commercialization refers to the process of producing or managing something primarily for the purpose of financial gain (Hardy, 2014). Commodification refers to the process of 50 assigning a price to things that do not intrinsically have monetary value (Mosco, 2009). In tandem, these two concepts highlight issues that have arisen with the production and consumption of media in the neoliberal context.

First, when highlighting key trends and processes in media creation, Hardy (2014) points out that “the media are businesses, predominantly, that operate according to business logic and capitalist economic processes” (p. 81). This necessarily means that the media have become more commercialized in order to fulfill the profit-making model. However, market logic runs antithetical to the democratic needs of diverse sources of information. Neoliberalism asserts that free, unregulated markets yield the most competition; however, this has not been the case as evidenced by numerous media mergers over the last several decades (Bettig & Hall, 2012).

Commercialization and the reliance on media as a means of generating profits has led to a collapse in the amount and diversity of information available to the citizenry due to concentration of ownership and the reliance on content that will sell in the media marketplace.

Furthermore, Mosco (2009) argues that the commodification of communication and information technologies “not only expands the market for communication products but also deepens the commodification of the labor involved in the production, distribution, and exchange of communication” (p. 38). Many media scholars (Andrejevic, 2002, Davenport & Beck, 2001;

Smythe, 1977; Zulli, 2018) have examined the impacts of the ‘attention economy’ created by the digital media landscape. By providing content to consumers online, media companies primarily generate revenue by selling audience attention to advertisers. In this way, the media have become increasingly commercialized, existing for the sole purpose of generating revenue, via advertisers,

51 off of audience attention. In this system, the audience is both a consumer of media and a commodity bought and sold by media firms and advertisers.

Political Economy of Media: A Theory and a Method

Bettig and Hall (2012) write, “Within the study of media and communications, attention to political and economic dimensions has often been relatively marginal, with greater attention devoted to ‘texts’ and ‘audiences’ than ‘production’ or the wider concepts in which communication takes place” (p. 3). Political economic analyses of media avoid the common pitfall of devoting greater attention to ‘texts’ and ‘audiences’ common in rhetorical, textual, or content analyses by including the broader history and social totality of texts as well as examining matters of ownership and production (Hardy, 2014). Mosco (1996) offers a general definition of political economy, stating that it is “the study of social relations, particularly power relations, that mutually constitute the production, distribution and consumption of resources” (p. 25).

Specifically, this study employs the method of critical political economy, which is defined by Hardy (2014) as a means to examine “how the political and economic organization of media industries affects the production and circulation of meaning, and connects to the distribution of symbolic and material resources that enable people to understand, communicate, and act in the world” (p. 9). Critical political economy analyses of media ultimately seek to reveal power imbalances resulting from methods of media production that favor the interests of the powerful (Hardy, 2014).

The study of political economy was born out of 18th century Scottish enlightenment thinking and its 19th century critique (Hardy, 2014; Wasko, 2005). Adam Smith, a Scottish enlightenment thinker, defined political economy as “the study of ‘wealth’ (material goods) or 52 the allocation of resources and was concerned with ‘how mankind arranges to allocate scarce resources with a view toward satisfying certain needs and not others’” (Wasko, 2005, p. 26).

Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Mill, and Jeremy Bentham became known as “classical political economists” and were primarily focused on capitalism “as a system for the production, distribution, exchange, and consumption of wealth” (Hardy, 2014, p. 4). In the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and Frederick Engel incorporated class analysis and argued for a moral stance in opposition to the unjust characteristics of the capitalist system (Wasko, 2005, p. 26). As an answer to the classical critiques, neoclassical economics raised a new theory of value derived from consumer preferences in open market systems (Hardy, 2014).

Today, there are many approaches that fall under the political economy umbrella including one that is antithetical to Marxism, known as the Chicago School or ‘positive’ political economy (Hardy, 2014, p. 5). Positive political economy extends the neoliberal tenets of deregulation and the free market, yet critical political economy of media is by and large associated with the political Left because of its critique of the market and the neoliberal underpinnings of media ownership and production (McChesney, 2008). Although the works of

Karl Marx and his contemporaries heavily influence critical political economy scholarship, critical political economy also involves high democratic aspirations, such as an informed and active public and a free exchange of ideas, and has been guided heavily by democratic theory

(Hardy, 2014). Hardy argues that, “Political economy draws upon classical democratic theory’s insistence that democracy is based on an informed, participating citizenry” (p. 8). Whereas neoliberalism asserts that markets and profit making should regulate every possible aspect of social life (Hardy, 2014; McChesney, 2004) and prioritizes competition and individualism, 53 critical political economy questions these assumptions and challenges the neoliberal foundations of the current media landscape in an effort to ultimately strengthen democracy.

As a methodology, political economy of media is guided by the four cornerstones of social change and history, social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis, to analyze the relationships between knowledge, money, and power in society. Notably, political economy does not seek only to explain these dynamics, but rather it is the essential aim of critical political economy to rework media and society along more just and equitable lines (Corrigan, 2018;

McChesney, 2008; Mosco, 2009). For democratic societies, the production and distribution of news is critical in achieving these ends. As McChesney (2008) argues, this is not purely theoretical, but a necessity given that “the condition upon which the entire U.S. constitutional system rests is [that] there must be a viable and healthy press system for self-government to succeed” (p. 13).

Political Economy of Journalism

The following chapters’ analysis of the news coverage of the Instagram effect on public lands rests on the understanding ownership, support mechanisms (advertising), and sourcing decisions all play a role in the news content that makes its way to audiences. The ways in which the modes of production listed above can influence the news has been studied by many political economy of media scholars which are explored in this section.

As discussed in the introductory chapter, McChesney (2004) describes the three main functions of journalism: “to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies; and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues” (p. 57). Journalism plays a key role in democratic society, especially in the ways of 54 communicating environmental information such as land management or conservation issues. To understand how an imperfect system of delivering news affects the functioning of democratic society, it is important to examine how journalism has been affected by the neoliberal logic of competition and deregulation. McChesney (2004, 2008) has written at length about how the ad- driven, profit-focused model of journalism in the United States has failed all three of its designated functions.

The nineteenth century brought about the industrialization of the news business, transforming information into a mass-produced commodity (Bettig & Hall, 2012). A few of the main causes for the crisis facing American journalism include the consolidation of media ownership, the shift in thinking about journalism as politically neutral and “objective,” sourcing issues that accompany the assumption of objectivity, reliance on advertising for profits, and political pressure from powerful elites (McChesney, 2004).

Herman and Chomsky’s (2002) propaganda model serves as a helpful guideline for news coverage analysis and offers five filters through which the news the public consumes ins influenced by the structures of power largely unseen by consumers. These filters are: 1) media ownership, 2) advertising, 3) sourcing, 4) flak, and 5) pro-free market ideology. This thesis focuses primarily on ownership and support mechanisms (advertising) as well as sourcing and the prevalence of pro-free market ideologies and frames.

News Ownership Consolidation

First, political economy begins by contextualizing ownership because understanding the content in the news necessarily requires an understanding of how the news is produced and by whom. The fact that the media are controlled by very few corporate firms is well documented 55 (Bettig & Hall, 2012; Hardy, 2014; Mosco, 2009). In a democratic society, corporate consolidation is detrimental as the lack of diverse sources of information “can restrict the flow of communication and information by limiting the diversity of producers and distributors” (Mosco,

2009, p. 162). Bettig and Hall (2012) systematically review how consolidated ownership has influenced most forms of media including movies, music, television, and, perhaps most importantly, news.

From a democratic theory standpoint, the trend toward collapsing media ownership is especially concerning. According to Bettig and Hall (2012), in the United States, most public policy is set at the local level. However, fewer and fewer communities have access to reliable daily news with which to make local policy decisions (Bettig & Hall, 2012). According to

Bauder and Lieb (2019), more than 1,400 cities and towns across the United States have lost a newspaper over the past 15 years. For cities and towns with only one major newspaper, it is very likely that the newspaper is owned by a large, national chain. Concentrated ownership “can restrict the flow of communication and information by limiting the diversity of producers and distributors” (Mosco, 2009, p. 162). This, in turn, starves the public of the information necessary to make informed political decisions because of the strong relationship between local news and local civic engagement and democracy (McChesney, 2013). Jhally (1989) argues that democracies are fragile and unstable social formations, requiring a constant “vigorous and diverse debate… concerning social policy over a wide range of subject areas” (p. 65). Without constant and vigorous debate, democracy slumps toward authoritarianism (Jhally, 1989).

56 Journalistic Norms

In the United States, there is the assumption of a free press (McChesney, 2003). In the early days of the republic, this referred to the ability of religious organizations and political parties (even those out of power) to produce media (McChesney, 2003). Bettig and Hall (2012) argue that journalism assumes a few established norms: 1) the journalistic norm of maintaining apparent objectivity, 2) the storied tradition of ‘muckraking’ to discover the truth, as in investigative journalism, and 3) the responsibility of the free press to act as a watchdog for society, protecting citizens from government as well as Big Business (p. 172). The notion that journalists ought to remain ‘objective’ has long been thought of as a given in the American press system. Yet, this was not always the case.

The early 20th century gave rise to “yellow journalism,” the sensationalist and scandal- ridden stories that were the “click bait”9 of their day. These stories were so hyperbolic and fictitious because they were crafted to sell newspapers rather than to inform the public

(McChesney, 2004). The press became beholden to the wishes of advertisers and were forced to adopt sensationalist practices of attracting wide audiences or face financial ruin. In response to yellow journalism, editors and journalists within the system expressed their concerns for the future of news, alongside academics and other concerned citizens (McChesney, 2008).

In response to the criticisms being raised about the press, Congress passed the Newspaper

Publicity Act in 1912, which required newspapers to clearly list their owners and editors and distinguish paid advertising from news in order to receive postal subsidies (McChesney, 2004).

9 Click bait refers to internet content designed to attract attention and encourage people to click on a link to a particular web page. Often, ‘click bait’ article titles are misleading, sensationalist, and/or scandalous. 57 The press, in order to avoid criticisms of “yellow journalism” and sensationalist reporting, turned to establishing professional norms of fairness and unbiased reporting by establishing formal schools of journalism. Under the logic of professionalism, the issue of concentrated ownership and advertising streams became irrelevant; “who needed more than one or two newspapers if every newspaper ran basically the same professionally driven content?” (McChesney, 2004, p.

64). Regardless of the political affiliation of the newspaper’s owner and whether the paper received a great deal of revenue from advertising or none at all, hypothetically, the coverage of the newspaper could still be objective and unbiased because trained professionals oversaw the process of newsgathering. Owners could then sell their neutral monopoly papers to anyone in any community and rake in profits (McChesney, 2004).

Therein lie some of the issues surrounding the professional journalism standards of objectivity and unbiased reporting that critical political economists have pointed out. Ultimately, the rise of professional journalism impinged the ability of the press to act as a watchdog of the government and industry because journalists were bound by the constraints of objective reporting. Herman and Chomsky (2010) eloquently describe this shift as “the displacement of a political public sphere by a depoliticized consumer culture” (p. XVIII). That is to say, current journalistic norms and the commercialization of the news have led to a breakdown in democratic function and have ultimately resulted in a less informed citizenry.

Especially where environmental issues are concerned, this has led to what Boykoff and

Boykoff (2004) referred to as “balance as bias.” By striving for balanced reporting on issues related to global warming, Boykoff and Boykoff found that the U.S. prestige press actually led to biased coverage of the issue by downplaying anthropogenic contributions to global warming. 58 Additionally, to work within the bounds of professionalism, “journalists regard anything done by official sources – for example, government officials and prominent public figures – as the basis for legitimate news” (McChesney, 2004, p. 68).

Official Sources

One result of the adoption of professional standards for journalism was the reliance on official sources. McChesney (2004) states that, “professional journalism regards anything done by official sources – for example, government officials and prominent public figures – as the basis for legitimate news” (p. 68). Official sources such as government officials, industry leaders, and other public figures are part of what has come to be known as the “golden rolodex”

(Bettig & Hall, 2012, p. 19). The use of official sources has led to a number of issues related to journalism’s ability to fulfill its primary functions. Perhaps most evident is the fact that those in political office or people who are considered ‘prominent public figures’ wield considerable power (McChesney, 2004). Additionally, relying on “official sources,” such as political elites or business experts, narrows the scope of what the news will cover because people in power will not likely bring up the issues that challenge their stance and authority in society (McChesney,

2004). Journalists who raise issues that no official source is talking about are accused of injecting their own biased agenda into the news (McChesney, 2004). In this way, the watchdog of journalism is effectively leashed and succumbs to the influence of those already wielding significant power (Bettig & Hall, 2012).


In the context of professionalism, journalism has become increasingly homogenized and commercialized (McChesney, 2004). The relaxation of media ownership regulations in the 1980s 59 led to giant media conglomerates paying huge sums of money to buy up newspapers and other sources of news across the country. These corporations, then, sought a return on their investment and began generating revenue from advertising money all while operating under the guise of unbiased professionalism. No longer is mainstream news focused on fulfilling its essential democratic functions; today, the news has value insofar as it captures the audience’s attention, which can then be sold to advertisers. With the advent of the internet and digital news, some media scholars argued that there would be a way around these traditional challenges to journalistic freedom.

Techno-optimism: Can the Internet Save the News?

Hardy (2014) urges critical political economists to consider whether the expansion of internet-enabled communications mean that the problems associated with traditional media will decrease. In the 1990s, two competing schools of thought on this issue emerged. The first argued that the internet would be a technological utopia with total freedom from existing structures of control and a mechanism for subverting the gatekeeping measures of old media (Bruns, 2008;

Gilder, 1994; Williams & Carpini, 2000). This techno-optimism painted the internet as the promised land for democracy and a renewal for citizen-based governance and open information exchange (Fuchs, 2017; Hardy, 2014). A key claim, argued by Gilder (1994), was that the internet would do away with the growing concerns about media concentration and would reinvigorate the electorate to take control of policymaking.

The answer to the techno-optimism that arose within the 1990s and continued through the mid-2000s, a competing vision of an internet dominated by business was raised by critical media scholars (Hardy, 2014). This vision foretold of a digital landscape “in which a handful of giant 60 multimedia corporations extended their reach over a market-driven, privatized, e-commerce and advertiser-financed system” (Hardy, 2014, p. 109). Both of these claims arise out of either utopian or dystopian projections of the digital sphere. Although it is tempting to plant a flag squarely in either camp, the reality likely lies somewhere in the middle of these competing claims. Afterall, the internet has allowed for the evolution from the ‘one to many’ model of traditional mass communication to the ‘many to many’ open digital forum. Still, the internet is heavily commercialized with major online news providers and social media platforms primarily funded by advertising.

In 2006, the mogul, , argued that the internet would revitalize journalism and democracy by shifting the locus of control from large media corporations to bloggers and social networks (Gibson, 2006). While it is true that the internet has offered a platform for citizen journalists such as bloggers and YouTubers, McChesney (2013) points out that the online landscape is still very much imbued with the dominant cultural model that prioritizes advertising revenue and the reality that even citizen journalists must abide by the policies and terms of use of the online platform in which they disseminate their information.

Oftentimes, these platforms such as YouTube or WordPress are large corporations themselves that are able to capitalize off of the labor of citizen journalists.

Additionally, “free” online news exacerbates the issue of ad revenues being the primary driver of news production. “For many new competitors such as search engines, news is not core business and is offered for free as a means of attracting recurring visitors” (Hardy, 2014, p. 129).

News has become more about generating a profit than informing the public. So, although news is accessible on the internet largely at no direct cost to the consumer, this is because the consumer 61 is the product for advertisers. In this way, the internet perpetuates a system of “prosuming” in which internet users both produce and consume digital news and are exploited by ad-driven platforms such as Google, blogging sites, YouTube, and other social media sites such as

Facebook (Fuchs, 2017). Chapter Four will begin a more in-depth discussion of prosuming as it relates to sharing content on social media.

Political Economy of Social Media

Although this analysis is primarily focused on the political economy of news, Instagram, as the subject of these news articles, presents an opportunity to reexamine the notion that digital media technologies like social networking sites are the answer to the gatekeeping measures of the corporate press. However, critical political economists must continue to test this claim by continuing to examine digital content through the lens of its production, starting with ownership.

For example, a 2006 editorial in The Nation captured this point, stating, “while we might hate the rigid recitation of conservative talking points on programs and love the internet frontier reached by Myspace.com, both Fox and Myspace are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News

Corporation” (“The National Entertainment State,” 2006, para. 1). Although Myspace has been replaced by more recent social media platforms, this example still elegantly demonstrates how the public may believe they are consuming news from an alternative source when they turn to social media for information; however, many ‘alternative’ sources of news are still owned by larger, mainstream media conglomerates. In addition to ownership, how social media companies like Facebook generate a profit is worth consideration in the face of techno-optimism.

Much like online news in general, social media sites often offer use of the platforms for

“free” in order to sell user’s information and attention to advertisers. Fuchs (2017) points out a 62 common critique of social media optimism: prosuming,10 as it relates to the advertising revenue generated off of user produced and consumed digital content, is essentially unpaid digital labour.

Additionally, there are a few other key factors that are key points of criticism regarding social media including the branding of the self and corporate imperialism (p. 35-36).

First, branding of the self refers to the way that social media encourage “status-seeking behavior” (Fuchs, 2017, p. 35). For individuals who make their living off of blogging, vlogging, or as “influencers” on other social media platforms, a degree of marketing and advertising tactics necessarily find their way into online relationships and social behavior (Fuchs, 2017; Marwick,

2013). Additionally, even for those not seeking to make money on these platforms, social media success is “predicated on the cultural logic of celebrity, according to which the highest value is given to mediation, visibility, and attention” (Marwick, 2013, p. 14). The neoliberal logic of competition and individualism thrives on social media platforms like Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, as expressed by a user’s ability to accumulate likes, followers, and views

(Fuchs, 2017). In this way, “competitive social media foster the branding quantification, marketization, commodification, and capitalization of the self” (Fuchs, 2017, p. 36). In the process of analyzing online news articles that address Instagram’s impacts on wilderness, this thesis also extends this understanding of social media as a commodification of the self by arguing that social media fosters a commodification of wilderness and the outdoor experience as well.

10 The concept of prosumption was introduced in 1980 by Alvin Toffler and refers to the “progressive blurring of the line that separates producer from consumer” (Toffler, 1980, p. 267). Recent media scholarship has focused on the continued blurring of the line between leisure and work (and producing and consuming) brought about by Web 2.0 technologies (Fuchs, 2017). 63 In addition to commodifying people and, as will be discussed in the following chapter, landscapes, social media also perpetuate the corporate imperialism11 rife within other traditional media industries. Much like other industries, corporate media firms dominate the internet economy (Fuchs, 2017; Stanyer, 2009). Web 2.0 optimism falls flat as it fails to reconcile how corporate interests are served by “prosuming” content on social media sites that capitalize on unpaid digital labour (Fuchs, 2017). Although environmental advocates and nonprofits take to social media platforms like Instagram to voice their environmental concerns, their work still benefits the corporate system that likely does not align with their values. In the forthcoming analysis, the corporate nature of social media sites like Instagram will be discussed at length and what it means for wilderness areas depicted on the site. Briefly, neoliberalism has proven detrimental for environmental concerns ranging from plastic pollution to wilderness conservation to global climate change by shifting blame from corporate entities that contribute the most to environmental crises to individuals (Lukacs, 2017). Rather than performing environmentalism on social media platforms, those who are concerned about environmental issues would be better served by focusing on dismantling corporate control. It is for this reason that this analysis pays careful attention to the way news articles in the sample address the individual social media users as the source of wilderness overuse issues rather than Instagram (Facebook) itself.

Environmental Issues in the Media

According to Boykoff (2009), coverage has provided a space for the convergence of environmental science, governance, and daily life. The formal spheres of science,

11 Corporate imperialism refers to the domination of the media economy by corporations (Fuchs, 2017, p. 36). 64 policy, and politics often make their way into people’s everyday lives through mass media,

“albeit in messy, nonlinear and diffuse ways” (434). Because this is the case, mass media may influence a wide range of processes including environmental policy and, more informally, general public understanding of environmental issues. It is worth noting that, although critical political economy typically focuses on examining the ways in which politics and wealth shape media coverage of environmental issues, it is important to note that the media also shape ongoing scientific and political considerations, decisions, and activities (Boykoff, 2009).

Environmental News

This study focuses on online news media because that is where the Instagram effect on wilderness is being explored most frequently and substantively. This is not surprising given that environmental activists have historically explored the alternative avenue of online and other do- it-yourself forms of communication (DeLuca, 1999). This is due, in large part, to the lack of environmental attention from mainstream news outlets. Previous analyses (Cottle & Lester,

2011; Lester, 2010) have offered some insight as to why this is the case, all rooted in the political economic factors that influence journalism as a whole including media ownership, sourcing, and journalistic conventions of objectivity and balance. Due to the profit-driven, advertising- supported nature of journalism, news in the United States tends to cover business-related issues over others and paints industry favorably (Bettig, 2002; McChesney, 2004). The perspectives of environmental advocates or organizations that point out environmental harm are largely ignored by the corporate media as these instances directly challenge the status quo (Cottle & Lester,

2011; Lester, 2010; Lester & Hutchins, 2012) Additionally, there has been a general reduction in science coverage as well as a waning number of science sections in newspapers (Boykoff, 2007).

For these reasons, coverage of environmental issues in the news has been on the steady decline.

65 Additionally, journalistic norms stipulate that news tends to focus on the sensational, dramatic, or violent (Cottle, 2013). These frames do not always suit environmental issues that may occur slowly over the span of years such as climate change, habitat loss, or, as I will argue, the steady decrease in funding and federal support for land conservation. Some media scholars argue that, where mainstream media organizations have failed to convey environmental news,

“digital innovations such as YouTube and other video sites, blogging platforms, such as

WordPress, and social media such as Facebook and Reddit and Twitter have democratized the production and mass dissemination of media” (Boykoff & Yulsman, 2013, p. 363). Lester and

Hutchins (2012) argue that, when used effectively, “digital networked media tools allow activists to enter into news and information flows and overcome journalistic practices that may limit the reporting of their activities to less meaningful frames” (para. 2). Ultimately, Cottle (2013) asserts that digital technologies like the internet, mobile telephony, and social media create an age of connectivity in which environmental activists can avoid the corporate structures, market determinations, and democratic deficits of mainstream media. However, other critical communication scholars are reticent to accept social media as a panacea for all mass media woes.

Fuchs (2017) argues that “one should analyze the political economy of social media platforms when making judgements about their participatory character” (p. 3). It is not enough to stress the democratic merits of communicating environmental issues via alternative sources, especially as social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram exploit free labor to raise the profit rate in the digital media industry (Fuchs, 2017). Additionally, much of the scholarship surrounding media and the environment is dominated by research on content and representation, with much less attention devoted to infrastructural and production-related issues

(Christensen & Nilsson, 2018, p. 296). Despite gaining access to alternative modes of

66 communication, environmental activists remain at a disadvantage to powerful individuals who invest “heavily in public relations, image management, and/or the surveillance of opponents in order to combat unexpected criticism and embarrassing revelations before they event appear”

(Lester & Hutchin, 2012, para. 7).

As far as communication research is concerned, the scope of this study falls at a critical juncture. Political economic analyses of environmental news coverage of an issue as current and pressing as land conservation have the unique ability to temper web 2.0 optimism, examine the impacts of infrastructure and ownership on public consciousness, analyze environmental issues through the lens of morality and social totality, and finally, to move toward the praxis of social change. Ultimately, political economy of media is a normative science, built on the notion that scholars of this discipline may “evaluate whether particular ways of organizing, financing, and regulating media contribute to more free and democratic societies” (Corrigan, 2018, p. 2,752).

Where media systems fail to serve the public interest, political economy scholars strive to rework media and society to reflect more just and equitable ideals (Corrigan, 2018).

Maxwell’s Media Studies

Maxwell (2009) calls for communications scholars to interrogate the role of media as it relates to environmental issues. Maxwell goes on to provide avenues for this research that involve two areas of focus: the first concerns the material contribution of media technology to environmental harm. The second focuses on media representations of the environment and ecological crisis. Maxwell (2009) provides several changes to align media studies with critiquing the structures that lead to environmental crisis including: studying and publicizing the environmental burdens of media companies, technology, and content creation, pressing for an 67 more eco-centric view of the media, asking how much media is necessary to facilitate democracy, pleasure, and cultural resourcefulness, writing environmental science climatology and related ecological fields into media studies, and generating policy proposals for eco- egalitarian media regulation. At its core, Maxwell’s (2009) media studies moves environmental media scholars toward questioning the role of media in the ecological crisis and moving toward pragmatic solutions for the field of study and media industries.

I heed Maxwell’s call for ecologically focused research with this thesis by first focusing on the production related concerns of media’s contribution to environmental issues. I analyze ecological impacts primarily by examining media ownership and advertising mechanisms associated with each news source. The corporate owners of the news have implications for the frames presented in the news coverage. For example, if the owner of a particular newspaper is also invested in the fossil fuel industry, covering fossil fuels as drivers of climate change would represent a competing interest. Additionally, many news outlets are supported primarily by advertising revenue. Even if a particular news outlet occasionally reported on environmental issues, advertising would still likely contribute to the consumption of material goods that ultimately leads to environmental degradation through the use of resources and pollution.

Second, I analyze my selected texts through the second lens of how the media coverage itself represents the environment and the ecological crisis. Through close reading, I explore whether the news articles situate the Instagram effect in a larger context of ecological crisis.

Additionally, I analyze the ideologies perpetuated within each article regarding any wilderness- related or other political economic ideologies that emerge, making connections between these ideologies and the ownership and financing structure of the news articles. 68 Critical Textual Analysis

As a qualitative research method, textual analysis seeks to discover the ways in which

“particular cultures at particular times” interpret a given text (McKee, 2003, p. 1). Issues surrounding wilderness and access to the outdoors are steeped in society’s ongoing power relations. Critical textual analysis, guided by political economy theory, allows for in-depth analysis through the lens of Mosco’s (2009) four cornerstones of political economy previously discussed: history, social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis. In keeping with the qualitative research tradition, textual analysis necessarily includes an awareness of the role of the researcher and makes no claims about absolute truth or reality. Yet, critical textual analysis lends value to the scholarly process as it widens the scope of other qualitative textual analysis methods, such as qualitative analysis or discourse analysis, by taking into account the history and social totality of the wilderness issue in the United States. While qualitative content analysis and critical discourse analysis methods can offer an in-depth look at the meanings within certain texts or their language structures, critical textual analysis guided by a political economic framework avoids the criticism that “text-only analysis…does not integrate the concept or production” (Fursich, 2009, p. 238;

Philo, 2007).

With this critique in mind, I will analyze online news articles related to Instagram, geotagging, and wilderness through a critical lens to determine the nature and scope of the

“Instagram effect” as it is reported in the texts, as well as how the issues brought up in these texts reflect the larger political economy of wilderness access, news, and social media in the United

States. According to Fursich (2009), an analysis that connects textual elements with systemic features of power in society help explain how hegemonic power is performed and influences 69 meaning. Although this method captures only a brief moment in time, the benefits of critical textual analysis include supporting media literacy efforts by helping audiences see through the compliance of media institutions and journalists. “Textual analysis will always only be able to evaluate one stop in the circuit of culture” (Fursich, 2009, p. 250). However, as an answer to the positivist research paradigm, critical textual analysis has the unique ability to capture the totality of the way information is produced and argue for what ought to change to create a more just and equitable media landscape (Mosco, 2009).


In the following chapters, I examine online news articles related to Instagram, geotagging, and wilderness, primarily focusing on ownership and financing of the articles related to the Instagram effect, Instagram, and public lands. I also examine the sources quoted in each article and ideologies perpetuated within the articles. Google News and the Nexus Uni database were used to search for articles related to geotagging on Instagram in the outdoors. Although traditional archives such as Nexus Uni, NewsBank, and ProQuest are designed for academic use, more recently, research utilizing web-based news portals such as Google News have begun to shed new light on the limitations of traditional archives (Weaver & Bimber, 2008). Weaver and

Bimber’s (2008) study revealed that Google News found four times as many stories as Nexus

Uni (then called LexisNexis) and yielded more blog posts in its results than Nexus Uni. Because of the recency of my topic and my interest in alternative as well as mainstream news sources, I chose to supplement the results of my Nexus Uni search with Google News. I utilized a key word search of Instagram and geotag along with outdoors, wilderness, nature, and public lands between the years of 2016 and 2019, due to the recent and developing nature of the issue. This 70 search yielded 63 relevant articles for analysis. Although the focus of this analysis is public lands in the United States, an understanding of how the issue of the Instagram effect and the geotagging debate is being covered in international news outlets affords an opportunity to better understand the contours of the present debate. For this reason, I did not limit my search to United

States news outlets and captured ten international articles in my sample. In order to answer my research questions, I use the methods discussed in this chapter as well as the following resources:

1. What are the political economic factors that contribute to the Instagram effect at the

policy level?

In order to answer my first research question, I analyzed documents relating to the

sustainability and financing of media and governmental organizations that regulate public

lands and media institutions. Some examples of documents analyzed include: financial

statements from the four major agencies that manage public lands (the U.S. Department of

Interior, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service), annual congressional funding allocations to the Land and Water Conservation Fund

(the primary source of funding for public lands), information about conflicts of interest

amidst public land managers found on the Western Values Project’s Department of Influence

database, financial statements and meeting calendars of prominent land managers, FTC

statements about advertising disclosure on Instagram, Instagram’s terms of use and other

documents, and financial statements from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Education.

2. What are the ownership and advertising support structures of the news outlets

covering the Instagram effect and what role does ownership play in determining the

ideologies perpetuated in the news?

71 To answer this question, I interrogated the techno-optimistic claim that the internet allows for the possibility of more diverse sources of news. In Chapter Five, I traced the ownership of each source by utilizing Standard and Poor’s NetAdvantage database and any other publicly available information about news ownership online in order to determine whether ownership plays a role in pro-capitalist and other, wilderness-related ideologies within the news articles. Ideological themes were determined through a critical textual analysis of each article.

3. Who gets to speak in the news coverage of the Instagram effect and geotagging, and

why do they receive coverage over other sources?

I analyzed who gets to speak in news coverage of this issue and determined that, in fact, government officials are quoted most often. However, much of the government sources were managers like park rangers. I also explored how individuals representing environmental protection groups, or average citizens shaped the news. Examining sourcing trends in Chapter

Six reveals whether industry and/or political leaders receive more media attention than environmental groups, or average citizens and how sourcing impacted truth claims being made in the articles both by counting the amount of articles that quoted each type of source and analyzing what the sources said in the news.

4. What are the key components of the Instagram effect on public lands being reported

in online news media?

I use a combination of critical textual analysis and critical political economy to answer this question. Specifically, as suggested by the political economic literature outlined in this chapter, I determined whether the ideological focus of each article supports a pro- or anti- business stance and analyzed any other ideologies as they arose. Then, I made connections 72 between these ideologies and the political economic ties of the content owners, sources, and truth claims presented in the articles.

The following chapters will provide the analysis of the selected news articles described above. In Chapter Four, I begin exploring the political economic connections between the governing bodies that manage public lands and the media.



Using Mosco’s (2009) four cornerstones of political economy research as a guide, the preceding chapters explored the theoretical and historical foundations of the intersection between wilderness and media pertinent to this analysis. Continuing along the lines of this framework, this chapter moves to take a wholistic approach in exploring the social totality of public lands, teasing out the interplays among commodities, institutions, social relations, and hegemony. In doing so, this chapter answers my first research question: What are the political economic factors that contribute to the Instagram effect at the policy level? I work toward answering this question by probing structures of funding and policy that guide both the management of public lands and regulation of Instagram and its parent company, Facebook. First, a brief overview of the management agencies that oversee federal public lands in the Unites States is helpful in setting the stage for this analysis.

In the United States, four major federal land management agencies manage roughly 610 million acres of the 640 acres owned by the federal government. These agencies are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Park

Service (NPS) within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Forestry Service (USFS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Vincent et al., 2019). Despite the increasing focus on

Instagrammers’ role in the overuse of public lands, there are significant political economic problems that underlie the management of public lands at the policy level that may contribute as much or more to the degradation of public lands. Whereas the issue of Instagram-driven tourism

74 is hyper visual, the underlying structures and connections between the public officials that manage public lands, the policies that support (or do not support) land conservation efforts, and how those in positions of power have used the media to their benefit remain largely obscured.

In this chapter, I aim to probe the issues facing public lands that are less visible because issues of overuse ultimately speak to larger, more systemic problems; the fact that many public lands are unable to handle increased patronage is a symptom, rather than the disease itself. Some of the underlying political economic issues affecting public lands explored in this chapter include the revolving door of oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists that have been appointed for positions of power within the DOI, the political gridlock surrounding the Land and Water

Conservation Fund (LWCF), the considerable maintenance backlogs plaguing public lands including National Parks, and the push towards internet connectivity and cellular tower construction on public lands without proper public input.

Trump Era Controversy: Chaos in the Org Charts

Ryan Zinke’s Interior

On December 13, 2016, President-elect selected Ryan Zinke as his nominee for the position of Secretary of the Department of the Interior. As mentioned previously, three of the four major land management agencies fall within the DOI, including the

NPS, USFWS, and BLM. Therefore, the Secretary of the Interior exerts a great deal of influence over federally managed public lands in the United States. During Zinke’s tenure, there were numerous conflicts of interest and ethical violations, many of which led to demonstrable harm to

U.S. public lands (Zhang, 2018.).

75 Zinke’s ties to special interests are numerous and include oil, gas, and mining companies like Haliburton, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and the National Mining Association (Center for

Responsive Politics, 2016.; Ryan Zinke: Department of Influence, n.d.). Zinke also represents the revolving door of the oil and gas industry executives that make their way into the federal government. From 2008 to 2014, Zinke served as the CEO of Continental Divide International, a business development consulting company. According to licensing documents obtained by

Department of Influence researchers, Continental Divide International was required by a 2010 ordinance in the City of Whitefish to have a Home Occupation Business License but did not apply for the license until December 17, 2013. As such, Zinke’s company operated for years without the appropriate license from the city. A slew of other faulty business practices follows

Zinke including at least two businesses dissolved by the state of Montana for a failure to file proper reports and pay fees (O’Neil, 2017). Additionally, Zinke and his businesses have been delinquent on taxes numerous times, with two of their businesses on the Flathead County

Delinquent Tax List for more than $3,000 in unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest (O’Neil, 2017;

Ryan Zinke: Department of Influence, n.d.). However, when asked in a Congressional questionnaire during his nomination as Secretary of the Interior, Zinke said “no” to a question asking if he or his spouse had ever paid any tax penalties or been subject to other tax collection procedures (O’Neil, 2017).

Zinke’s numerous ties to the oil and gas industry remained concerning regarding his influence as Interior Secretary. Resource extraction is the out of sight and out of mind force that places many public lands in jeopardy. On a macro level, the extraction and use of fossil fuels has been linked to the deterioration of land and habitats of numerous species (Denchak, 2018). 76 According to a recent U.S. Geological Survey Report (2018), found that fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands in the United States constitutes nearly a quarter of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. On a more localized level, when oil and gas interests outweigh the other numerous uses outlined in the Department of Interior’s mission – including recreation and habitat conservation – the public interest is ignored in favor of supporting extractive industries

(Rasker, 2006; Weigel et al., 2017). While it is true that, oftentimes, public lands are reserved for multiple uses that include resource management and extraction, the current system is heavily tilted toward the oil and gas industry (Miller, 2020; Strategic Plan, 2018).

All told, Zinke has accepted more than $355,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry as well as another $31,000 from the coal industry from 2013 to 2018 (Center for

Responsive Politics, 2018). Top donors include a group of national and international fossil fuel energy corporations and advocacy organizations including: Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy,

Oasis Petroleum, Peabody Energy, Chevron, National Mining Association, Red Apple Group,

Federal Forest Resource Coalition, ExxonMobil Corporation, Marathon Oil Corporation,

Newfield Exploration Company, and Alpha Natural Resources. All of these corporations and groups have an express interested in resource extraction on public lands (Ryan Zinke:

Department of Influence, n.d.). After being confirmed as Interior Secretary, Zinke seemed to maintain strong ties with donors, evidenced by his attendance to numerous political events with industry donors (Lefebvre & Whieldon, 2017; Official Travel Schedule of the Secretary, 2017).

Zinke leaves a trail of deregulation and industry kickbacks in his wake at the Interior. In

2017, Zinke attended an industry “listening session” entitled, “Cut the Red Tape: Liberating

America from Bureaucracy,” at the White House. According to a video obtained by the 77 Washington Post, Zinke promised to be a partner to industry and apologized to Phil Baker, executive of Helca Mining Company, for federal regulations (Fears, 2018). In addition to being the President of Helca Mining Co., Baker is also the Chairman of the National Mining

Association, a trade organization that describes itself as the official voice of United States mining (National Mining Association, n.d.). Zinke and his replacement, David Bernhardt, have both participated in National Mining Association events (Eilperin & Grandoni, 2017). According to a Vox report in September of 2018, Zinke stated, “our government should work for you,” in a keynote address at the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association meeting (Irfan, 2018). Much of the information acquired about meetings between Zinke and oil, gas, and coal industry leaders was gathered from monthly calendars that the Department of Interior has released in response to

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. However, there have been several meetings that have been obscured or left off calendars despite the ethics concerns this raises (Ganim, Wallace,

& Kessler, 2018; Ganim & Wallace, 2018).

Also during his time as Secretary, Zinke seemed to undermine his own department by supporting President Trump’s 2018 budget request for the Bureau of Land Management, which proposed a thirteen percent cut from the 2017 budget overall, but included increases in the oil and gas management and coal management programs (President Trump Requests $11.6 Billion for Interior Department’s FY 2018 Budget, 2017). Furthermore, When President Trump signed the Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence, Zinke was quick to praise the action and, the following day, issued Secretarial Order No. 3349, thus revoking “the department’s policy on offsetting the development impacts on natural resources and ordered a review of all its rules on climate change, mitigation, and energy development” (Davenport & Rubin, 2017; Hiar, 78 2017, para. 4; Presidential Executive Order, 2017). Zinke also offered praise for President

Trump’s American Energy Executive Order, which directs the interior secretary to review and possibly rescind the ‘General Provisions and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights’ rules (also called

9B rules), which were finalized during the Obama administration with the intention of regulating drilling operations on national park land that had previously been exempt (Ryan Zinke:

Department of Influence, n.d.). After rescinding the rules, there are now 12 park properties wherein energy companies operate 534 oil and gas wells (Lund, 2017). Furthermore, in the ten months that Zinke served as Secretary, he met with extractive industry executives at least 33 times (O’Neil, 2018). But perhaps one of the more publicized issues that occurred during Zinke’s time as secretary was his review of national monuments.

Zinke’s National Monument Review

The public’s support for recreation opportunities on public lands has been demonstrated in numerous ways, including the steady climb of national park visits, geotag check-ins at protected areas, and high rates of intention to visit public lands (See America First: Public

Opinion and National Parks, 2013; Weigel et al., 2017). Despite this, Zinke oversaw “the largest reduction of federal protection in the nation’s history, including an effort to slash the size of

Bears Ears Monument” (Turkewitz, 2018, para. 3). Because of widespread support for parks and outdoor recreation opportunities, Zinke took to the media to advocate for Trump’s order to review the monument designations as well as defend his ultimate decision to reduce the size of

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments by 85% of their original acreage (Fox,

Tierney, Blanchard, & Florit, 2019). In a 2017 editorial, Zinke wrote, “President Barack Obama designated a 1.35 million acre national monument, Bears Ears, on his way out the door” and 79 argued that the Antiquities Act, which gives the president power to proclaim areas of federal lands as monuments, is a weapon being wielded by presidents to “arbitrarily restrict the uses of hundreds of thousands of acres of land to prevent uses like timber harvesting and cattle grazing”

(Zinke, 2017, para. 6-7). Zinke praised the decision as a victory for “local voices in Utah,” but neglected to mention that his rollback decision came on the heels of a concerted lobbying effort by Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium mining company, to repeal the monument designation within Bears Ears (Fox, Tierney, Blanchard, & Florit, 2019). Federal lobbying records show that

Energy Fuels Resources paid the team of lobbyists at Faegre Baker Daniels $30,000 between

January 1 and September 30, 2017 (Eilperin, 2017).

This is not the only instance of Zinke reframing unpopular decisions by exerting influence in the news. In 2018, Zinke and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander co-authored an editorial which stated that:

Every American should be able to enjoy our treasured parks, but heavy traffic and aging

infrastructure are taking a toll on America’s system of 417 National Park Service sites.

Bluntly, our parks are being loved to death and it’s time to invest in restoring and

preserving them for future generations. (Zinke & Alexander, 2018, para. 1)

Zinke and Alexander use their piece to call for support for their proposed National Park

Restoration Fund, which would use revenues from energy leases on all onshore and offshore sources of energy production on federal land, including oil, gas, coal, renewables, and alternative energy. Zinke and Alexander also compare their proposal to LWCF, which, at the time, had yet to receive permanent funding from Congress, not to mention frequently allowed for yearly substantial variations in the level of discretionary funding (Land and Water Conservation Fund, 80 2019). Yet, Zinke and Alexander called upon popular legislation as well as mentions of popular parks like Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone to drum up support for their proposal.

Of great importance to the issue at hand, Zinke and Alexander’s editorial also makes repeated attacks on technology use. The authors urge parents to “rescue children from their digital diet to feast on a world of natural splendor” (Zinke & Alexander, 2018. para. 12). They state, “In this connected age – where our attention is increasingly held hostage by the glowing pixels of a five-inch screen – unplugging, taking in the magnificent vistas of our national parks, and reconnecting with the beauty and wonder of the natural world is more important than ever”

(Zinke & Alexander, 2018, para. 11). As discussed in Chapter Two, this is certainly not the first mention of the phrase, “loved to death,” in the media, nor is it necessarily the first time anyone has argued that technology stands in the way of people’s relationships with nature. However, this argument is indicative of the kind of bait and switch tactics being used to divert the public’s attention away from the issue at hand - industry ties and a slew of deregulatory action within the

DOI – to a more familiar and palatable enemy: the mobile phone.

All of this is problematic as recent data suggests that national parks in the United States are disproportionately affected by climate change (Gonzalez et al., 2018). And, an overwhelming body of scientific literature has proven that the extraction and use of fossil fuel-based energy sources causes land degradation and contributes to climate change (Denchak, 2018). As Interior secretary, Zinke could have limited the oil, gas, and mineral extraction on public lands, but chose to serve the interests of the energy industry at the expense of public lands (Spencer, 2017). All the while, Zinke publicly decries the use of mobile phones in order to distract the public from more damning policy decisions being made within the Interior. 81 Zinke’s Replacement: David Bernhardt’s DOI

When Zinke resigned in January of 2019 due to ethics violations,12 David Bernhardt, previously the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, assumed the role of Acting Secretary. On March

8, 2019, President Trump then nominated Bernhardt as the new Secretary. Like his predecessor,

Bernhardt has considerable ties to extractive industries and worked previously as an oil and gas lobbyist (David Bernhardt: Department of Influence, n.d.).

Bernhardt’s career is marked by repeated passages through the revolving door between government and industry. Open Secrets published a graphic illustrating Bernhardt’s movement between industry and the federal government:

Figure 2. A graph charting David Bernhardt’s employment timeline, alternating between lobbying firms and the federal government. Taken from the Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/revolving/rev_summary.php?id=19180.

12 At the time of his resignation, Ryan Zinke was embroiled in numerous ethics investigations related to his real estate dealings in Montana and his conduct while in office. It is likely that Zinke lost the support of the Trump administration and began to face pressures to resign when the Interior’s inspector general referred one of its inquiries to the Justice Department, which examined whether a land development agreement that Zinke reached with the oilfield services corporation, Halliburton, constituted a conflict of interest (Montana Developer’s Emails with Secretary Zinke, 2017). 82 Much of Bernhardt’s lobbying work has been done on behalf of the oil & gas industry, the mining industry, and other energy corporations13 (Center for Responsive Politics, 2017). Because of his numerous ties to these industries, Bernhardt presents many of the same issues for the long- term conservation goals of the land management agencies within the DOI.

Bernhardt is also no stranger to utilizing the news to sway public opinion. In 2008, when

Bernhardt worked in the Bush administration, he wrote a series of memos outlining the official legal justification for limiting protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which were eventually leaked (Schoof, 2008). Bernhardt’s memo concluded that emissions from greenhouse gases from any proposed project cannot be proven to have an impact on species of habitat, so it is not necessary for federal agencies to consult with federal wildlife experts about the impacts of greenhouse gases on species protected under the ESA (Schoof, 2008). This greatly diminishes the regulatory power of one of the most landmark pieces of environmental legislation. Bernhardt went on to write an editorial in 2018 for the Washington Post that defends his more recent proposed rollbacks of the ESA (Bernhardt, 2018). The editorial uses familiar rhetoric, claiming that the ESA rollbacks will ultimately put power back in the hands of the states and “the local voice” much in the same way that Zinke claimed his national monument review returned power to local people (Bernhardt, 2018, para. 14).

13 Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist in the Energy/Environment/Resource Division of the Brownstein, Hyatt et al. lobbying firm from 2009 until his appointment to Secretary of the Interior in 2017. The DOI watchdog organization received the notecard that Bernhardt carries with him to keep track of former clients he is no longer permitted to work with while serving as Interior Secretary through a FOIA request. The notecard lists several former clients including the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Cobalt International Energy, and Haliburton Energy Services. The full Ethics Recusal notecard is available online here: https://departmentofinfluence.org/wp- content/uploads/2017/07/Screen-Shot-2019-02-12-at-11.41.05-AM.png 83 As evidenced by Zinke and Bernhardt’s numerous ties to extractive industries, the issues for the three land management agencies within the DOI start at the top; however, they certainly do not stop there. The following section highlights political economic issues facing the agencies within the DOI including the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the

Bureau of Land Management.

Inside the Department of the Interior: Deferred Maintenance, Funding Shortages, and

Conflicts of Interest

National Park Service

Of the four agencies that manage the majority of federal public lands, all four are currently experiencing deferred maintenance backlogs. That is, the Forest Service, National Park Service,

Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management do not receive sufficient funding to keep up with maintaining aging assets and infrastructure alongside increasing visitation rates

(Watkins, 2019). The 2019 Public Lands Report by the Property and Environment Research

Center illustrates how, despite a rise in the absolute number of people choosing to participate in outdoor recreation (rising from 136 million participants a decade ago to 146 million in 2017), the amount of federal funding that is ultimately spent on natural resources and the environment, including environmental protection and enhancement, recreation and wildlife areas, and management of land, water, and mineral resources owned by the federal government accounts for less than one percent of all federal outlays (Watkins, 2019).

The National Park Service (NPS) manages the smallest amount of land out of all four federal land management agencies (roughly 80 million acres) but reports the largest amount of deferred maintenance, estimating nearly $12 billion of maintenance needs accumulating across NPS- 84 managed sites (NPS Asset Inventory Summary, 2018). Recently, the NPS has experienced a historical leap in visitation, with park visitation numbers increasing fourfold since 1960.

Beginning in the late 1980s, park visitation began a steep climb with a 16% increase from 2013 to 2018. 2016 into 2017 saw systemwide visitation at all-time highs, with nearly 331 million visitors filtering through sites managed by the NPS (Watkins, 2019). The cause for record visitation during this time period may be partially attributed to the heavy marketing employed for the park service’s centennial celebration in 2016.

The park service’s centennial celebration included the wildly successful “Find Your Park /

Encuentra Tu Parque” marketing campaign (Find Your Park, 2018). Some have speculated that the park service rolled out the social media-friendly campaign specifically to increase millennial visitation within the parks (Jackson, 2015). FindYourPark.com was launched by the NPS as part of the campaign to provide a platform by which park visitors can upload photos and videos of their national park experiences in the hopes that these crowd-sourced curations might inspire a younger generation to explore the parks. The website also features a quiz that users can take that poses questions about ability level, interests, and current location to formulate suggestions for places to go within the park service. A visit to the website’s Download Center offers free guides, including “The Places Nobody Knows” guide to “off the beaten path parks” (Jackson, 2015). It seems that finding and sharing experiences in less-traversed places was one of the explicit purposes of the Find Your Park Campaign, which is notable considering the ‘loved to death’ claims with which this analysis is especially concerned.

It is also worth noting that the corporate sponsors of the campaign, which included

Budweiser, Hanes Brands Inc., L.L. Bean, Nature Valley, Subaru, Union Pacific, REI, and The 85 American Hiking Society, doubled down on the call for people to share their experiences in the parks on social media in the hopes of inspiring others. The American Hiking Society invited people to upload selfies while they hiked their favorite trails for a chance to be featured as the

“Face of Your Favorite Trail.” Subaru, the Japanese car manufacturer, stated in a 2016 press release that the company donated Outback vehicles for use at four national parks (Subaru of

America Partners with the National Park Foundation, 2016). Subaru has ties with the National

Park Foundation and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics that will be explored later in this chapter. However, for the sake of understanding the Find Your Park campaign, it is clear that corporate sponsors substantially contributed to the success of the campaign. On Instagram, the hashtag #FindYourPark has been used nearly 2 million times as of January, 2020, with new

#FindYourPark tagged photos being uploaded daily, even four years past the centennial.

Regarding the Instagram debate, some have claimed that Instagram influencers commodify parks and public lands. While this may be the case, there are already considerable corporate ties within the parks that may work to similar ends.

Nevertheless, after a successful centennial media campaign and record visitation, it seems contrary that the park service would be facing the unprecedented maintenance backlog that has left about 40 percent of paved roads in national parks in “poor” or “fair” condition and thousands of miles of trails within the parks rated as “poor” or “seriously deficient” (Fretwell, 2018; Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit, 2015; Watkins, 2019). The Find Your Park campaign also seems to run antithetically to the notion posed by former Secretary of the Interior,

Ryan Zinke, that smartphones (and the younger crowd that frequents these digital spaces) are to blame for the threadbare state of the national parks. To the contrary, the NPS, in conjunction 86 with the National Park Foundation and the aforementioned corporate sponsors, created the campaign designed to digitally highlight park experiences and increase park visitorship among the under 15 crowd (Bergeron & Redlitz, 2015). Considering the campaign’s success across all available metrics and a bump in park visitation to show for it, one could expect a decrease in the amount of deferred maintenance projects in the park. But in fact, the opposite is true. Despite increased park visits (meaning an increase in entrance fees collected at many national parks), the deferred maintenance backlog has remained constant at around $12 billion since 2009 (Watkins,

2019). Although there has been a great deal of handwringing over the Instagram effect on national parks and public lands in general, the data tell a different story of the struggling park service. Deferred maintenance peaked at nearly $13 billion in 2005, years before Instagram’s creation in 2010. And despite a relatively steady climb in park attendance, park revenue has not been able to overcome the deficiency of funding the parks receive from discretionary appropriations (Watkins, 2019). Furthermore, as evidenced by the 2016 Find Your Park campaign, the park service does not seem to have any interest in limiting park visitation or social media use within the parks. In fact, it seems that the opposite is true. The national park service, like the rest of the major land management agencies, maintains its own Instagram account that features photos of the parks (each one geotagged with the name of the park where the photo was taken), memes, and historical photos all accompanied with educational and light-hearted captions. The account boasts 2.3 million followers and posts content daily. It seems then, at least in the case of the park service, that the issue goes much deeper. Certainly, the NPS has not been immune to the leadership issues experienced across the DOI as evidenced by the following NPS leadership concerns. 87 P. Daniel Smith

In 2018, Zinke named P. Daniel Smith the new Acting Director of the National Park Service.

Smith, like Zinke and other DOI leadership, was embroiled in the revolving door, working as a

National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist from 1978-1980, then as the Assistant Director of

Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the NPS from 1982-1984, then serving as deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish Wildlife and Parks in 1986 (P. Daniel Smith:

Department of Influence, n.d.). From 1987 to 1997, Smith worked at the General Services

Administration and then served as a staff member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands until 1998. Under the Bush administration, Smith was appointed to the Interior

Department working as a special assistant to the then-National Park Service Director Fran

Mainella until 2004.

During this time period, Smith supported legislation that would make it easier to allow national gas pipelines to cross national parks (Investigative Report, 2006). Also during this time,

Smith received criticism for helping the Washington Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder, bypass environmental laws so he could cut down over 130 trees that were blocking the view of the

Potomac River from his home (Craig, 2006). After helping Snyder circumvent NPS procedures,

Smith was transferred to be Superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park where he worked until retirement in 2014 (Hotakainen, 2018; Paul Daniel Smith, n.d.). Also, according to a Washington Post report, Smith is currently under investigation by the Interior’s Office of

Inspector General for allegedly making a gesture involving his genitalia to another Interior employee (Grandoni, 2018). Despite these issues, Smith remained in the good graces of DOI

88 leadership. Much like Zinke and Bernhardt, Smith was also no stranger to using the media to bolster his public image.

During the 2019 government shutdown, the Trump administration made the controversial choice to leave the national parks open despite a lack of funding and staffing during the shutdown. In September of 2019, Smith contributed an opinion piece to The Hill titled, “Keeping

Your National Parks Accessible Even During a Government Shutdown” (Smith, 2019). In the piece, Smith argues that keeping the parks open during the shutdown was the administration’s attempt at answering “the call from the public and gateway communities to do whatever was in our power to maintain the American people’s access to their lands” (Smith, 2019, para. 10).

Despite dipping into Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) funds – a decision that garnered scrutiny from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO, 2019) – the park service was overwhelmed by the number of visitors during the shutdown. Without the proper resources or staffing, search-and-rescue efforts within the parks were delayed (Douce & Garder,


Unfortunately, during this time a man died chasing his dog on a trail near Nevada Fall in

Yosemite National Park. In a blog post by the National Parks Conservation Association, it was argued that, had there been appropriate staffing levels, the man may have survived because park staff would have been able to inform him that dogs are not permitted on most of the trails in

Yosemite (Douce & Garder, 2019). Additionally, the National Parks Conservation Association estimated that, during the shutdown, the NPS lost $400,000 per day in uncollected entrance fee revenue, ultimately harming some of the largest and most popular parks in the NPS like Zion,

Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone, which keep up to 80% of their entrance fee revenue for their 89 operating budgets (Douce & Garder, 2019). The shutdown was costly but was a decision that was ultimately supported by Smith who took to The Hill with the express aim of shaping public opinion regarding a controversial decision made by the Trump administration.

David Vela

In 2018, a press release by the DOI announced Trump’s nomination of David Vela for the position of director of the NPS (Secretary Zinke Applauds Nomination of David Vela for

National Park Service Director, 2018). Then Secretary of the Interior, Zinke, applauded the decision, stating in a press release that, “David Vela has demonstrated all of the ideals that the

National Park Service stands for, and his long track record of leadership on behalf of the people and places of the National Park Service distinguish him as the right man for the job” (Secretary

Zinke Applauds Nomination of David Vela, 2018, para. 2). However, much like his predecessor,

Smith, Vela has not always acted in accordance with NPS procedures.

For instance, when he was the Director of the Southeast Region of the NPS, Vela repeatedly failed to follow procedures that would increase public awareness and input into NPS policies. When he tried to open 40,000 acres of “addition lands” for off-road vehicle use in Big

Cypress National Preserve, he submitted a request to the Director of NPS to “waive a section of the National Park Service’s Management Policies pertaining to wilderness-quality landscapes” so that off-road vehicles could traverse some 147,000 acres that were added to the preserve in 1996

(Rapenshek, 2018, para. 6). After his request was denied, Vela ordered a new Wilderness

Eligibility Assessment (WEA) and failed to give adequate public notice or foster public participation (David Vela: Department of Influence, n.d.). Although the WEA allegedly contained “a series of unsupported declarations without citing authority or data,” Vela made a 90 second waiver request that was approved by then-NPS Deputy Director Dan Wenk (David Vela, n.d., para. 5). This request was not in accordance with a specific section of the 2006

Management Policies, which stated that, “The National Park Service will take no action that would diminish the wilderness eligibility of an area possessing wilderness characteristics until the legislative process of wilderness designation has been completed” (NPS Management

Chapter on Wilderness Policy, 2006, para. 22).

Again, in 2017, Public Employees for Environmental Protection (PEER) claimed that, when Vela was serving as the Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, he failed to follow procedures to ensure public notification prior to the construction of a cell tower within 10 days of the initial application (Rapenshek, 2018). According to PEER, Grand Teton National Park had received applications to build cell towers since 2013, but the public notice did not appear until

2015 and further asserted that Grand Teton also failed to comply with Section 106 of the

National Historic Preservation Act (NEPA), which requires public comment periods early in the planning process (NEPA and NHPA, 2013).

Aside from this instance, the increasing construction of cell towers within national parks highlights a preference for the telecommunication industry that runs deep throughout the DOI

(Stade, 2019). In a 2019 press release, PEER reported that an Inspector General report found

“widespread malfeasance in park management of commercial cellular facilities, citing failure to comply with environmental laws, collect the proper revenue, and involve the public in required planning processes” (Office of Inspector General, 2019; Stade, 2019, para. 2). Just days after this report, the National Park Service greenlit the construction of more cell towers in Grand Teton,

Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Crater Lake, Lake Mead, and Bryce Canyon National 91 Parks. In Yellowstone National Park, an internal email between Yellowstone NP employees revealed that hiking trails were closed for the summer of 2017 in order for Verizon to multiply its capacity in the park (Bullet About Cell Coverage, 2017). The PEER Executive Director, Jeff

Ruch, stated that, “[Yellowstone’s] telecommunications planning has been completely captured by Verizon, CenturyLink, and AT&T” (Stade, 2018, para. 8).

Increased cell tower expansion comes on the heels of former NPS director Jon Jarvis’ commitment to provide free public Wi-Fi in all national park visitor centers by of 2016 in light of the NPS centennial. Following this commitment, a 2016 letter from Congress to

President Obama reveals that five members of Congress “recommend a significant funding increase for wireline and wireless telecommunications and broadband services within our nation’s National Parks” (Congress of the United States Letter, 2016, para. 1). A search of the five signing Congressional members on OpenSecrets.org revealed that four out of five received campaign contributions from the telecommunication industry or organizations representing the industry during their 2016 campaigns.14 Additionally, The National Park Service has publicly touted that they are open for business with the telecommunications industry. On the NPS website, the page “Cellular & Internet Access in National Parks” features prominent information for businesses interested in providing broadband service within national parks, providing a link to the NPS Right-of-Way permitting page. Although PEER has raised concerns about cell tower

14 The four Congressional members included Jared Huffman, Niki Tsongas, Raul Grijalva, and Derek Kilmer. According to opensecrets.org, in the 2016 election cycle, Huffman received $2,000 from Verizon. Tsongas received another $3,000 from Verizon. Grijalva received $3,000 from CenturyLink and another $1,000 from Verizon. Finally, Kilmer received $10,500 from Comcast and $6,000 from Verizon. 92 construction within national parks, the telecommunications industry’s contributions to elected officials is certainly notable in the NPS’ decision to move forward with cellular expansion.

In addition to the other concerns regarding industry ties, in 2015, the news broke that an

Inspector General report found that between 2011 and 2014, while Vela was working as

Superintendent at Grand Teton National Park, the park was improperly allowing government officials to use Brinkerhoff Lodge as a low or no-cost vacation spot (Koshmrl, 2015). Jackson

Hole News and Guide reported that, between 2011 and 2014, “guests of the historic cabin near

Jackson Lake Dam were billed just 15 percent of the time,” ultimately costing the park $29,000 in lost revenue (Koshmrl, 2015, para. 2).

These actions demonstrate a preference for industry and political gain over serving the public interest. As national parks face increasing concerns over funding allocation, it seems counterintuitive that Vela would deprive Grand Teton National Park of revenues associated with the Jackson Lake Dam cabin. These actions signify the emergence of a pattern among the leadership of land management agencies: one in which industry is prioritized higher than the general public.

Fish & Wildlife

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is unique among the land management agencies because its primary mission is to conserve plants and animals, although other uses, including recreation, are permitted so long as they do not infringe upon the prime conservation mission (Federal Land Ownership Overview and Data, 2020; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mission Statement, n.d.). USFWS manages 460 wildlife refuges that are also open to the public and reports a deferred maintenance backlog of $1.4 billion (Watkins, 2019). Funding challenges 93 alongside weakened environmental protections under President Trump’s administration, have weakened the USFWS’ ability to fulfill its mission (Fears & Eilperin, 2020; Warrenton, 2020).

This has become more apparent in the wake of the Trump administration’s changes to the

Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In 2017, the DOI Office of the Solicitor released an opinion that it would no longer prosecutive oil and gas, wind, and solar operators that accidentally kill migratory birds (Solicitor’s Opinion, 2017). A search of Trump’s nominee for the position of the

Interior’s principle deputy solicitor, Daniel Jorjani, reveals that Jorjani previously worked for the oil and gas industry as one of the highest paid employees within the Koch network (Surgey,

2013). Additionally, a review of Jorjani’s schedule in the months leading up to the decision revealed that Jorjani was in communication with numerous industry lobbyists, consultants, lawyers, and trade groups between May and October of 2017 (Jorjani Schedule, 2017). It is perhaps not surprising then that oil and gas industry groups praised Jorjani’s decision to loosen the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (Tobias, 2018). These events reinforce the notion that industry leaders are consistently granted access to DOI leadership within Trump’s Interior even within an agency expressly committed to conservation goals.

Bureau of Land Management

Out of all of the agencies that manage federal lands, the BLM is the largest, managing nearly 250 million acres across the United States (Watkins, 2019). Unlike the NPS or USFWS, the BLM’s mission is not expressly concerned with conservation, but rather takes a “multiple-use and sustained yield” approach (About the Bureau of Land Management, n.d.). That is to say,

Congress has tasked the BLM with managing public lands, mostly in the Western United States for multiple uses including energy development, livestock grazing, recreation, and timber 94 harvesting. However, none of these uses are to supersede the BLM’s charge to ensure “natural, cultural, and historic resources are maintained for present and future use” (About the BLM, n.d., para. 2).

However, helmed by DOI leadership that has repeatedly focused on allowing energy extraction and public grazing on much of the BLM-managed areas, the BLM has experienced quite a bit of controversy in recent years (Ketcham, 2019). The Wilderness Society released a new analysis that shows the BLM favors the oil and gas industry over its other designated uses, stating, “90 percent of our public lands are available to oil and gas drillers while only 10 percent are available for a focus on conservation and other values including recreation and wilderness”

(Open for Business, 2019, para. 1). The Wilderness Society further asserts that preference for opening up federal lands for resource extraction goes against the Federal Land Policy and

Management Act, which directs the BLM to manage all public lands for conservation in tandem with energy development.

In addition to these issues, the BLM also has a deferred maintenance backlog that has grown by 65% over the past decade and is currently estimated at $810 million (Watkins, 2019).

Three quarters of the BLM’s deferred maintenance projects consists of repairs to roads, bridges and trails, i.e., the infrastructure required for public access (Deferred Maintenance of Federal

Land Management Agencies, 2017). The BLM manages 4,000 recreation sites and receives about 67 million visits annually – a 30% increase since 2001 – and yet, appropriations for recreation management have decreased by 16% since 2001 (Watkins, 2019). During a time when land managers are lamenting the overcrowded nature of parks and wilderness areas, there ought to be more focus on managing land for recreational purposes, not less as BLM lands present 95 great opportunities for dispersed recreation, possibly easing the burden of overcrowding within nearby national and state parks.

Of the four federal land management agencies, the NPS, FWS, and BLM are all within the Department of the Interior. The preceding section explored the funding and management challenges that face the NPS, FWS, and BLM as they relate to DOI leadership. The Forest

Service (USFS), however, falls under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture and so has a different management structure and some unique challenges that are also worth exploring. The following section details the management policies that guide the final federal land management agency, the United States Forest Service.

Inside the Department of Agriculture & the Forest Service

The Forest Service, like the BLM, is dictated by a multi-use philosophy and manages more than 190 million acres for such uses as timber harvesting, livestock grazing, wildlife and fish habitat, and recreation (Federal Land Ownership Overview and Data, 2020). The USFS currently reports a deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $5.5 billion, including $279 million in unfunded trail repairs. Despite the fact that the Forest Service falls under a different departmental umbrella, similar concerns as those raised within the DOI still persist. Many of these concerns are centered around Trump’s nomination of Sonny Perdue to serve as Secretary of the USDA.

President Trump’s choice to nominate Perdue to oversee the USFS raises a few red flags based on Perdue’s environmental record. While he was serving as the Governor of Georgia in

2004, Perdue sued the EPA to challenge stricter environmental regulations over the sale of reformulated gasoline (Statement of Governor Sonny Perdue, 2004). Likewise, Perdue also has a 96 history of climate change denial. In 2014, he wrote an opinion piece for the National Review in which he accuses the left and the mainstream media of incorrectly attributing weather patterns to climate change (Perdue, 2014). While Perdue publicly denounced climate science in the news, he maintained ties with environmentally damaging industries including big agribusiness and the chemical industry (Center for Responsive Politics, 2020). These ties to environmentally harmful industries mirror those found within the DOI and present numerous problems for a Department that oversees land management, as a prioritization of industry interests can foul on the basis of protecting land in the public interest. This has become apparent in Secretary Perdue’s choice of

Vicki Christiansen to head the Forest Service.

The leadership of the USDA is deeply important in guiding the USFS leadership and philosophy. In 2018, Secretary Perdue swore in Christiansen (Secretary Perdue Announces Vicki

Christiansen as New Forest Service Chief, 2018). Less than a year later, Christiansen made a non-publicized visit to the United States’ largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in

Alaska, to address the concerns of the timber industry. Timber industry representatives claimed that they did not have enough access to log old growth trees in the national forest (Resneck,

2019). This has been an issue at the heart of the Forest Service following Donald Trump’s controversial order to reopen 9.5 million acres of the national forest to old growth logging

(Eilperin & Dawsey, 2019). Following her visit to Alaska in the summer of 2019, Christiansen was praised by Frank Roppel, a veteran member of Southeast Alaska’s logging industry, for aligning herself with Trump in the defense of the industry (Resneck, 2019). By showing a preference for industry interests within the USFS, Christiansen set a precedent for prioritizing

97 these interests over other, competing interests like public access to recreation opportunities within national forests.

Also of note in the discussion surrounding social media’s impacts on public lands, the

Forest Service has used social media to its own advantage, though the USFS tactics differ slightly from the NPS’ social media marketing campaigns. Like many BLM sites, many of the

Forest Service’s access points are dispersed areas without controlled entry. However, as general trends across the rest of the land management agencies show an increase in recreational visits and land use, data on these recreational visits are critical in informing policy decisions, especially in an environment with already limited funds (Hamstead et al., 2018). Since 2000, the

USFS has relied on the National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) Program to count and characterize recreation use. However, the USFS has recently begun using social media data to measure recreational visits to forests (Hamstead et al., 2018). In the study by Hamstead et al.

(2018), researchers used geotagged photos posted to Flickr to estimate visitation rates based on the density of the geotagged photos. A comparison of the social media data with the NVUM results from national forests across the U.S. illustrated just how accurate user generated data can be. The researchers found a strong correlation (r=.80) between the volume of social media posts and the popularity of certain FS sites (Hamstead et al., 2018). In this case, rather than just being a hinderance as has been suggested in popular media, geotagged photos can also be a source for helpful data for other management agencies.

The Instagram Problem?

The Instagram effect is poised at the crossroads of very invisible and very visible problems facing public lands. Although later chapters work toward determining the extent and 98 scope of the Instagram effect on public lands as the issue is reported in the news, it is important to examine the underlying political economic structures both of the governing bodies that manage public lands and those that manage Instagram because, as Mosco (2009) suggests, political economy research must take the political economic structures that support media into account. This chapter has illustrated that there are numerous financial issues plaguing land conservation efforts in the United States and social media’s role as both another source of strain on already overburdened land managers and a tool that could help land managers learn more about use patterns on parcels of public lands. However, despite the NPS’ success in using social media to spark more park visits or the Forest Service’s usage of geotags to understand forest use, this is not a vindication for the social media giant, Instagram. Although the later chapters provide a clearer understanding of just what the Instagram effect is as it is reported in the news, an investigation of Instagram’s business practices can reveal problems that may emerge when

Instagram has been shown to harm members of the public.

Instagram’s Corporate History

As discussed in Chapter Three, this thesis predominantly focuses on the political economy of news as it relates to Instagram’s reported impacts on public lands. However, because

Instagram is also a point of focus, it is worth briefly probing the organizational structure of

Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, to give context to the issue at hand and to question some of the techno-optimistic claims surrounding social media brought up in previous chapters.

Instagram is an increasingly large player in the social media landscape and has become the world’s most-used photo sharing platform (Ahmed, 2015). After launching in 2010,

Instagram grew quickly, amassing over a million user accounts in its first two years online. In 99 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion (Proposed Acquisition of Instagram, 2012).

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram marked a notable shift in Facebook’s acquisition strategy15; while several other tech companies acquired by Facebook were dissolved, Facebook invested in

Instagram in order to grow the platform. Regarding Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, there may be a concern that massive, integrated tech companies may be nearly impervious to any kind of regulation that governments could impose upon them. To illustrate this point, in 2019, the

FTC fined Facebook $5 billion in the largest penalty ever imposed on a company for mishandling users’ personal information (Kang, 2019). Despite the fact that a penalty of this magnitude was unprecedented, it did not prove damning for Facebook. In July of 2019, when the fine was announced, Facebook was worth approximately $584 billion. In this way, government fines may just be the cost of doing business for large tech conglomerates, making them relatively unaffected by regulatory efforts. Now that Instagram operates under Facebook’s ownership, it may be shielded in a similar way from government regulation.

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram also marks a notable shift in Facebook’s acquisition strategy as, prior to Instagram, Facebook bought a number of smaller tech start-ups that were ultimately dissolved following acquisition (See Appendix B for the full list of Facebook acquisitions). Instagram is different in that it remained an open platform for users, though it did adopt many of Facebook’s advertising management tools (Instagram Ads, 2015). In 2013,

Instagram transitioned into an advertising platform, “which resulted in the commodification of user activity in order for advertisers to better direct advertisement at specific audiences”

15 See Appendix B for a full list of Facebook’s acquisitions. 100 (Cwynar-Horta, 2016, p. 36). Like Facebook, Instagram offers the use of its platform for “free” and generates a profit via the sale of user data to advertisers.

In the future, this will become of increasing importance, not simply because of matters of privacy and data management, but due to the ongoing environmental and public health concerns being raised surrounding the platform. Despite the media attention the Instagram effect has been generating, there has been no official word from Instagram regarding its impacts, either real or perceived on public lands. However, Instagram has come under fire before for arguably endangering the public health. If the claims that Instagram use in national parks has led to injury or death, perhaps these other instances may serve as models for how to regulate Instagram in the public interest in the future.

Instagram and Public Health

Toward the end of 2019, Instagram announced that it would step in to regulate influencer advertising after Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled that influencer marketing could not be used to advertise e-cigarettes (Fair, 2019). Instagram stated in a blog post that, “branded content that promotes goods such as alcohol or diet supplements will require special restrictions”

(Instagram Announcement, 2019, para. 9). Despite Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012,

Instagram still allows users to operate sponsored content outside of the Facebook ad-buying system, thus circumventing a great deal of the company’s advertising oversight. This issue caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which, as of October, 2019, issued orders to six e-cigarette manufacturers seeking information about the companies’ sales, advertising, and promotional methods (FTC to Study E-Cigarette Manufacturers’ Sales, 2019).

101 While the FTC continues to pressure Instagram to regulate the advertisement of vaping and other tobacco products on the platform, Instagram has also struggled to regulate suicide and self-harm content on the platform (Hern, 2019). After Molly Russell, 14, committed suicide, her father, Ian Russell, called for Instagram to extend its ban on graphic images and self-harm to all depictions of self-harm content (Hern, 2019). After Molly’s death, Instagram CEO Adam

Mosseri wrote an opinion piece in The Telegraph titled, “Our Commitment to Protect the Most

Vulnerable on Instagram.” In the piece, Mosseri says he has been “deeply moved” by the stories about Molly Russell and other families affected by self-harm (Mosseri, 2019, para. 1). Mosseri makes the case that it is difficult for Instagram to police every post, despite the fact that graphic images and images depicting or referencing self-harm go against the platform’s guidelines, and that Instagram users must report this content if they see it (Mosseri, 2019). However, the responsibility for finding and reporting self-harm content should not be the sole responsibility of

Instagram users because the Instagram algorithm, according to Ian Russell, had a great deal of influence in the events leading up to Molly’s suicide (Hern, 2019).

In 2016, Instagram announced that users’ feeds would be reordered “to show the moments we believe you care about the most” (Instagram Announcement, 2016, para. 1). This announcement referred to the new proprietary algorithm that Instagram would use to rank images on users’ feeds based on content they had interacted with before. Media scholars have found that algorithms play an important role in structuring online experiences (Bucher, 2012; Gillespie,

2014). Algorithms run in the background to prioritize what content is seen and what is buried beneath other posts. Bucher (2012) argued that social media algorithms make assumptions about relevancy of certain content. In cases like Molly’s, because she interacted with self-harm content, 102 every time she opened the Instagram app, she was likely to see more of the same type of content.

Algorithm culture pervades every aspect of interacting with a site like Instagram and this has had implications for Instagram use in the outdoors as well.

Death by Selfie

After the death of Molly Russell, Instagram tightened community guidelines. However, there have been several deaths that have occurred on public lands that have been attributed to taking photos for social media, Instagram included. Selfies that cause the death of those taking them are referred to in the literature as “killfiles,” and many of them have happened trying to get the shot on federally managed public lands (Bhatnagar et al., 2017; Nanda et al., 2018). A study conducted in Yellowstone National Park found that a common reason for people to approach bison was to take or pose for a photo with the animal (Cherry et al., 2018). The same study reported that about half (48%) of the injuries that occurred in Yellowstone from 2000 to 2015 involved photography, whereas from 1980 to 1999, only 29% of injuries were attributed to the same cause.

In 2018, Colorado State University faculty and students undertook a project to develop a campaign to keep visitors from approaching wildlife at three targeted locations: Assateague

Island National Seashore, Grand Canyon National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park

(Dodge, 2018). The campaign offered concrete tips to keep people at a safe distance from wildlife including:

Follow the rule of thumb: if you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb you’re

at a safe distance. This distance is usually 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards

from large wildlife. Use binoculars or a camera with zoom to view animals from a safe 103 distance. To steady your shot, rest your elbows on your ribcage or knees. (Dodge, 2018,

para. 10)

While the paper outlining the results of the campaign is still going through the publication process, it is clear that there is a need for intervention strategies to keep people, wildlife, and the land safe at national parks and other federally managed sites. The question remains, in an environment in which public lands are underfunded, whose responsibility is it to keep the public safe? In other instances, Instagram has been pressured by the federal government to change its guidelines and policies to better protect public health. Yet, unlike in cases of images depicting self-harm or vaping, Instagram likely cannot blanket-ban all posts depicting dangerous behavior outdoors.

At this point, it may be helpful to return to the discussion in the previous chapter about social media’s capitalization on unpaid labor and the rise of the prosumer. Ultimately, what drives many people to take deadly selfies or post photos of their latest outdoor adventures is what

Zulli (2017) calls the “attention economy,” which hails attention as the most valuable commodity on social media platforms (p.138). In 2014, researchers Hu, Manikonda, and Kambhampati conducted an exploratory analysis of images being shared on Instagram and found that selfies and friend photos dominated Instagram feeds, followed by activities. Certainly, a selfie at the

Grand Canyon is sure to spark wanderlust amongst followers and capture the fleeting attention of other users, which is then quantified in likes, followers, and views. Often, these arbitrary measures of attention are the only compensation users are awarded for their time on the platform, thus leading to Fuch’s (2017) claim that Instagram and other social media platforms capitalize on

104 the unpaid labor of users. However, in the case of influencers, the ‘attention economy’ is capitalized upon for monetary gain.

Who are the Influencers?

One consequence of the ‘attention economy’ has been the proliferation of ‘influencer commerce’ wherein social media prosumers work to generate digital content to capture the attention of their social media following and thus capitalize on attention by selling products or services to their audiences (Drenten et al., 2019). Influencers are a type of ‘microcelebrity’ and work to hold their audience’s attention as it can be marketized and financed through metrics like click-throughs, likes, views, and shares on social media (Terranova, 2012). As of 2018, influencer marketing on social media is a multi-billion dollar industry, with $1.6 billion spent by advertisers on Instagram alone (The Influencer Marketing Industry Global Ad Spend, 2018). It has been noted that, “due to Instagram’s capacity for facilitating semi-professional looking photographs, scholars are now questioning the distinction between amateur and professional photographer” (Alper, 2014; Zulli, 2017, p. 141). Furthermore, as discussed in Chapter Three, for individuals who gain monetarily as influencers on social media, a degree of marketing tactics find their way into online relationships and social behavior (Fuchs, 2017). And, even for those who do not make money from Instagram, success on the platform is still predicated on

“marketization, commodification, and capitalization of the self” (Fuchs, 2017, p. 36). This, in turn, leaves some room for debate: who counts as an influencer? This grey area has proven problematic in regulating sponsored posts on Instagram. Despite repeated statements from the

105 FTC16 urging influencers to properly disclose sponsored posts, the enforcement of advertising disclosure remains tepid (Lee, 2020). In addition to the challenges faced by the FTC in regulating influencers, the unclear world of influencer advertising has also made pursuing commercial use permits on public lands more difficult.

Hemorrhaging Money: Instagram and Commercial Photo Permits

A likely reason that there has been little action on regulating influencer advertising on public lands is the increasingly murky status of “commercial photography” especially within the national park system and the national forests. Public Law 106-206, passed in May of 2000, directed the Secretaries of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to require a permit and establish a reasonable fee for commercial film and photography activities on federal lands within their respective jurisdictions (Filming in National Parks, 2007). To date, the fees collected from commercial film/photography permits on federal lands remain within the agencies to be used at the Secretaries’ discretion (Filming in National Parks, 2007). The law also requires that the

Secretary should not permit any filming or photography activity if he or she determines there is a likelihood of resource damage, an unreasonable disruption of the public’s use and enjoyment of the site, or the activity poses health or safety risks to the public (Filming in National Parks, 2007;

Public Law 106-206).

16 Amidst a slew of undisclosed advertisements on Instagram, the FTC released a statement in 2017 reminding influencers and marketers who hire influencers of the 2009 endorsement guides. In addition to the statement, the FTC also sent out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that influencers must clearly and conspicuously disclose the business relationships with brands when promoting or endorsing products on social media. The problem persisted, prompting the FTC to release additional advertising disclosure guidance for online influencers in 2019. In 2020, the FTC voted 5-0 to approve a Federal Register notice to seek public comment on whether the 2009 endorsement guides ought to be reviewed and updated given the ongoing nature of the problem. 106 With the rise of Instagram use on public lands, the question of what is commercial photography has become muddled along with some of the other aspects of Public Law 106-206, such as at what point photography or videography on federal lands contributes to resource damage or an unreasonable disruption in the public’s use of the land. In cases like the

Instagrammer Casey Nocket, the case was fairly clear. Nocket posted a series of photos on her

Instagram account showing acrylic portraits that she had painted on rock faces in national parks across the country (Schaffer, 2015). Nocket was investigated by the NPS for vandalism and violation of Public Law 106-206. Nocket’s case is one where there was a clear intent to damage resources within national parks for commercial gain. However, there are conceivably thousands of other photos taken on public lands and posted for commercial purposes that go unacknowledged by an understaffed and underfunded Interior (Schaffer, 2015). With social media like Instagram, it is increasingly hard to tell what posts are commercial in nature despite repeated warnings from the FTC that influencers must disclose when they are being paid to promote a product (Disclosures 101 for Influencers, 2019). What’s more, because any post on

Instagram or any major social media app could have ads run against them, arguably all photos posted on social media could be considered commercial (Schaffer, 2015).

The current stance taken by the NPS/USFS is that these agencies will not prosecute commercial photography even if it was clearly posted on social media without some other violation occurring in the photo such as a depiction of an illegal campfire or drone shot.

However, influencers – whether they have 100 or 100,000 followers – almost always stand to commercially gain from photographing or filming on public lands because of the revenue that is generated from page clicks and engagement alone. And, although each individual photo might 107 not necessarily harm the landscape, in cases like Walker Canyon, a group of separate influencers all had a hand in causing damage to the poppy fields (Stone, 2019). Subsequent chapters explore the extent of Instagram use on public lands as the issue is reported in the news. In gaining a more complete understanding of the problem, it may be possible to make a more informed determination of whether it is worth the time and resources of the Interior and USDA to pursue commercial photography that occurs on public lands without a permit. However, in the complicated political web of the land management agencies, this is no small task.

Are Influencers to Blame for Commodifying Public Lands?

An editorial that was published by The Hill confidently states in the headline,

‘Influencers’ Are Ruining Public Lands – All for Instagram Photo Ops (Riley-Topping, 2020).

The piece laments that the FTC guidelines that regulate Instagram’s advertising practices do not cover other “aspects of influence that extend far beyond product placements” (Riley-Topping,

2020, para. 5). The author questions how the United States should regulate influencers so that they behave responsibly and even argues that, “The most obvious example of influencers misbehaving can be seen on the impact of our public lands,” (para. 7). To make her case, the author mentions familiar cases of influencers using the poppy super bloom as a product backdrop

(Riley-Topping, 2020, para. 7). Issues highlighted in the piece are certainly happening: there are photos to prove that people take their dogs on trails where pets are not permitted, or fly drones in areas that are banned for drone use. However, the question of what to do about it remains. Then, the article mentions a voice that has been at the forefront of the Instagram debate: the anonymous user who goes by the pseudonym, Steve, behind the Instagram account @PublicLandsHateYou.

108 Public Lands Hate You arose out of the controversy surrounding the super bloom in

Walker Canyon, California, and has persisted to amass 69,000 followers on Instagram as of

January 2020 when The Hill ran this editorial. Public Lands Hate You uses call-out culture17 as a means to change the behavior of those whom Steve perceives to be interacting with public lands improperly on Instagram. The @PublicLandsHateYou Instagram account’s bio reads, “People

‘doing it for the gram’ are prioritizing profit, fame, and ‘rad pics’ over the health and future of your public lands. Who else is fed up?” Just a quick glance at his Instagram bio makes it clear that Steve is not pleased with how Instagram influencers are seemingly destroying public lands for credibility and cash. And it seems that Steve has a good deal of support. A recent post on the

Public Lands Hate You account expresses pleasure for the editorial coverage Public Lands Hate

You received in The Hill and praises conservative writer, Rory Riley-Topping, for standing behind the Public Lands Hate You account. The caption praises Riley-Topping for laying out a possible solution in her piece: she encourages the House and Senate Committees on Natural

Resources to hold oversight hearings to investigate the negative impacts of social media influencers on public lands. Steve offers commentary, stating, “I don’t know what this might accomplish but it’s something new and I’m willing to give it a shot!” (Public Lands Hate You

2020b, para. 5). The caption then calls for a visit to Steve’s website where anyone can access scripts that can be used to email/call the committees mentioned by Riley-Topping. In this instance, the lines are blurred between the news, Instagram, public lands, and policies that

17 Briefly, call-out culture, also called outrage culture, is defined as a form of public shaming that aims to hold others accountable for actions or statements perceived to be offensive or problematic, usually on social media (Huffman, 2016; Melo, 2019). 109 underlie these institutions. Many of the other posts on the Public Lands Hate You account simply post pictures of influencers who seem to be breaking the rules on public lands. A point of tension exists in the methods that Steve uses to carry out his mission. In these posts, Steve often encourages his followers to “call out” the behavior by commenting and messaging the offending

Instagrammer, which, in some instances, has resulted in his almost 70,000 follower-strong base flooding other Instagram users’ inboxes with death threats and other violent language that would seem to violate Instagram’s anti-bullying policies (Mosseri, 2019b). However, in the absence of direct action from Instagram, it is likely that Public Lands Hate You will persist.

The roll of Public Lands Hate You and accounts like it18 will continue to be an important component of understanding the Instagram effect as they afford a look at how call-out culture shapes technologically mediated interactions with the outdoors. Also, as will be discussed later in this chapter, Steve has broadened his approach in recent months, shifting his focus from calling out induvial influencers to probing the corporate structure of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Specifically, Steve questions the interplay between the powerful outdoor recreation industry and the Leave No Trace Center. Before addressing these concerns, it is important to examine the role of the outdoor industry as it both alleviates and compounds current problems facing public lands. Although neither the Leave No Trace Center nor the outdoor industry manage public lands, both have significant ties to policy decisions made regarding public lands. The Leave No Trace Center defines the best practices for public interactions with

18 @PublicLandsHateYou is far from the only outdoors-focused “call-out” account. Others include @Insta_Repeat, an account that posts composite images of outdoor photos that look very similar to one another to highlight ‘cliché’ outdoor images. Another account, @YouDidNotSleepThere, re-posts photos posted on Instagram where tents are placed in precarious or inappropriate locations. The account @TrailTrashCO, which called out ‘bad behavior’ on Colorado’s public lands was shut down by Instagram in 2018 (McMahon, 2018). 110 the land, while the outdoor industry lobbies the federal government to achieve numerous ends including increased land protections and public access.

Can the Outdoor Industry Save Public Lands?

Outdoor recreation is one of the codified uses of public lands as discussed in Chapter

Two. The nearly 900 recreation visits to federally managed lands in the U.S. support over

800,000 jobs and contribute $49 billion in economic activity annually (White et al., 2016). A recent report by the Outdoor Industry Association calculated that the outdoor recreation economy, as a whole, accounts for $887 billion in annual consumer spending and supports 7.6 million jobs in the United States (Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, 2017). The federal

Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) confirmed the reach of the outdoor industry, releasing its own findings that the outdoor industry comprised two percent of the entire 2016 U.S. Gross

Domestic Product (Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, 2019).

In recent years, many outdoor brands within the growing sector of the outdoor industry have become more vocal about policies affecting public lands. For instance, after President

Trump announced the reduction of protected land within Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-

Escalante National Monuments, Patagonia, the outdoor gear and apparel manufacturer, changed its website homepage to be a simple black screen with large, white text that read, “The President

Stole Your Land” (Patagonia.com, 2017). In smaller letters below, the message read, “In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante

National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history”

(Patagonia.com, 2017, para. 2). REI also changed a small part of its homepage to display the

111 message, “Despite the loss of millions of acres of protected lands this week, REI will continue to advocate for the places we all love” (REI.com, 2017).

To be certain, the outdoor industry is a powerful force for pro-public lands advocacy as it has the weight of billions of consumer dollars behind it. However, it is worth critically considering whether the outdoor industry is an acceptable stand-in for effective governmental management of public lands. To this point, some have argued that the outdoor industry’s advocacy arm disproportionately works to defend public access to places that are marketable.

Francesco Bassetti (2019) asserts, “A telling example in the USA has been the lack of support for the highly biodiverse but less visually appealing Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument; versus the widespread industry support for the iconic outdoor sports hub Bears Ears National

Monument” despite the fact that both monuments were recommended for reduction by former

Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke (para. 7). Additionally, like other industries, the primary motivator for outdoor gear manufacturers and retailers is to generate a profit. And although a few outdoor gear manufacturers, like Patagonia, have made their supply chains more sustainable in the name of climate action, still others continue to manufacture outdoor gear that is harmful to the environment (PFC Revolution in the Outdoor Sector, 2017). It is also worthwhile to question the harm done when buying a Patagonia jacket becomes a stand-in for real environmental concern and sustainable action.

To answer this critique, members of the outdoor industry would likely claim that they help the environment by getting people into the outdoors in the first place, thus creating more environmental concern among their consumer base. This lends an opportunity to revisit the discussion of Dunlap and Heffernan’s original 1975 hypothesis that participating in outdoor 112 recreation was correlated with environmental concern. As noted in the introductory chapter, their original study found mixed results. More recently, a review of the Dunlap-Heffernan literature

(Berns & Simpson, 2009) has confirmed consistently mixed results, stating, “Whether a person recreates in the outdoors does not alone predict his or her environmental attitudes” (p. 88). A significant predictor, though, may be socioeconomic status (Green et al., 2009). As has been touched on previously, public lands and outdoor recreation as a whole have an inclusion problem

(Park & Pellow, 2011; Vidon, 2016).

The outdoor industry has a hand in maintaining this exclusivity by pricing many people out of the outdoors (Cameron, 2020). The Outdoor Industry Association recently defended the price hike on outdoor gear by arguing that making products with “environmental and social standards” justifies rising prices (Hodgson, 2017, para. 5). The author of the piece concedes that,

“some of what is marketed as ‘must-haves’ are not crucial to a positive outdoor experience,” but then urges consumers to continue purchasing expensive gear to, “ensure that the gear you are using in our beloved outdoor spaces is not coming at the expense of them” (para. 18). This is problematic because even the most sustainable brands still come with carbon emissions as a result of the manufacture and distribution of their products, though Patagonia has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2025 (Carbon Neutral by 2025, 2019). More recently, this has become more of a concern as the outdoor industry exerts heavy influence over the Leave No Trace Center for

Outdoor Ethics, and in this way, has a hand in defining acceptable outdoor recreation practices that traditionally rely on expensive outdoor gear and apparel.

113 Leave No Trace Center Corporate Ties

The problems with leave no trace as a recreation ethic were explored more in-depth in

Chapter Two. The following section expands on the previous analysis by exploring ties between the outdoor industry and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (LNTC). As mentioned earlier in this chapter, Steve of Public Lands Hate You recently shifted from his focus on influencer behavior on public lands to critiquing the corporate structure of the Leave No Trace

Center as the potential for conflicts of interest within the LNTC has arisen. The following analysis builds on his findings and dives deeper into the Leave No Trace Center’s board of directors and financial information to critique the numerous ties between the outdoor industry and the Leave No Trace Center.

First, a brief historical review of the creation of the Leave No Trace Center may be helpful. The 1960s saw a sharp increase in outdoor recreation as activities like hiking, camping, and backpacking first became popular. According the Marion and Reid’s (2001) history of the

Leave No Trace Program, recreation visits to U.S. Forest Service lands climbed from 4.6 million in 1924 to 900 million in 1999 in addition to National Park Service visits leaping from 33 million in 1950 to 172 million just two decades later in 1970. This sudden leap in outdoor recreation led to the issue of public lands being “loved to death” in popular media. At the time, the biological and ecological literature also supported the need for a low-impact recreation method. Cole and

Hammit (1998) and Leung and Marion (2000) found negative impacts on public lands caused by trampling on foot and horseback, improper campfires, litter, and improperly disposed human and dog waste. Further studies during this period also showed disturbances to wildlife due to increased recreation (Knight & Temple, 1995). 114 In response to these concerns, federal land management agencies, namely the Forest

Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, developed numerous brochures with titles like, “Wilderness Manners,” “Wilderness Ethics,” “Minimum Impact

Camping,” and “No-Trace Camping” (Marion & Reid, 2001, p. 3). Despite the recognized need for an updated recreation ethic, “a lack of leadership, funding, and training” meant that early minimum impact educational efforts in the 1970s and 80s were not highly effective (Marion &

Reid, 2001, p. 3). However, in 1990, the Forest Service approached the National Outdoor

Leadership School (NOLS) to develop a curriculum for minimum impact training. The phrase

“Leave No Trace” was adopted by the Forest Service in partnership with NOLS, and in 1994,

NOLS and the Forest Service signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that delegated the overall planning and steering of the national program to the federal land management agencies and the development of the curricula, training, and communication of LNT material to NOLS.

Funding the program quickly became a concern as the federal agencies were not able to financially support the Leave No Trace Center. Therefore, NOLS and the federal agencies made the decision to involve outdoor retailers and product manufacturers.

This seems like a natural progression to secure the funding to keep the Leave No Trace

Center afloat; however, it is not without consequence. The federal agencies that originally had non-voting seats on the Leave No Trace board of directors have been further removed from the steering of the LNTC, currently holding the title of “Agency Advisers.” A search of the current

13 board members shows that 10 have direct ties to outdoor recreation corporations. Julie Klein previously worked as the Director of Environmental Affairs at Vail Resorts/Rock Resorts and the

Director of Environmental Health and Safety at the Grand Teton Lodge Company. She currently 115 still works within the tourism industry for Confluence Sustainability, LLC. Antonio Gonzalez, another LNTC board member, also works for the tourism industry in the capacity of Sales Desk

Head for OYO Hotels & Homes. Gonzalez also served as an Advisory Board Member on the

Made in America Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee from 2018-2019. During this time, the advisory committee submitted a recommendation to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that advocated for more corporate partnerships within national parks (Canon, 2019; Outdoor

Recreation Advisory Committee, 2019). Specifically, the recommendation referred to park campgrounds as an “underperforming asset,” and sought, among other things, Wi-Fi and “high- quality contemporary campgrounds” equipped with food trucks, mobile camp stores, and

Amazon deliveries, reflecting, once again, close ties between industry and DOI officials (Canon,

2019; Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, 2019, p. 9).

The outdoor retailer, REI, is also well-represented with LNTC board members Jed

Paulson and Scot Briscoe both maintaining ties with the company. Other outdoor brands represented by board members include Keen, an outdoor gear company, Fjallraven, a backpack manufacturer, and Point6, a wool sock manufacturer, represented by Chris Enlow, Nathan Dopp, and Skip Rapp respectively. Additionally, Allison Gosselin serves on the LNTC board of directors while simultaneously working as the Director of Sustainability and Engineering at

Aramark, one of the largest National Park concessionaires. Gosselin’s involvement with LNTC and Aramark especially raises concerns regarding a conflict of interest. According to the LNTC website, the Center does have a conflict of interest policy, though it is not available to the public.

In addition to potential conflicts of interest among the board of directors, the source of the LNTC’s funding also raises some concerns. As of 2018, 72% of LNTC’s $2,209,876 revenue 116 came from corporate sponsors/outdoor industry members that include Subaru, Eno, Keen,

Aramark, Dueter, L.L. Bean, Arc’teryx, Thule, Klean Kanteen, Taxa Outdoors, REI, Fjallraven,

Clif Bar, Outdoor Research, The North Face, Columbia, Big Agnes, Osprey Packs, Jansport,

Marmot, Yeti, Thule, and many other outdoor-focused corporations. Subaru of America is by far the LNTC’s largest corporate sponsor after donating $879,641 to the LNTC in 2018, which was comprised of $823,016 in cash donations and $56,625 in fair market value vehicle leases for

LNTC educators to travel in their own customized and Leave No Trace branded Subaru Outback cars.

After exploring some of these concerns, Steve concludes that the LNTC’s corporate partnerships, with Subaru specifically, undermine the Center’s mission to promote responsible use of public lands (Public Lands Hate You, 2020). Steve provides examples of Subaru ads that depict less than LNT behavior to make the point that the LNTC is more committed to remaining in the good graces of its primary sponsor than to advocate for public lands. Beyond this, Steve also notes how the seven Leave No Trace principles are copyrighted by the LNTC and, according to the LNTC’s Branding Guidelines, “State parks, state lands, municipalities, private, and other lands must join as official Leave No Trace partners to enjoy the full benefit of the program” (Leave No Trace Brand Standards Guide, n.d., p. 15). So, public lands not managed by the NPS, BLM, USFS, USFWS, USFS, or the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) must pay up to

$1,000 for Leave No Trace Center partnership (Community Partnership Benefits, n.d.). This, of course, jives well with the LNTC’s “Leave No Trace in Every Park Initiative,” with the explicit goal to have Leave No Trace messaging and education in parks across the United States (Leave

No Trace in Every Park, n.d.). This initiative, therefore, requires already underfunded public 117 lands to buy in to an idea that was pioneered on public lands in the first place. Perhaps the best example of the LNTC’s prioritization of profit over education and the health of public lands is the fact that the executive director of the LNTC, Dana Watts, is provided compensation bonuses based not on how many unique educational events the LNTC hosts each year or the health of public lands, but rather based on the net earnings of the LNTC (Public Lands Hate You, 2020).

The numerous conflicts of interest within the government agencies that manage public lands along with industry influence both in the outdoor sector and within the LNTC paint a bleak picture of public lands management. By uncovering political economic connections between public officials in charge of federal land management agencies and environmentally harmful industries like fossil fuels, this analysis revealed a systemic trend toward deregulation at the federal level that benefits theses industries while harming public lands and the public’s access to these spaces. Additionally, this chapter discussed how government officials within the DOI and the USFS have utilized the news to make unpopular policy decisions more palatable or to shift the blame to the individual and smart phone use in the case of Zinke and Alexander’s (2018) editorial.

In order to interrogate the focus on individual social media users rather than the larger social media corporations themselves, this chapter also explored regulatory challenges regarding

Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, finding that the FTC has yet to be successful in regulating either platform in the public interest. This analysis also revealed questions about

Instagram influencers’ impacts on public lands. Although determining the exact degree of damage caused by influencers specifically falls outside of the scope of this analysis, a review of

Public Law 106-206 did bring current issues of commercial photography on public lands to light. 118 Additionally, while DOI leadership and the popular media seem to be content to focus on the commodification of public lands at the hands of social media influencers, this chapter also revealed that large corporations may have an even larger impact in this sense as ties between powerful outdoor industry players, the regulatory bodies that manage public lands, and the Leave

No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics run deep.

Once again, the method of critical political economy calls for an understanding of the way resources are distributed across capitalist societies and the implications for the flow of resources on policy decisions (Wasko, 2005). With this in mind, the next chapter begins exploring news stories related to the Instagram effect starting with ownership and support structures. Then, the chapter moves toward examining relationships between the news ownership and ideologies perpetuated within the articles. Chapter Six furthers the textual analysis of the articles by examining sourcing trends and how ownership and support mechanisms, ideology, and sourcing decisions contribute to truth claims within the articles. Throughout this analysis, the underlying political economic structures that influence the issue at hand will remain of utmost importance.



Chapter Four illustrated how the interests of the wealthy and powerful elite run deeply throughout the management of public lands as well as the regulation (or lack thereof) of

Instagram/Facebook. Ideally, the news would expose the numerous issues surrounding the problems associated with DOI/USDA leadership and systematic defunding of public lands as an integral part of the conversation about overuse in order for the citizenry to be properly informed about issues that impact their access to public lands. However, as McChesney (2003) points out, the political elite often rely on corporate media to maintain the status quo, going through great lengths to exert influence over the news. Chapter Four illustrated this in a few ways by examining editorials penned by high ranking officials within the DOI and USDA. The following chapters continue this analysis by examining news articles specifically written about the

Instagram effect and the geotagging debate.

First, I will briefly review some of the issues discussed previously with the current media landscape. As the news in the United States becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer corporations, some scholars have suggested that corporate news owners seek to increase profits by encouraging sensationalism and entertainment value (Bennett, 2003; Chomsky, 2006).

Others, such as Herman and Chomsky (2002) argue that owners may influence news coverage such that it reflects their own corporate and ideological interests. This topic has frequently been explored with traditional print news; however, as more news becomes digital, this study builds upon the critical tradition by centering the ownership of online news sources within this analysis.

120 Additionally, as discussed in Chapter Three, online news especially has become rife with

“churnalism” or “a form of journalism that relies on recycling press releases and agency copy and which involves little or no independent reporting or attempt at verification” (Harcup, 2014, p. 53). In the internet age, churnalism has become an answer to the increasing resource pressures on news organizations; by recycling, recontextualizing, and repurposing news rather than relying on more time-consuming and expensive models of journalism, online news sites are able to maximize the revenue generated by advertising (Saridou et al., 2017). It remains to be seen whether these concerns are confirmed in the articles that address the Instagram effect.

Despite the relative recency of the Instagram effect and the debate surrounding geotagging, these issues have already been covered across a wide variety of news outlets including large, mainstream national news outlets, local news sites, alternative sources like blogs, public media, and outdoor/environmental-specific sites like Outside Magazine. The aim of this chapter is to explore the ownership of the mainstream and alternative news sites (and everything in between) that have covered this issue and provide the framework by which I answer my second research question: what role do ownership and support mechanisms play in determining the ideologies perpetuated in the news articles reporting on the Instagram effect?

The first part of this chapter’s analysis lays the foundation for answering this question by probing the ownership and advertising support structures of the mainstream and alternative news outlets that have reported on the Instagram effect through publicly available documents. After examining the ownership and support mechanisms of the news sources that cover this debate, I discuss primary ideological themes that emerge from my critical textual analysis.

121 National News Outlets

All told, there were ten articles on the Instagram effect in national news outlets. These articles appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, , ABC, The Globe and Mail, The Telegraph, Fox News, the New Zealand Herald, and Metro. There have been numerous issues raised among political economy scholars surrounding the consolidated ownership of mainstream press (Bettig & Hall, 2012; Hardy, 2014; McChesney, 2003). With the national news concentrated in the hands of a few powerful entities, the concerns raised regarding a preference for sensationalism and entertainment and a possible ideological bias persist.

Furthermore, given Jhally’s (1989) claim that all powerful news media tend to have oil company executives on their boards of directors coupled with the issues explained in the previous chapters regarding resource extraction and the stronghold of the fossil fuel and telecommunication industries on American public lands, a review of publicly available advertising information for these news outlets is also relevant. A review of the ownership and support structures among the national press reveal numerous concerns for conflicts of interest between big oil/big telecom that may influence the reporting of environmental issues such as the Instagram effect.

The New York Times

As the newspaper of record, the New York Times and its ownership have been written about extensively (Chomsky, 2006). Briefly, the first issue of the New York Times (then called the New-York Daily Times) was published in 1851 and founded by Henry Jarvis Raymond, a

New York politician and journalist, and George Jones, a Vermont journalist (New York Times

Company Timeline, 2008). Then, in 1896, was acquired by Adolph S. Ochs, the publisher of the Chattanooga Times. After purchasing the controlling stake in the New York 122 Times, Ochs installed himself as publisher. After Ochs’ death in 1935, his son-in-law, Arthur

Hays Sulzberger took over as publisher. The position of publisher has remained with the

Sulzberger family since, with Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. serving as the current chairman of the

New York Times. In the 1980s and 1990s, trends toward deregulation of various media institutions impacted the profitability of the newspaper industry, thus leading to increased concentration of ownership of the news (Bagdikian, 2004; 2007; Bettig & Hall, 2012). To keep the paper afloat, the New York Times Company began offering the digital version of the Times in 1996 (The New York Times Company Timeline, 2018). However, profits continued to fall, and in 2009, The New York Times Company borrowed $250 million from the Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim, in exchange for 17% of the company’s Class A (non-voting) shares

(Dash, 2009). Carlos Slim’s conglomerate, Grupo Carso, boasts its own Caro Energy division as the group’s profits are increasingly driven by investments in the oil and gas industry (Estevez,

2017). Connections to extractive fossil fuel industries do not stop at the ownership level. The

New York Times also frequently works with fossil fuel companies as advertisers.

Despite having a dedicated Climate and Environment section online, The New York

Times still relies on the fossil fuel industry for advertising revenue. In fact, there have been several “advertorials” created by the Times Brand Studio that have been paid for and posted by

ExxonMobil and Chevron. These pieces use catchy animations and graphics to tout

“sustainability” innovations within the fossil fuel industry. Relying on the fossil fuel industry for advertising revenue presents a problem for reporting on environmental issues for two main reasons: first, the native ads paid for by Chevron and ExxonMobil may mislead readers by using the Times branding to convince readers that the fossil fuel industry is not creating the harm that it 123 is. Second, because the Times works closely with these fossil fuel industry leaders, the paper of record may be less likely to “bite the hand that feeds” and may shy away from pointing the finger at a large source of revenue despite the fact that oil and gas exploration on public lands is harming the health of the environment and limiting the public’s access to these spaces (Rasch et al., 2018).

In addition to the fossil fuel industry, The New York Times also has ties to big telecom.

The New York Times Company and Verizon have recently entered into a partnership to provide free NewYorkTimes.com access to Title I schools (The New York Times Company and Verizon

Partner, 2019). Additionally, it was announced in 2019 that The New York Times and Verizon would once again partner to create a 5G journalism lab. Though neither of these partnerships are inherently problematic, it does signal a working relationship between Verizon and The New York

Times, which may make it less likely that the Times would critically report on the actions of


A search of The New York Times board of directors also revealed an interlocking interest with the outdoor industry. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the chairman of The New York Times

Company, was previously chairman of the board of New York Outward Bound Schools and a member of the board of North Carolina Outward Bound. Outward Bound, like the National

Outdoor Leadership School, is a non-profit educational organization that teaches courses related to the outdoors such as backpacking, leadership, and outdoor educator certification courses.

Courses can be quite expensive with a semester-long leadership course for college-aged students ranging from $10,000 to $14,000. Although Outward Bound does offer scholarships and reduced-price programs for veterans and grieving teens, the programs do lend themselves to 124 well-resourced people, furthering the notion of the outdoors as an exclusive space. Although this connection does not automatically mean that the Times coverage of public land issues will reflect the elitist bias, the deep ties between the news media and the outdoor industry are worth noting.

The Washington Post

Much like The New York Times, The Washington Post has also run several “advertorials” for the oil and gas industry. The Washington Post BrandStudio partners with advertisers to create animations and graphics similar to those in the Times that serve as native ads. A Shell-sponsored article totes a headline that reads, “The Making of Sustainable Mobility.” Another by the

American Petroleum Institute reads, “Can Natural Gas be the Key to Lowering Emissions?” A disclosure from the WP BrandStudio accompanies each ad and reads, “this content is paid for by an advertiser and published by the BrandStudio. The Washington Post newsroom was not involved in the creation of this content.” Although the Washington Post makes this delineation between its BrandStudio and its newsroom, the Post explicitly advertises its newsroom as a large part of the value of the Brand Studio (Westervelt, 2019). The WP BrandStudio homepage reads,

“We apply the Washington Post’s award-winning investigative lens and a deep understanding of our audience to create compelling multimedia stories – from concept to production to distribution” (Westervelt, 2019; WP Brand Studio, n. d.).

Also of note is the Washington Post’s owner, . Bezos is perhaps best known for his role as founder, CEO, and president of Amazon and has been described as “the richest man in modern history” (Frank, 2018) with a net worth of nearly $150 billion. Although Bezos has been described as a “hands-off” owner (Ember, 2018), it is possible that Bezos’ influence could sway reporting in a pro-business, if not pro-Amazon, direction. There are additional ties 125 that exist between Amazon and public lands that are also worthy of critical attention. In 2019, the

Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, a group created by Ryan Zinke in 2017 to advise the

DOI on how to manage public lands and private sector partnerships, sent a recommendation to

David Bernhardt that advocated for more corporate partnerships within national parks to increase revenue and make parks more marketable to younger Americans (Canon, 2019; Outdoor

Recreation Advisory Committee, 2019). Specifically, the recommendation referred to park campgrounds as an “underperforming asset,” and sought, among other things, Wi-Fi and “high- quality contemporary campgrounds” equipped with food trucks, mobile camp stores, and

Amazon deliveries (Canon, 2019; Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, 2019, p. 9). It is likely that such a partnership would benefit Amazon and, by extension, Bezos.

Furthermore, Bezos has come under scrutiny after his announcement in February 2020 that he would be committing $10 billion to address climate change in a new initiative he called the Bezos Earth Fund (Weise, 2020). Bezos posted on Instagram, describing how the Bezos

Earth Fund would support climate scientists, activists, and nongovernmental organizations (Jeff

Bezos, 2020). This announcement has been criticized as Amazon’s climate impact is staggering with the company releasing 44 million metric tons of carbon in 2018 alone (Nellis & Dastin,

2020). What’s more, hundreds of Amazon employees have organized under the name Amazon

Employees for Climate Justice and have posted public statements urging Amazon to improve environmental practices at the company-level and recent reports indicate that this is not without consequence (Green, 2020). Amazon employee, Maren Costa, was threatened with termination after speaking to the Washington Post about Amazon’s contributions to climate change (Green,

2020). In this way, the business dealings of Amazon and the Washington Post have been 126 demonstrably blurred, calling into question the Post’s ability to critically report on the environmental impacts of Bezos’ e-commerce giant, Amazon, thereby muddling environmental reporting.

ABC News

Whereas Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post editorial team have attempted to portray a separation of the Post from Amazon, there has been a noticeable blurring of the ABC brand after

Disney acquired the ABC Group media conglomerate in 1996 (Rosenstiel & Kovach, 2000).

Michael Eisner, while serving as the Chairman and CEO of , told

National Public Radio: ''I would prefer ABC not cover Disney. I think it's inappropriate for

Disney to be covered by Disney” (Davis & Stark, 2001, p. 86). Eisner’s statement, though not a direct disapproval, expresses a preference that ABC not seek out or cover Disney stories whether they were favorable or unfavorable (Davis & Stark, 2001).

This is, perhaps, most apparent in ABC’s suppression of a report on labor and safety abuses at Disney World (Champlin & Knoedler, 2002) and the dropping of a report on 20/20, the network’s news magazine, that would have covered executive compensation. According to anonymous ABC insiders, “the idea was dropped because no one wanted to draw attention to the extraordinarily rich pay package of Disney’s chairman, Michael Eisner” (Champlin & Knoedler,

2002; FAIR, 2000, p. 10). To probe ownership influence over ABC’s news coverage Price’s

(2003) survey showed that one fifth of ABC journalists felt ownership influence in story selection. This presents a problem for any news covered by ABC as is it highlights the organization’s apparent willingness to veer away from subjects that put corporate partnerships in jeopardy and pressure on journalists to select stories that benefit owners.

127 Fox News

Fox News was created in 1996 by Rupert Murdoch and was part of Murdoch’s media empire, Newscorp, and then (Maass, 2019). In keeping with the trend toward media consolidation, the $73.1 billion mega-merger between Disney and 21st Century Fox became official (Berg, 2019). In the merger, Disney acquired all 21st Century properties; however, Fox News, Network, and remained with the new stand-alone Fox Corp (Flood, 2020). Currently, Fox Corp. is still owned by the with Rupert Murdoch serving as the co-executive chairman while his son, Lachlan Murdoch, holds the title of chairman and CEO. It has been widely documented that the Murdoch family does not take a back seat in the production of news and have a great deal of influence over Fox

News’ content and have shown a preference for the viewership and readership ratings that come from vitriolic and incendiary content over quality investigative journalism (Mahler & Rutenberg,

2019). Recent events have indicated that the Murdochs are happy to turn a profit off of hateful and vitriolic comments made by Fox News pundits. For example, following racist on-air comments19 by Fox News commentator, , Lachlan Murdock texted Carlson his support (Mahlher & Rutenberg, 2019). In addition to concerns raised regarding Fox News’ ownership, it is also worth discussing the network’s strong ideological preference.

19 In the December 13, 2018, edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson stated, “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer, dirtier, and more divided. Immigration is a form of atonement. Previous leaders of our country committed sins – we must pay for those sins by welcoming an endless chain of migrant caravans.” This is not remotely the only instance of Carlson making racist statements and legitimizing the white supremacy platform on Fox News. A timeline of Carlson’s ‘descent into white supremacy’ can be found here: https://www.mediamatters.org/tucker-carlson/tucker-carlsons-descent-white- supremacy-timeline?redirect_source=/research/2018/10/29/tucker-carlsons-descent-white-supremacy- timeline/221741 128 The conservative ideological slant of Fox News is well documented (Grossman &

Hopkins, 2018). Besides a distinct slant in the news, there are also ties between the Trump administration, other Republican elites, and Fox News that have become more apparent in recent years (Grossman & Hopkins, 2018). Additionally, a 2014 study examined Fox News broadcasting between the years of 1996 and 2000 and found that congressional representatives shift more conservatively in their policymaking and attitudes toward Democratic presidents (in this case, Bill Clinton) in districts where Fox News was broadcasted compared to districts where

Fox News was not broadcasted (Clinton & Enamorado, 2014). This is notable because it means that, not only does the ideological bias of Fox News sway audiences, but it also affects those in office who are directly responsible for policymaking (Clinton & Enamorado, 2014). Today, Fox

News has expanded beyond broadcasting cable news and has developed an online presence where virtually anyone has access to Fox News content at any time.

When discussing Fox News, it is important to mention the relationship between Fox

News and the Trump administration. Although Fox News, as a network and as several individual journalists therein, have resisted suggestions that their network functions as a promotional arm of

Trump and the Republican party, ties have existed between the network and the Republican party since the network was founded in 1996 by , the former media consultant to

Republican presidents , , and George H. W. Bush (Grossman &

Hopkins, 2018). These ties are important to note because they indicate that it would be less likely for Fox News to criticize the Trump administration, including the president’s nominations of various positions within the Department of the Interior/Department of Agriculture, and any environmental policy advanced by Republican officials. 129 International Mainstream Press

There were a few international news outlets that have also covered the Instagram effect.

These include The Globe and Mail, based in Canada, the New Zealand Herald, based in New

Zealand, and The Telegraph, Metro and the Guardian, all based in the UK. Although this analysis is centered around public lands in the United States, what international news outlets report on the Instagram effect is still of consequence as international visitorship to domestic public lands has recently been on the rise. According to a U.S. Travel Association analysis of

Commerce Department data, upwards of 35 percent of all overseas visitors to the United States visited national parks or monuments during their stay (U.S. Travel Association, 2016).

Furthermore, as social media use becomes increasingly widespread across the world, other countries are already feeling the effects of increased and more concentrated tourism to specific spots as a result of geotagging trends (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2019). Therefore, a consideration of the international perspective only serves to deepen the present analysis.

Canada’s Globe & Mail

The Globe and Mail is owned by Woodbridge Company Limited, a Canadian private holding company and the controlling shareholder (62.35%) of the Canadian media conglomerate

Thomson . Of consequence in the United States: Thomson Reuters also owns the legal search tool Westlaw and Relx, the owner of LexisNexis. The multi-pronged business model of

Thomson Reuters and Relx allows Westlaw and LexisNexis to profit off of law firms and law schools paying for their service to gain access to court filings, case law, opinions, academic work, and other resources for legal research. Simultaneously, it was recently discovered that these companies act as data brokers for U.S. government agencies like the Department of 130 Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to letters obtained by the Intercept, as of 2019, Thomson Reuters had a total of six current contracts with ICE and has played “a crucial role in deportations and immigration enforcement by collating and providing to government clients ‘data from credit agencies, cellphone registries, social media posts, property records, utility accounts, fishing licenses, internet chat rooms, and bankruptcy filings’” (Currier, 2019, para. 5). Therefore, although the Globe and Mail is a

Canadian paper, it has demonstrated troubling ties with United States government agencies as far as its ownership is concerned.

New Zealand Herald

The New Zealand Herald is the flagship national newspaper of the media conglomerate,

New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) (About NZME, n.d.). According to New

Zealand media researcher, Myllylahti, as of 2016, NZME and another media company, Fairfax, exerted a duopoly control over the New Zealand print newspaper market while simultaneously cornering the online news market. In 2016, the two corporations attempted to merge, arguing that, “the joint company would be better placed in competing against Facebook and Google for advertising dollars” (Myllylahti, 2016, p. 58). This shows a similar trend to the consolidation of

United States news markets discussed previously. In 2017, the New Zealand Commerce

Commission ruled against the merger, stating that it acknowledged the cost savings the merger would bring to the companies, but ultimately arguing that these benefits would not outweigh the risks of more concentrated media control (Myllylahti, 2016).

Despite the failed merger, the New Zealand Herald is still controlled by one of only two ubiquitous media firms in the area. Furthermore, because of NZME’s size and other media 131 assets, the New Zealand Herald makes up only a small portion of its larger scope, which is mainly focused on entertainment media (Our Brands, 2018). Albeit on a smaller scale, this mirrors other American media corporations like Disney in which news makes up a very small part of a larger transindustrialism (Meehan, 2005). This once again calls into question the news’ ability to uphold its democratic function as a watchdog over the powerful elite.

Metro & The Telegraph

Moving from New Zealand over to the United Kingdom, this section explores Metro as the UK’s highest-circulation print newspaper (Tobitt, 2018), and The Telegraph, as one of the

UK’s newspapers of record. Metro is published by DMG Media, one of the many subsidiaries of the massive and General Trust plc. (DMGT). (DMG Media Limited Private

Company Profile, 2020). Notably, another Dubai-based DMGT subsidiary, DMG Events, has ties to the oil and gas industry through a number of high-profile events supported by “national and international oil companies, industry service providers and key government bodies” (DMG

Energy, n.d., para. 1).

The Daily Telegraph, known as The Telegraph, is published by , a subsidiary of ( Private Company Profile, 2020). In recent years, The Telegraph has been criticized for its less than transparent relationship with Facebook.

In 2019, Business Insider reported that Facebook paid the Telegraph to run a series of sponsored articles called, “Being Human in the Information Age,” that defended Facebook against claims that it encouraged the spread of misinformation and violated user privacy (McKay, 2019). This partnership resembles the advertorials by fossil fuel companies in other national news outlets described earlier in this chapter in that they are paid public relations pieces masquerading as 132 news. All told, the partnership resulted in nearly 30 articles running in March of 2019 (McKay,

2019). The ads came just months before the aforementioned $5 billion fine the FCC imposed on

Facebook. The relationship between the Telegraph and Facebook as a prominent advertiser calls into question the newspaper’s ability to report critically on the actions of Facebook-owned


The Guardian

In early 2020, The Guardian, owned by the Scott Trust Endowment Fund20, announced that it would no longer accept advertisements from oil and gas companies (Tsang & Reed, 2020).

Guardian executives Anna Bateson and Hamish Nicklin published a blog post detailing the newspaper’s plan to no longer accept advertising from fossil fuel companies on any of the

Guardian’s websites and apps, nor the Guardian, Observer, or Guardian Weekly in print and further pledged to exclude fossil fuel investments from the Scott Trust Fund. Additionally, editor-in-chief Katherine Viner announced in 2019 that The Guardian would shift to using more urgent language surrounding climate-related issues. These are positive steps in the organization of news production, though only a review of The Guardian content can reveal if these changes have shaped the coverage of the Instagram effect.

20 The Scott Trust Fund is the sole shareholder of the Guardian Media Group, which publishes theguardian.com and the Guardian and Observer newspapers and was established to “secure the Guardian’s financial and editorial independence in perpetuity” (Forgan, 2016, para. 14). Ryan Chittum, a writer for the Columbia Journalism Review, jokingly referred to The Guardian as a “trust-fund kid” as the newspaper is subsidized by the earnings of the Scott Trust Fund’s investments. To the Guardian’s credit, as discussed in this chapter, these investments are now limited to not include fossil-fuel related entities. Furthermore, the Foundation has supported the Guardian through financial loss in recent years allowing for the Guardian to continue providing the news online without paywalls (Chittum, 2014). 133 Local News

In addition to the national press, there are 19 local news outlets that have covered the

Instagram effect captured in the sample for this study including independent newspapers like the

UT Daily Beacon, High Country News, The Michigan Daily, The Stanford Daily, The Mountain

Journal, Aspen Daily News, The Bend Source, 5280, and Telluride Daily Planet. Though these examples represent a few local news outlets that are independently owned, there are several more local news outlets that are owned by larger media conglomerates such as the Oamaru Mail, owned by Mainland Media LLC., The Duluth News Tribune (Forum Communications, an ABC affiliate), The Rapid City Journal (Lee Enterprises), The Sierra Sun and Aspen Times (Swift

Communications), and K5 News, The Register-Guard, The Desert Sun, and AZCentral all owned by Gannett.

The problems brought about by the shift in control of the local news from local newspapers to large national or international corporations has been studied extensively

(McChesney, 2000). Studies comparing independent (often family owned) and chain-owned newspapers have indicated that chain-owned newspapers place an emphasis on profits, thereby having smaller news staffs and placing less emphasis on professional or community goals

(Edmonds, 2004; Eide et al., 2016). Not only does this rob local communities of news that is relevant to them, but it has proven problematic within the articles sampled for this analysis.

Corporations like Gannett own large market shares of the news, especially recently following the merger of Gannett and GateHouse. Prior to the merger, Gannett’s assets notably include USA Today and more than 100 other local papers across the United States. GateHouse owned an additional 154 daily newspapers. In August of 2019, New Media Investment Group, a 134 holding company that controls GateHouse Media, announced plans to buy Gannett for $1.4 billion, and two months later, the merger was approved by the United States Justice Department and the European Union (Tracy, 2019). Following the merger, now one in five daily papers in the United States has the same owner under the Gannett name (Tracy, 2019). A merger between the two means even more consolidated control of the news and likely cuts to newsrooms across the United States. Some reports indicate that up to 400 journalists were laid off in the months leading up the merger (Kelly, 2019). Inevitably, this means that there are less journalists to investigate and report the news. Furthermore, the tendency for large news corporations like

Gannett to prioritize cost over journalistic quality are well documented. For instance, Eide et al.,

(2016) write, “Companies like Gannett place a higher priority in keeping costs low in order to return more value to shareholders,” meaning that companies like Gannett allocate fewer resources to the editorial and or investigative side of reporting (Journalism Re-examined by Eide et al., 2016, p. 201). Also, when journalists working for other Gannett papers catch wind of layoffs, they may decide that it’s best not to report on anything that would call their work into question, especially not anything that would harm online or in-print advertising revenues for struggling papers.

Swift Communications also has a history of silencing journalists who jeopardize advertising revenue. The Reno, Nevada-based owner of The Sierra Sun has silenced journalists in the past when they have reported on environmental issues that hurt advertising. In 2009, reporter Bob Berwyn wrote a column titled, “Has weather science been hijacked for marketing?” for another Swift-owned paper, The Summit Daily News. In the column, Berwyn called out the

CEO of Vail Resorts, a major advertiser of the paper, for posting a photo of snowfall nearly an 135 hour away from the company’s nearest resort. The photo was misleading as there was no snow on the ground in many of the nearby resorts. Berwyn later told Aspen Daily News that the day his column was published, he received an angry phone message from the Vail CEO who stated, “this

[column] calls into question our ability to work with you” (Hooper, 2009, para. 4). In a series of meetings with The Summit Daily News managing editor and publisher, Jim Morgan, Berwyn was told to grovel to Vail if he wanted to keep his job. When he declined, he was fired and offered just under $3,000 if he agreed not to talk about the experience, which he also declined (Hooper,

2009). Morgan went on to run an editorial defending the paper’s integrity and arguing that

Berwyn was fired over “a series of events” and not the column (Hooper, 2009, para.11).

The effects of local news consolidation under larger corporations is not unique to the

United States news market. The Oamaru Weekly Mail, distributed in print throughout the Otago region in New Zealand, was owned by descendants of a prominent family within New Zealand politics in 1909 until the 1970s when it was bought by NZ News Ltd., a subsidiary of the larger media corporation, Brierley (Papers Past, n.d.). The paper changed hands a few more times before it was purchased in 2013 by a private media company, Mainland Media, Ltd. The same company also owns other local newspapers including the Christchurch Star and six other community newspapers in the greater Christchurch area (Allied Press, n.d.). Highlighting some of the parallels between the corporate control of the news in the United States and other nations illustrates the extent to which journalists, worldwide, may be influenced by increasingly concentrated news ownership.

In addition to the issues raised by local journalists being bound by their papers’ parent company and advertisers, there is also the issue that, despite the importance of local news from a 136 democratic theory standpoint, coverage of the Instagram effect via local channels may prioritize only what is locally visible. For instance, Oregon-based papers may address overcrowding as a result of geotagging at a specific hot spring and not probe deeper into policy concerns that have likely had a hand in creating the problem as it exists today, nationwide.

Public Media

Seven of the articles in the sample analyzed in this study were pulled from national public media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR), Nevada Public Radio (NVPR),

Boston’s NPR News Station, Marketplace and Minnesota Public Radio (both under the

American Public Media umbrella), and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s federal public broadcaster. Public broadcasting arose in the early twentieth century based on the belief that “it was not just a right but a duty of citizens in a democratic society to subsidize and promote a viable nonprofit and noncommercial public media sector” (McChesney, 2004, p. 241).

According to McChesney (2004), despite the necessity of a noncommercial, publicly supported media outlet for democracy’s sake, public broadcasting in the United States has never been adequately funded. Additionally, because public broadcasters have always had to appease conservative members of Congress who have threatened to “zero out” public broadcasting should it appear to have a liberal bias, public broadcasting has had the tendency to “bend over backwards to appease the Right and appear ‘balanced’” (McChesney, 2004, p.p. 245-246). As government subsidies remain uncertain, many public broadcasting outlets like NPR and PBS have come to rely on individual and corporate donations to continue producing news. This has led to critics questioning the ability of public broadcasters to truly reject ideological power and

137 the status quo (Chomsky, 1994; McChesney, 2004; Wang, 2004). Chomsky has criticized NPR for these reasons numerous times, including in a 2004 lecture when he stated:

The press is part of the whole corporate system of domination and control. That’s even

true of National Public Radio. They’re part of an elite intellectual culture that is highly

dominated by centers of power. (Wang, 2004, para. 13)

Chomsky (1994) further criticized NPR, stating that there are very strict limits to the kind of news stories that can be published through NPR and its affiliated programming. This chapter’s ideological analysis will reveal if these issues perpetuate neoliberal ideologies or elitism as predicted by Chomsky. In the meantime, it is also worth exploring NPR’s long list of corporate sponsors. NPR’s 2018 annual report reveals donations from oil and gas companies and organizations like Chevron, Shell Oil Company, ExxonMobil, and the American Petroleum

Institute as well as key players in the outdoor industry like REI and Subaru of America. Also on the list are several names from big telecom including AT&T and Comcast. Corporate sponsorships also make up the largest chunk of NPR’s revenue with $97,071,058 of the

$252,083,330 total operating revenue amount coming from corporate donations.

The American Public Media Group (APMG) is another public media group that operates within the United States. APMG is primarily supported by the Lumina Foundation, and private

Indianapolis-based foundation. Some have criticized the APMG news coverage as biased due to the Lumina Foundation’s connections to Sallie Mae, the private student loan corporation.

According to the Lumina Foundation website, the foundation was created in 2000 when USA

Group, Inc., the country’s largest private guarantor of student loans at the time, sold its assets to

Sallie Mae (Hensley-Clancy & Baker, 2014). With the $400 million resulting proceeds, USA 138 Group, Inc. created the Lumina Foundation. The Lumina Foundation has retained ties to Sallie

Mae with the former president and chief operating officer of Sallie Mae serving as the Lumina board’s chair until 2017. This has raised concerns regarding the news content of APMG, specifically that education-related news may be overly critical of federal student loan programs as a result of the Foundation’s ties to Sallie Mae. Although this does not appear to have a direct tie to public lands-related news, it shows a general anti-federal government bias that could impact APMG news content. These connections also call into question the public media’s ability to fulfil its mission in serving the public interest even when it may not necessarily be profitable.

Furthermore, like NPR, APMG subsidiaries, Minnesota Public Radio and California Public

Radio, are funded via a combination of private and corporate donations, raising similar concerns as those discussed with NPR.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation differs slightly from public broadcasters in the

United States that rely on various sources of funding including voluntary contributions from corporations and individuals in addition to public support. The CBC is funded primarily by federal statutory grants, but also collects revenue from commercial sponsors, advertising, and the sale of its programs to other countries (Eaman, 2012).

Digital News

All of the articles analyzed in this thesis are ones that have been published online.

However, many of the news outlets covered have both print and digital editions such as The New

York Times, The Washington Post, and most of the local newspapers. There are eleven other news sites including Vice, Vox, The Ringer, Refinery29, The Outline, Racked, Quartz,

139 Marketplace, and Gizmodo, Mondaq, and, iOWT Report that are developed and disseminated completely online.

Vox, founded by the former Washington Post columnist and blogger Ezra Klein, was built on the model of explanatory journalism (Bercovici, 2014; Roberts, 2019). David Roberts, an energy and climate change writer at Vox, defined explanatory journalism in a piece titled, “My

Advice for Aspiring Explainer Journalists,” as journalism that is focused on contextualizing the news. Roberts argues that journalism now is “less about producing new information than it is about gathering information already on the record, evaluating it, and explaining and contextualizing it for an audience, perhaps with some analysis and argumentation for good measure” (Roberts, 2019, para. 20). Though Roberts makes a compelling case for the necessity of explanatory journalism, the approach has also been criticized for bearing some of the marks of churnalism: that is, predominantly supported by advertising revenue (i.e., online traffic) and reliance upon controversial or misleading headlines to generate clicks (Bercovici, 2014). Vox

Media is also in partnership with The Ringer (Spangler, 2017). Under the current agreement, The

Ringer remains editorially independent, but operates on Chorus, Vox’s proprietary advertising and platform. Additionally, although Racked is no longer publishing, it was formerly owned by Vox Media.

The same claims about churnalism can also be made for the other outline news sites mentioned above. Vice, The Outline, and Quartz, and Refinery29 are all supported by web traffic-based advertising dollars. Of note, Quartz is currently owned by Atlantic Media, and the four initial sponsors of Quartz were Boeing, Chevron, Cadillac, and Credit Suisse (Sheffield,

2012). Quartz runs into some of the problems associated with churnalism in that much of its 140 content is sponsored or aggregated from larger news outlets like Reuters or The New York Times

(Sheffield, 2012). Refinery29 has also recently come under fire for capitalizing on reader- submitted (and uncompensated) stories of sexual assault as well as not complying with advertising disclosure laws by hiding well-concealed ads within their branded reporting

(Livingstone, 2018).

Gizmodo was originally founded under the now bankrupt Gawker Media LLC. In 2016,

Gawker Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after settling a $140 million lawsuit by the former wrestler, Hulk Hogan (Ember, 2016). Gawker was marked by a “conversational tone” and attention-grabbing, over the top stories that include the infamous leak of Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, which ultimately bankrupted the company. After filing for bankruptcy, Gawker was acquired at auction by Univision Communications who changed the company’s name to

Gizmodo Media Group. Gizmodo Media Group was then acquired in April of 2019 by Great Hill

Partners. Great Hill Partners is a private equity firm, which has already presented PR problems for the media company that branded itself as “independent” (Lewis, 2019). Megan Greenwell, the former Editor-in-Chief of Deadspin, another Gizmodo news site, criticized Great Hill claiming that the firm was only looking for quick cash rather than growing a business (Lewis,

2019). In a blog post, Greenwell wrote, “a metastasizing swath of media is controlled by private- equity vultures and capricious billionaires” (Greenwell, 2019, para. 6).

The Outline is also embroiled in similar issues as it falls under the umbrella of Bustle, the venture-capital backed women’s online magazine by Bryan Goldberg, a 36-year-old white man who has stated, “I’m a dude. I don’t have a lot of overlapping interests with most women my age. I’m really into history. I’m really into markets and finance” (Malone, 2013, para. 2). It 141 would seem based off of Goldberg’s statements that quality journalism is not the focus so much as churning out a massive amount of content and generating advertising revenue. Goldberg and others in the tech community operate their websites as products, not as journalism, which has further supported the critique that many of these sites fall under the umbrella of “churnalism.”

Mondaq and iOWT are news syndication and aggregation platforms respectively. Both news syndicates and aggregates have been called into question for their role in sanitizing the news, removing the democratic function of the press (Guarneri, 2019; Siapera, 2012). News syndication services sell content to news publications, thus homogenizing the news. Similarly, news aggregators are websites that gather content from multiple news sources and display it on a single website. Traditional news aggregator sites like Yahoo News, Google News, and others have become major sources of news for American audiences (Lee & Chyi, 2015). Lee and Chyi

(2015) state that proponents of news aggregators argue that they direct web traffic to traditional news sites and make the news more accessible. On the other hand, news aggregators have drawn the ire of news executives as they turn a profit from content produced by traditional news media

(Fraga, 2012). Rupert Murdoch famously accused Google of stealing original content from news sites (Simillie, 2009), while others have argued that news aggregators devalue and commodify the news (Johnson, 2009).

Niche News

Photography Blogs

Five of the articles in the sample analyzed in this study were pulled from photography blogs including FStoppers, PetaPixel, and Popular Photography. Although the Instagram effect seems like a logical topic for these blogs to focus on, there are concerns regarding the 142 advertising-based revenue structure of these sites as well as their journalistic integrity. Both

FStoppers and PetaPixel have prominent “advertise with us” links on their sites where potential advertisers can view brands they have partnered with, page click analytic information, reader demographics, and media kits. Although it is not uncommon for blogs to generate revenue by partnering with advertisers, it does likely mean that there is thought that goes into creating content that will appease advertisers as well as audiences, which may limit the extent to which blogs can substantively cover current issues or strongly challenge the status quo. Additionally, for advertising revenue that is generated based on the number of clicks an article receives, blogs often fall into the category of the “click-bait” trap whereby they are published with incendiary or shocking headlines designed to grab people’s attention and get them to click through the articles, but offer less than in-depth substance.

Furthermore, the issues raised in Chapter Four surrounding Leave No Trace and the corporate elitism that has a stronghold on outdoor recreation are compounded by the parent company of Popular Photography: Bonnier Corporation. Bonnier Corp. is described on the company’s website as, “one of the largest consumer-publishing groups in America, with more than 30 special-interest magazines, multimedia extensions, digital properties, books, and events”

(Bonnier Corp, n.d., para. 1). Bonnier Corp. publishes several outdoor-related magazines including Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sport Fishing, which may exacerbate the commodification of outdoor spaces and further portrayals of the outdoors as a space reserved for those who can afford more expensive outdoor hobbies like deep sea fishing, hunting, and yachting.

143 As will be explored more in-depth later in this chapter and in the next, exclusivity in the outdoor space remains a key component of the debate surrounding the Instagram effect. In the context of outdoor photography specifically, it is no wonder why discussing the harms of geotagging has found an audience among readers of photography blogs; nature photographers’ livelihoods depend on their “secret spots” remaining secret. In fact, it was a nature photographer,

Elisabeth Brenato, who created the popular Change.org petition, “Encouraging the social media generation to behave more responsibly outdoors.” At the time this analysis was written, the petition had over 20,000 signatures. The petition urges Instagram/Facebook to “act immediately and implement a system allowing users to report violations that are both illegal and harmful to the environment” (Brenato, 2019, para. 4). Brenato goes on to outline a plan for the reports to be filtered through an outdoor ethics department at Instagram/Facebook “that would consult with and/or work in conjunction with nonprofits, scientists, parks, and law enforcement to assist in the citation of users” (para. 4). Brenato also calls for the data to be made available to the public so companies and organizations can better evaluate influencers to work with.

Although it is likely that Brenato’s concern over environmental harm is genuine, it ought to be acknowledged that she operates a large Instagram account with over 90,000 followers under the handle @elisabethontheroad where she shares her photography of beautiful landscapes, some with general geotags like “Yosemite National Park” or “Costa Rica” and others with more specific geotags like “Erindi Private Game Reserve” or “Mount Whitney.” On a few photos,

Brenato makes a statement with her geotags. One, in particular, taken at Havasupai Falls boasts a geotag that simply reads, “Nope” and a caption that starts by saying, “if you’ve been, then you know.” There are also several sponsored posts in collaboration with tourism offices dotted 144 throughout Brenato’s feed, making it clear that she does profit from posts that exist for the express purpose of increasing visitation to the areas she is paid to promote. Though she uses her platform to create awareness about the issue of overcrowding on public lands, Brenato and other photographers that share their outdoor travel photos critique and participate in the same system making photography blogs a unique case to analyze in this context. In the way of critical political economy, this analysis necessarily starts by examining the ownership and support structures of these blogs, which include for-profit publishing companies and a heavy reliance on industry advertising.

Outside Magazine & Other Environmental News Outlets

The remaining ten articles under the ‘niche news’ heading were pulled from environmental or outdoor-focused news outlets. As discussed in Chapter Three, the amount of environmental reporting is dwindling as news organizations get leaner to adapt to falling revenue; this means that there are fewer reporters able to dedicate their time to covering strictly environmental news as they must cover a wider range of stories in a shorter amount of time

(Boykoff, 2007). Dedicated environmental blogs backed by citizen scientists could prove helpful in publicizing pressing environmental issues. However, the environmental and outdoor-focused news sources covering the Instagram effect present many of the same challenges noted with more mainstream types of news.

Treehugger is owned and operated by Narrative Content Group, a for-profit group that

“produces and manages content for its own sites and in partnerships with many of the world’s leading brands” (About Narrative, n.d., para. 3). Narrative Content Group launched in 2009 under the name Mother Nature Network and focused on the topic of sustainability. Despite its 145 beginnings in the environmental communication realm, Narrative proudly touts its content development and marketing programs for brands such as AT&T, CSX, Delta, UPS, and

Walmart. Many of the brands that Narrative has partnered with or developed content for present many sustainability challenges associated with fossil fuel consumption and waste production.

Earth.com is another niche, environmental site that has published content related to the

Instagram effect. From the publicly available information, it appears that Earth.com is supported by native advertising as well as downloads of the Plant Snap App. Ironically, the app by

Earth.com encourages people to get outdoors with their phones in order to identify plants. Given this source of revenue, it will be interesting to explore the Instagram-related content on

Earth.com’s site.

Outside Magazine was founded in 1978 and was created in order to cover “the people, activities, politics, art, and literature of the outdoors” (About Us, n.d.). Outside Magazine, today, is one of the most well-known print and online publications covering exclusively outdoor-related content. For this reason, it is no surprise that Outside Magazine has run several digital articles surrounding the Instagram effect and the geotagging debate. Though the magazine is independently owned, there are some concerns with support structures, ties to the outdoor industry, and audience segmentation. First, Outside Magazine generates a great deal of its revenue through targeted ads (About Our Ads, 2019). Like other digital news sites with a similar revenue model, this can lead to splashy headlines and embedded ads within news content with the purpose of generating more clicks. Because of Outside Magazine’s content-area focus, natural advertising partners include brands in the outdoor industry like Patagonia, Subaru, REI, etc., which are also partners of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, discussed in 146 Chapter Four. On Outside’s website, the main menu breaks down categories for their content with the top of the list reading “gear.” Stories of outdoor adventure are often sponsored by outdoor brands to sell products to Outside Magazine’s affluent readership base. Not only does this present environmental challenges associated with consumerism and the production and shipping of goods, but it also points to a larger problem with elitism in the outdoor realm.

Outside’s print readership skews 59% male, 41% female, though digital hovers at 50/50. Most notably, Outside Magazine reports a median household income of over $103,000 among their online readership, well above the $62,000 nationwide median income (Media Kit, 2020). By working with the outdoor industry to advertise the latest (and oftentimes quite expensive gear)

Outside may further the notion that the outdoors is an exclusive and classist space, reserved for those with a high enough income to afford the right gear.

Th UK Climbing Blog is published by UKClimbing Limited, a media company that also publishes a similar outdoor-focused blog, UKHillwalking.com. UK Climbing has strategically placed “Advertise with Us” links throughout its website and appears to be supported primarily via hosting advertisements on its platform. In addition to native ads on the website, UK Climbing also offers sponsored product news or press releases, sponsored weekly newsletters, sponsored competitions on the website’s home page, premier posts and listings, and commercial profile names for paying advertisers. UK Climbing’s website aims to attract advertisers with these numerous strategies, stating the goal of offering advertisers, “distinct and unique advertising benefits without presenting an overt commercial message” (Commercial Profiles, n.d., para. 1).

This opens up some wiggle room for UK Climbing to present advertisements under the auspices

147 of news or other types of content, which may be harmful in the long run for facilitating substantive conversations about outdoor issues.

Alternative Sources?

There have been several typologies developed to better understand exactly what alternative media are (Bailey, Cammaerts & Carpentier, 2008; Fuchs, 2010; Rauch, 2007).

Alternative media have been defined as any content, channels, sources, and values that are counter to the mainstream (Rauch, 2007). It has also been distinguished as media that members of the community can actively participate in creating (Bailey, Cammaerts & Carpentier, 2008).

Fuchs’ typology asserts that alternative media have four properties including: the audience’s role in the creation of the material, content that is different than mainstream content, a perspective that diverges from pro-business/pro-capitalist ideologies, and the establishment of “different types of relationships with the market and/or state” (Fuchs, 2010, pp. 176-177).

With these typologies in mind, it remains to be seen whether any of the media outlets covering the Instagram effect are truly alternative, though a few have alternative qualities worth highlighting. First, is the Melanin Base Camp blog article titled, “5 Reasons Why You Should

Keep Geotagging,” which was republished in High Country News, an independent, nonprofit media organization that focuses on news pertaining to the Western United States (Our Mission, n.d). Melanin Base Camp is also independently owned, promotes diversity in outdoor recreation, and, as will be discussed later in this chapter, challenges the prevailing wisdom surrounding the geotag debate. Another reader-supported outlet, CounterPunch, published an article titled,

“Delegislating Wilderness,” which also challenges the mainstream perspective both in its content and in the ownership structure of the site. 148 Ideological Influence of Ownership & Support Structures

A few ideological themes emerged during the textual analysis of the articles in the present sample. While a few of these can be traced back to differences in ownership and support structures, the pervading ideological biases, such as the wilderness as ‘pristine, untouched land’ trope are present in nearly every article covering the Instagram effect and the geotagging debate regardless of ownership and support structures. In fact, in environmental news, this ideology becomes even more prominent. Other pro-business or pro-capitalist ideologies can be found within the articles with an overwhelming pro-tourism/outdoor industry stance, mostly perpetuated by the sourcing choices of the articles, which will be explored more in-depth in the following chapter. Additionally, the outdoor elitism discussed prior bled through into the content of many of the news articles analyzed for this study. And finally, a lack of full contextualization of the public lands structure in the United States led many articles to shift the blame for overcrowding and resource damage to individuals, rather than Congress or the heads of the various land management agencies who are responsible for securing funding for the upkeep of public lands.

In order to answer the research question, what role do ownership and support mechanisms play in determining the ideologies perpetuated in the news articles reporting on the

Instagram effect, I traced the ownership and support mechanisms of each of the articles earlier in this chapter. The following textual analysis reveals patterns in prevailing ideologies based on these structures of ownership and advertising. To refresh Chapter Three’s discussion of ideology,

I will return to Oktar’s (2001) claim that the media do not passively describe events in the news, but instead reconstruct them along their own ideological lines. Therefore, as van Dijk (1998) 149 argues, the news cannot be fully understood without the awareness of implicit ideologies of elite groups that are embedded in the news. The ideologies explored in this section will be presented in an order that mirrors the groupings of ownership and support mechanisms in keeping with the political economy focus on how modes of news production ultimately shape content (Donohue et al., 1985; Hanitzsch & Mellado, 2011; Karlidag & Bulut, 2016).

National News

Of the 63 articles in my sample, ten of them came from national news outlets including

The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC News, Fox News, The Guardian, The

Telegraph, Metro, The New Zealand Herald, and The Globe and Mail. As Bettig (2002) and

McChesney (2004) argue, the profit-driven, advertising-supported nature of commercial news outlets mean these outlets tend to cover business-related issues over others and paint industry favorably. This is demonstrated in the national news articles covering the Instagram effect and geotagging debate. Despite numerous issues raised in the previous chapter surrounding the maintenance backlogs and other funding concerns facing public lands and the agencies that manage them, the national press shied away from addressing many of these concerns and focused the blame for overuse and resource damage occurring on public lands squarely on the shoulders of individual Instagrammers or influencers. For example, the opening line of The New

York Times article reads, “Sorry, Instagrammers. You are ruining Wyoming” (Holson, 2018, para. 1).

Neoliberal/pro-capitalist influence is clear in many of the national press articles, as the ten articles analyzed in this category revealed similar ideological themes of forgoing the discussion of underlying funding issues in favor of furthering the idea that individual members of 150 the public are to blame for the problems facing public lands. None of the articles in the national news mention larger funding or regulatory concerns associated with public lands maintenance except for the Guardian article, “Crisis in Our National Parks: How Tourists are Loving the

Land to Death.” Still, the Guardian is not consistent in mentioning these concerns in the second

Guardian article analyzed, “The Vigilante Shaming Influencers for Bad Behavior in National

Parks.” This article takes a staunchly pro-business stance by praising brands who pulled sponsorships from influencers who wandered off the trail and not critiquing the fact that many more brands are responsible for environmental harm and degradation through their supply chain management and distribution practices (PFC Revolution, 2017).

Perhaps not surprisingly given the issues covered earlier in this chapter, the Metro and

Telegraph articles both shield big business from any kind of blame for issues brought about due to increased Instagram use and shift the blame to individual users. Furthermore, the Guardian only criticizes Instagram as a corporate entity insofar as the platform temporarily deleted one of the posts on the @PublicLandsHateYou account, showing a preference for blaming individual users over the larger platform. Perhaps ironically, there is also a great deal support for the tourism industry in the national news. I say ironically because the issue being lamented is the degradation of natural areas at the hands of tourists. Yet it is the express purpose of the tourism industry to increase visitation to these areas. For instance, the Washington Post article, “Can

Tourism Pledges Help Keep Visitors on their Best Behavior,” claims that there is a rise of mass tourism, which burdens landscapes, while simultaneously painting the tourism industry that is partially responsible for increased visitation as the solution to the problem via largely unenforced tourism pledges. The tourism pledges encourage visitors to reduce their impact on nature while 151 traveling, but the article does not cite any demonstrable benefit the pledges have had for any of the cities or countries that have implemented them other than the number of signatures each pledge has received. Without a clear way to measure success (or lack thereof) and little to no enforcement regarding broken pledges, the tourism industry’s reliance on social media pledges arguably amounts to little more than lip service.

Additionally, nearly all of the articles in the national press made references to “pristine” and “remote” wilderness, “fragile” or “delicate” ecosystems, “serene lakes,” finding “solitude” in the outdoors. These descriptors of public lands reveal an ideological preference for the pristine, untouched wilderness ideology. As discussed in previous chapters, this is problematic for a number of reasons including the fact that the pristine wilderness ideology erases the indigenous histories of public lands and implies that any human interference on public lands is necessarily harmful (Cronon, 1996). The article that ran in ABC News, “National Parks Officials Grappling with High Volume as Instagram Tourism Booms,” (2019) illustrates this point, stating that striking a balance between encouraging people to come to parks and managing the impacts that crowds have on the land is necessary to preserve the experience for those who visit to

“experience some solitude in wilderness” (para. 7). The New Zealand Herald also touts the

“pristine wilderness” ideology and suggests that the outdoors is an escape from modern life.

Many of the national press articles also used language that suggested that there were two groups of people that travel to public lands: real outdoorspeople and everyone else. The New

York Times used the word “hikers” to describe the one or two people who would make the trek up to Delta Lake in Wyoming several years ago, while juxtaposing that with Delta Lake today; the Times states, “as many as 145 people are hiking there each day to shoot engagement photos 152 and health supplements” (Holson, 2018, para. 4). Hiking simply becomes a verb, rather than an identity. This implies that once people are hiking a trail to take photos or sell products, they are no longer considered “hikers,” and are thereby othered from the outdoors, compounding the notion that the outdoors is an exclusive space. In The Guardian’s article, “Crisis in Our National

Parks: How Tourists are Loving Nature to Death,” the article states that people coming to

Horseshoe Bend aren’t looking for solitude, but rather for an iconic photo, thus implying that there’s legitimate and illegitimate reasons to be outdoors. The article also perpetuates an “us versus them” storyline, making it clear that the ‘them’ is “selfie-taking tourists” (para. 9). The article doubles down on this claim by stating, “backcountry trails are clogging up, mountain roads are thickening with traffic, picturesque vistas are morphing into selfie-taking scrums. And in the process, what is most loved about [parks] is being lost” (para. 1).

One notable exception to the pristine wilderness ideology and the exclusivity it facilitates was found in the Globe and Mail article (2019), “Social Media Isn’t Ruining Our National and

Provincial Parks – It’s Making the Great Outdoors More Accessible.” The author concedes that parks may, in fact, be more crowded than they used to be; however, they argue that “increasing the number of people that can access nature should be part of our project of building a more equal Canada” (para. 1). This article also deviates from the pro-capitalist stances of other articles by pointing out the class disparities among people who are able to recreate in the outdoors, stating, “In Canada’s recent history, some of the country’s most beautiful parks have largely been enjoyed by the middle and upper class” (para. 9). Although the article addresses Canadian parks and outdoor recreation, Chapter Four highlighted similar concerns regarding access to outdoor recreation opportunities in the United States. Despite The Guardian and The Globe and 153 Mail offering slightly more context to the issue or challenging some of the prevailing ideologies discussed, the majority of the national press articles failed to do the same.

Perhaps due to advertising partners or other ownership-related constraints, few of the prestige press articles were critical of the federal government’s management of public lands with a few exceptions. Notably, the Guardian article mentioned above notes outdated infrastructure in the parks and describes a recent study that found that national parks bear the disproportionate brunt of global warming. The article also mentions former Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, but only insofar as to note how his proposed fee increase at national parks was unpopular and never went into effect, neglecting to discuss any of the other deregulatory actions Zinke took while in office that opened up more public lands to resource extraction. This article does, however, further discusses the NPS’ push toward making cell service and Wi-Fi internet more common in national parks to attract a new generation of park goers, but still mostly blames “slob campers” for the overcrowding and pollution issues within national parks (para. 39).

The ideologies reflected in the national news articles largely confirm Bettig (2002) and

McChesney’s (2004) claims that corporate news paints industry favorably. These articles, with the exception of The Globe and Mail and a brief paragraph in The Guardian, support the status quo by omission, leaving out fundamental details regarding the larger regulatory problems facing public lands. Despite this, it should be noted that the Guardian did present a more nuanced analysis of the Instagram effect by calling into question the influence of the telecom industry within national parks, the growing maintenance backlogs, and pointing out that national parks bear the disproportionate brunt of climate change. However, the Guardian stops shy of blaming any of these larger systemic failures for the problem at hand and instead holds fast that Instagram 154 is largely to blame for public lands being ‘loved to death.’ Upon conducting a critical close reading of the articles, the pristine wilderness ideology also emerged among the national press articles covering the Instagram effect.

Local News

Despite differences in organizing between independently and non-independently owned local news outlets, there was still a considerable amount of overlap in the ideologies perpetuated in the local news. Both independent and non-independent local news articles largely continued the trend of shifting blame from the larger political economic factors discussed in Chapter Four onto individual Instagram users and influencers. This is of great importance when considering

McChesney’s (2004) assertion that one of the essential functions of the news is to “to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful” (p. 57). Only the independently-owned Bend Source Weekly, The Michigan Daily, The Mountain Journal, and

High Country News added nuance to the general claim that Instagram tourists are ruining public lands by discussing larger public lands management strains and over-promotion by local tourism boards.

The Bend Source states, “Some blame the pervasive use of geotags on social media for the proliferation of people at certain spots. Some point to the work of local visitors’ bureaus tasked with promoting the region. Still others say there’s a lack of knowledge about the general public and its right to use public lands” (para. 14). Though the article does not go so far as to say the Instagram debate is a result of these larger political economic concerns, to the last point about the public’s knowledge about using public lands, Bend Source moves the needle. The

Bend Source article, although reaffirming the dominant wilderness ideology that wilderness is a 155 place “...to get away from it all. To get away, more specifically, from other humans,” the article does articulate opportunities for more dispersed outdoor recreation opportunities (para. 1). In this way, rather than relying on the dominant Leave No Trace recreation ethic, Bend Source proposes a nuanced solution that the other articles lack: everyone should still enjoy the outdoors. They should, perhaps, just spread out a bit across local public lands instead of concentrating use on a few trails.

The Mountain Journal article, “Social Media: Harnessing the Digital Human Ecosystem to Protect Nature,” discussed how social media are a powerful tool to making public lands more diverse and did address some concerns regarding the National Park Service’s choices to heavily market the parks on social media as an impetus for increased social media use in the parks.

Additionally, the Michigan Daily addressed the maintenance backlog directly in the article,

“Think First, Tag Second,” (2019) though ultimately concluded that the panacea to public lands problems still “lies in the demise of geotagging,” thus narrowing the issue and failing to adequately contextualize it within the broader political economy of public land deregulation

(para. 7).

The independently owned High Country News also presents an alternative ideological stance. Although the High Country News article, “5 Reasons to Keep Geotagging” was originally published by Danielle Williams on her blog, Melanin Basecamp, the editorial decision on the part of High Country News to re-run the article is an important one in the consideration of the role of news as a watchdog of the powerful. In this article, author Danielle Williams critically analyzes the issue arguing that the authors of other articles on the subject are mostly white and members of the privileged elite who could afford outdoor experiences throughout their lives. 156 Williams predicates her article on the open disagreement with the new Leave No Trace social media guidance discussed in the introductory chapter, which encourages people to “tag thoughtfully” and think twice about sharing the exact location of outdoor spots. Williams addresses the issue of gatekeeping in the outdoors within a larger discussion of how people of color have been systematically barred from entry into many outdoor spaces. She also addresses how other news articles on this issue have perpetuated the idea of “purity tests” or that there’s a right way to perform outdoors. Williams directly challenges the idea of pristine wilderness and outright states that it is harmful both in the way that it erases the indigenous history of land and how it others people from nature. Finally, Williams makes the direct tie between funding issues and a lack of responsibility placed on Congress and/or the Department of the Interior in the news. She even goes on to make suggestions for protecting public lands from overuse by engaging in political advocacy. Finally, Williams argues that social media make the outdoors more diverse and more inclusive, directly challenging the mainstream ideologies present in other articles.

Despite these challenges to the dominant ‘pristine wilderness’ ideology, non- independently owned news articles perpetuated the dominant wilderness ideology and doubled down on the claim that individual tourists and Instagrammers are to blame for ruining public lands. The Desert Sun describes outdoor locations as “fragile” while the Register Guard claims that “pristine landscapes” are being “loved to death.” King5 writes sympathetically of the shaming strategies employed by Steve of Public Lands Hate You, stating, “[Steve’s] being called a social media vigilante, but he just wants people to think twice before sharing photos of themselves unwittingly destroying fragile spots, feeding wild animals, and using mother nature 157 as a prop” (para. 15). Altogether, these statements serve to perpetuate the ideology that wilderness is pristine and, therefore, damaged by human intervention. As discussed previously, this opens the door for gatekeeping those not deemed worthy enough to enjoy the outdoors by setting a standard for the right way to interact with land that is legitimized by the Leave No

Trace Center.

In fact, several of the local news articles also raise questions about whether people are in the outdoors for the right reasons, which presents a concerning purity test for those who wish to enjoy public lands, despite the fact that these places are public – meaning they are open to all.

The Telluride Daily Planet article, “Is Instagram Ruining Nature” asks directly, “Are the majority of people going to these places getting out in nature for the right reasons?” (para. 6).

Duluth News makes a similar point, stating that people are visiting a popular local trail, “for a well-liked post on social media” (para. 14). The article implies that finding solitude is a noble pursuit, while taking photos and sharing them online is not, thus providing opportunities to shun certain people or groups from public lands. Only High Country News, by republishing Danielle

Williams’ “5 Reasons to Keep Geotagging” critiques these purity tests, representing an important counter-balance to the pervasive wilderness ideology. Much like the wilderness ideology, the ideological preference for industry was also noted across many of the local news articles.

Despite these important ideological differences explored between independently owned and non-independently owned local news, local newspapers were more likely to take a pro- tourism industry stance, regardless of ownership, likely because tourism is a driving part of the economies in many of the places reporting on the Instagram effect. Coupled with issues raised

158 earlier in this chapter of tourism organizations supplying much of the advertising support for these news outlets, this is of some concern.

The independently owned UT Daily Beacon, Aspen Daily News, 5280, and The Mountain

Journal have all taken a decidedly pro-tourism industry stances highlighting the success of tourism industry campaigns while neglecting to consider that tourism bureaus may be partially responsible for the problem in the first place. As was uncovered in the analysis of the public news articles, some governmental tourism boards even hire social media influencers to promote destinations despite concerns raised in the popular media about influencers’ impacts on public lands (Migdal, 2018). Also, despite the fact that these articles were produced in different locations (Knoxville, Tennessee, Aspen, Colorado, Denver Colorado, and the Greater

Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is mostly in Wyoming, respectively), both the UT Daily and The

Mountain Journal highlight the success of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board’s reported success with their geotagging campaign, thus leaving the local community largely unaddressed.

Specifically, the UT Daily, which serves the University of Tennessee and the surrounding

Knoxville community, highlighted the Jackson Hole campaign while lamenting that something similar did not exist in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In terms of discussing any larger issues as play, the article forewent discussions of lack of funding or Congressional support and stated that the symptoms experienced in public lands currently were symptoms of a larger beast, but that beast, according to the Beacon, is social media and the internet, not fossil fuel extraction, maintenance backlogs, climate change, or lack of effective leadership in the DOI.

This is not to say that the larger, structural problems are the only cause of land degradation. 159 Rather, there are several components to the problem that the news ought to address more fully in order to foster an informed public.

In the Mountain Journal article, “Is Geotagging Putting a Bullseye on the Last Best

Places,” it is suggested that the outdoors are “thrust under the spotlight of social media,” absolving tourism agencies and the land management agencies themselves of any responsibility related to their own marketing and leaving the issue of increased connectivity and cell tower construction within the parks completely out of the story (para.13). Although the Aspen Daily

News takes a similar pro-tourism industry stance, at the very least it highlights the Aspen

Chamber Resort Association’s own geotagging campaign in addition to the one deployed in

Jackson Hole. Only the independent Michigan Daily presents the tourism industry as a double- edged sword, stating, “the increase in tourism in Wanaka has stimulated the local economy, much to the satisfaction of the city, but has wreaked havoc on Lake Wanaka’s most prized inhabitant: a solitary tree” (para. 4).

Pro-industry, specifically pro-tourism industry ideologies were also found throughout non-independently owned local news articles. The Register Guard and The Aspen Times, owned by Gannett and Swift Communications respectively, both praise the tourism industry for largely untested geotagging and tourism pledge campaigns. The Aspen Times ran the article, “Aspen

Heads into Summer Season with Plenty of Local Anniversaries to Celebrate,” that discusses the

Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s launch of the new Aspen Pledge and “Tag Responsibly” campaign without discussing whether or not the campaign has been successful in reducing harm to people or public lands. The Register Guard makes a similar point to praise tourism agencies in

Hawaii, Montana, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for taking similar steps in creating “Travel 160 Responsibly” videos, hashtags, and, geotag campaigns. Again, the article does not weigh in on whether or not any of these measures have been successful, allowing the tourism industry to reap the praise of taking a step to correct a problem, without knowing if that step will prove effective or not for the health of public lands and the people who visit them. Furthermore, Gannett-owned

AZ Central praises the outdoor industry, specifically outdoor gear retailer Keep Nature Wild, for its role in organizing local volunteer efforts to clean up local parks. The article details how funding shortages, “never-ending backlogs,” and “limited [park] staff” make it difficult for

Arizona land managers to properly maintain public lands. As a stand-in for adequate government action to solve these problems, Keep Nature Wild organizes trash clean ups where volunteers can come and collect litter in the parks. Though Keep Nature Wild operates as a non-profit, allowing the company to allocate outdoor gear and apparel sales into clean up events, there remains the concern that purchasing Keep Nature Wild products may act as a stand-in for more effective action like advocating for more funding appropriations for Arizona’s public lands. While trail clean ups may ease the burden for local park staff in the short term, they do not solve the underlying problems plaguing the public land system. Regardless, Keep Nature Wild likely benefits from positive PR in the local news.

The analysis of ideologies perpetuated in independently owned and non-independently owned local news articles showed some important effects of ownership on ideology. First, independently owned local news articles were more likely to be critical of the dominant wilderness ideology and challenge the status quo related to the governance of public lands. Of note, Bend Source and High Country News both highlighted structural problems within the

Department of the Interior and other land management agencies that harm public lands. 161 Additionally, the article that ran in High Country News critiqued the dominant recreation ethic,

Leave No Trace, by highlighting the ways in which it can legitimize purity tests in outdoor spaces. While several of the chain-owned news articles posed the dichotomy between the right ways and the wrong ways to use public lands, independent news articles provided a valuable counterbalance, reminding readers that public lands are just that – public.

Despite the challenges to the dominant wilderness ideology that independent local news provided, nearly all of the articles, regardless of ownership, showed a preference for industry – predominantly the outdoor recreation and tourism industries. As discussed previously, presenting industry as the solution to problems facing public lands narrows the scope of the issue to such that the larger structural problems discussed in Chapter Four remain largely unaddressed. Rather, this narrowed scope serves to shift the blame to the individual instead of the systemically mismanaged agencies that manage public lands from the top down.

Public Media

Although the public news outlets – the CBC, NPR, and APR – all operate with slightly different amounts of government versus corporate funding, it is the expectation that public media exist to serve the public interest even and especially in markets that are not profitable to advertisers (McChesney, 2004). Be that as it may, public broadcasting is not without criticism.

As discussed previously, the primary criticism of public media content examined in this analysis have come from McChesney (2004) and Chomsky (2006) who have argued that public broadcasting is too beholden to constraints of neutrality to adequately question the status quo and that public broadcasting is too inundated with corporate sponsorships to critique the capitalist system respectively. 162 This was especially noted in WBUR, NPR, and Marketplace’s coverage of the issue. All three seemed to make an effort to present a “balanced” report of the issue, keeping the reporting on the Instagram effect and geotagging debate relatively surface level and heavily relying on sources to shape the narrative and make claims. Additionally, WBUR failed to contextualize the issue within the broader ‘loved to death’ history, implying that a “fascination with the natural world” was a new phenomenon while decrying Instagrammers’ ‘discovery’ of the nation’s public lands (para. 12). This language dismisses the ongoing nature of the problem and does not allow for a deeper probe into the corporate ties and conflicts of interest within the upper levels of government that contribute to resource damage on public lands.

Furthermore, NPR seemed careful not to make any other ideological statements or claims about the Instagram effect and instead relies on the primary source, travel photographer, Brent

Knepper, to completely control the narrative. This decision will be discussed more in-depth in the following chapter on sourcing. Marketplace, the podcast produced by Minnesota Public

Radio (a subsidiary of APMG), presents a similar format as the journalist, Hill, interviews Casey

Schreiner, the editor-in-chief of the outdoor website, Modern Hiker. In a similar fashion,

Marketplace relies on Schreiner to shape the story and avoids offering too much commentary.

However, Hill offers Schreiner the opportunity to expand the issue beyond the immediateness of the Instagram effect by asking, “Are officials and sort of the folks in charge doing enough to help keep these places safe?” To which Schreiner replies, “A lot of times these places are severely underfunded,” but does not go so far as to critique any public officials or policies. In this way, the article supports the status quo by what it does not say, only briefly mentioning funding concerns and then jumping right back into how Instagram is ruining public lands. 163 Although KNPR also heavily relies on its sources to shape the narrative in the article,

“Controversy Blooms Over Wildflower Geotagging,” KNPR took a slightly different approach.

In the article, the manager of the Public Lands Hate You Account (referred to by his pseudonym,

Steve) and public lands activist and outdoor influencer, Katie Boué, were each asked their thoughts about the geotagging debate. The choice to interview these two people specifically will be addressed more in the following chapter, but it is important to note that Boué did steer the conversation to federal funding and climate change as two broader issues that are arguably having more of an impact that Instagrammers on public lands. Additionally, many of the local news articles address impacts that are happening in their own areas, while still others choose to focus on sites like Horseshoe Bend, Zion National Park, or other places with more demonstrable overcrowding. The KNPR article keeps a local focus in Nevada and even acknowledges that there isn’t a huge issue with population density that exists in other states – the only article in the sample to do so.

Although the CBC article, “Social Media Influencers Earn Big Bucks Capturing B.C.’s

Natural Beauty – But at What Cost,” ultimately blames influencers for the strain on British

Columbia’s public lands, the CBC adds some nuance to the debate. Unlike the national news articles that offer a favorable view of the tourism industry, the CBC highlights how Destination

B.C. (British Columbia’s tourism board) recruited more than 20 influencers to market British

Columbia, thus exposing some of the hypocrisy within the assumption that Instagram influencers ruin public lands. The other article by the CBC analyzed in this sample titled, “Why These Thrill

Seekers are Reluctant to Geotag the Stunning Sites They Find” continues the trend of relying on sources to shape the narrative and refrains from offering additional commentary on the issue. 164 Public broadcasting refrains from presenting strong ideological biases, although the absence of criticism for the public land management system as it currently exists is an ideological statement in and of itself. This brings up Boykoff and Boykoff’s (2004) discussion once again of balance as bias. In an attempt to present even reporting on the issue, public media outlets have sanitized the issue and have not provided the public with enough information to support informed environmental policy decisions.

Digital News

As discussed previously in this chapter, many of the digital news sites included in this analysis are backed by large media conglomerates, which has been demonstrated to result in a pro-business preference in the news (Bettig & Hall, 2012). This was confirmed within this analysis as pro-business ideological preferences were rife within digital news articles sampled.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than The Ringer’s article, “Stay Wild: How Parks

Departments Are Keeping Up with Instagram Chasers.” The article describes the ways the tourism industry is attempting to manage the “glory hunters” on social media by crafting geotagging campaigns like the one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Jackson Hole campaign, as discussed previously, was referenced across many of the news articles written on this subject and implored visitors to use a specific geotag when taking photos in Jackson Hole and on surrounding public lands. The geotag reads, “Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild.” The article then shifts its focus to discuss the Mighty Five campaign by Utah’s state tourism office,

Visit Utah. The article states that the campaign worked too well because it encouraged too many people to visit Utah’s “mighty five” national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands,

Capitol Reef, and Zion. The article describes how Visit Utah is trying to encourage people to 165 venture to lesser known spots, though a quick visit to the Visit Utah website reveals that its

“Parks and Outdoors” page still prominently features the Mighty Five. By focusing on the alleged ‘successes’ of the tourism industry, the articles do not critically consider whether industry is partially responsible for degradation to American public lands. In this way, tourism boards like Visit Utah and the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board are able to profit off of public lands by increasing visitorship to them without suffering any of the consequences that land managers in those spaces must face – that is, it is doubtful that the marketing team behind

Visit Utah is dealing with managing the strain of increasing human waste in Zion National Park.

Nevertheless, the digital news shows preference for the tourism industry by not raising these points and instead touts the industry as a potential solution to the problem of overuse rather than part of the cause.

Refinery29 echoes a similar trope with the title, “Instagram Ruined Travel. A New

Generation of Influencers is Trying to Fix It.” This piece, like many others, discusses the Jackson

Hole campaign and highlights several social media influencers who use their platforms to advocate for more ethical or sustainable travel. Although the title of the article declares

Instagram as a whole responsible for issues within the tourism industry, the article does not discuss any structural concerns with Instagram, but rather shifts the responsibility for fixing any problems that exist to individual influencers.

Racked, which no longer publishes, took a similar stance in the article, “How the Rise of

Outdoor Influencers is Affecting the Environment.” The article follows the career of Katie Boué, an outdoor activist that uses Instagram as a platform to inspire sustainable change. By highlighting influencers who are working to create a more equitable travel economy, the article 166 disregards the numerous influencers who may be implicit in less sustainable travel. This one- sided view of influencers as the solution to the problem, rather than potentially part of the problem, cherry picks a point of view that supports the pro-industry status quo.

In addition to pro-business/tourism industry ideologies prevalent in digital news articles, there is also the prevailing ideology of the pristine wilderness throughout the digital press. The

Ringer’s article, “Loved to Death: How Instagram is Destroying Our Natural Wonders,” (2016) is centered around the personal experiences of the author, Molly McHughs, and describes her adventures to lonely swimming holes when she was a child. The same pools now, she writes, are crowded with people. In the piece, public lands are referred to as “someone else’s sacred space,” thus implying that certain people have more of a right to public lands than others, which, based on the reality that public lands are held in trust for the entirety of the public, is categorically untrue (para. 21). This article also combined pro-business with wilderness ideologies by stating that, in order for people to go outdoors the right way, they must make a trip to REI to get the proper gear first (para. 21). These articles freely toss around words and phrases like “loved to death” and “hot spots” to describe what was once pristine being overrun by tourists. This suggests a connection between the pro-business and pristine wilderness ideologies perpetuated in the digital news with the bridge between these dominant ideologies being represented by the

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. As Chapter Four explored more in-depth, this reifies outdoor recreation as an activity reserved for the upper class because, in order to leave no trace, one must make a trip to REI to purchase potentially cost-prohibitive outdoor gear.

167 Vice Challenges the Status Quo

Notably, Vice took the most alternative stance out of all of the digital news outlets. In an article titled, “Stop Blaming Instagram for Ruining the Outdoors,” Vice addresses what it argues are the “real problems:” adjacent land use, mining and natural gas drilling on public lands, a hostile presidential administration, a lack of funding for conservation and land protection, climate change, and a lack of education about all of these issues. It is likely that Danielle

Williams’ article, “5 Reasons to Keep Geotagging,” discussed at the end of this chapter, was an influence on Vice’s stance as it was published several months prior to Vice’s article. Also, Vice’s article even cited Williams as a source in its defense of social media. Still, even a willingness to discuss underlying funding and structural issues facing public lands does not mean that Vice avoids all of the pitfalls of pro-business ideology. There is still the presupposition that Leave No

Trace is the best stewardship practice and that individual actions are the best way to prevent resource damage on public lands despite the numerous concerns raised between Leave No Trace and its corporate ties.

The analysis of digital news articles from an ideological perspective provides an opportunity to test the claim that the internet allows for more diverse points of view (Gilder,

1994). Although Vice notably criticized the status quo, a vast majority of the digital news articles reinforced ideologies presented in the national and local news. This, perhaps, is not surprising given the earlier examination of the ownership and support structures behind the digital news outlets in this sample. Many exist for the purpose of turning a profit based on the number of views and click-throughs the websites generates, rather than to serve the public interest. From a democratic standpoint, this is problematic because constituents are parlayed into mere consumers 168 and the ‘press’ is less likely to have any incentive to challenge the status quo or act as a watchdog of the wealthy and powerful elite.

Niche News

Photography Blogs

As noted previously in this chapter, photography blogs’ focus on the issue of Instagram use and geotagging is not surprising as many nature photographers rely on their “secret spots” remaining secret. Oftentimes, because of the niche focus on photography blogs and perhaps due to their desire to please advertisers, the Instagram effect/geotagging debate discussed in these articles did not delve into any of the deeper issues regarding the funding of federal land management, the impacts of climate change, or increased cell tower construction in backcountry.

In fact, many of the photography blogs relied on other news articles in this sample to make their point that geotagging is ultimately to blame for ruining public lands, showing less of a commitment to investigative journalism and more commitment to generating content to capture the attention of audiences for advertisers. Of course, blogs may not necessarily be expected to engage in the kind of investigative journalism of larger news organizations. Many blogs simply act as spaces for news commentary in which bloggers respond to already published news (Bruns,

2012). However, in an increasingly ‘objective’ media landscape, blogs can serve the important function of incorporating diverse opinions and perspectives back into the news. The question remains, though, whether blogs can fulfill this function, or whether they succumb to pressures from advertisers.

The FStoppers article, “Clear Evidence to Stop Geotagging Specific Locations of Your

Nature Photographs on Social Media,” and the PetaPixel article, “How Geotagged Photos are 169 Harming Natural Landmarks,” both use the Vox video of Horseshoe Bend to contextualize their arguments. Many of the photography blogs also perpetuate the pristine wilderness ideology by implying that there is a right way to “discover” wilderness, and it’s not through geotagged photos, but by using a paper map. The FStoppers article, “Please Stop Tagging Locations of

Your Outdoor Photos,” argues that putting in the effort of using a map and finding places “the old fashioned way” can make the experience more meaningful, stating, “Most of the time, putting in effort, blood, and sweat can make the place much more magical” (para. 4). This is problematic because statements like this further the notion that the outdoors is an exclusive space, and if one does not have the right skills to venture outdoors, then they don’t belong there in the first place.

Overall, the discussion surrounding the Instagram effect on photography blogs remains largely at the surface level and perpetuates a pro-business ideology by failing to address any larger concerns with Instagram as a platform or any of the larger political economic/environmental concerns surrounding land management in the United States.

Additionally, the articles further reinforce a pristine wilderness ideology and maintain the outdoors as exclusive and only belonging to those who can perform outdoor behavior correctly, completely ignoring the fact that everyone has the same right to public land access in the United

States by law.

Outside Magazine and Environmental News

Outside Magazine and the other environmentally focused news sites in my sample perpetuate similar ideologies as other articles, namely pro-tourism/recreation and the pristine wilderness ideologies. This is to be expected in Outside Magazine whose revenue is primarily 170 driven by working to promote outdoor recreation brands and organizations. The support structures of Outside seem to greatly affect the content of the articles, which lack any kind of larger criticism about federal funding/mismanagement of public lands and instead imply that the tourism industry, the right gear, and technology can solve the problems they’ve had a hand in creating.

For instance, Outside’s article, “What’s Being Done to Save Wild Spaces from

Instagram,” includes a description of the Jackson Hole geotagging campaign with the optimistic claim that similar campaigns across the country can make a dent in the problem at hand; like the other articles that discuss this campaign, none are able to articulate any tangible benefits the campaign has had on public lands. The Outside article, “How Big Brother-Style Tech is Helping

Hikers Avoid Crowds,” paints technology as the savior to the problems that (other Outside articles argued) technology created by allowing users, in real time, to see how crowded local public trails and parks might be and where they can find less crowded destinations. Although this may help disperse use across public lands, it also runs the risk of funneling more people into places that are not staffed to properly manage new crowds, which is not a concern addressed by the article. Another Outside article, “Is Instagram Ruining the Great Outdoors,” perpetuates the notion that the outdoors is exclusive and that everyone should have to find their own special spot

“the old fashioned way” as a seeming contradiction to the techno-optimistic article discussed above. It should be noted that both articles were written by the same author, Christopher

Solomon, only a year apart.

The Earth.com, Treehugger, and Eco Warrior Princess articles all take a decided pristine wilderness ideological stance. These articles all shift the blame from regulatory bodies or even 171 Instagram/Facebook to individuals that visit public lands. Treehugger cites selfie culture as one of the biggest threats to the outdoors, while lamenting that social media attract an international crowd in a statement that borders on nationalist gatekeeping. The Eco Warrior Princess article,

“Absurd Influencers Ruin Social Media, and Now They’re Ruining Nature Too” (2019) lauds the work of Steve (Public Lands Hate You) and argues that “publiclandshateyou might as well have been a chant by Native Americans against invading settlers” (para. 7). It is possible that, although these outlets are dedicated to environmental news, their reliance upon advertising and lack of true investigative journalism has led to an overreliance on outdated wilderness ideologies.

Alternatively, as the pervasiveness of the pro-industry/pro-capitalist and the pristine wilderness ideologies has been discussed across national, local, public, digital, and niche news, this may be a testament to the stronghold that these ideologies have on the news media at the present time.

Although techno-optimists may assert that the internet would allow for more diverse points of view in the news, this has proven true in limited instances throughout this analysis. The last categorization, alternative news, provides an opportunity to examine whether the alternative, reader-supported structure of CounterPunch translates into an alternative ideological stance.

Alternative News: Content Versus Structure

As discussed in the ownership discussion, CounterPunch was the most alternative news platform based on its model of reader-supported news and independent ownership. The article,

“Delegislating Wilderness,” (2019) published on CounterPunch.org also takes an alternative stance as far as content is concerned. In the piece, author Chris Zinda argues that the “recent spate of Instagram is ruining the outdoors pieces” involve the central theme that geotagging increases visitation to public lands/wilderness areas and results in natural/cultural impacts on 172 those places. Zinda seems to address Williams’ and Boué’s criticism of the idea that

Instagrammers are to blame by asserting that, “’influencers’ who work alongside the Outdoor

Industry Association (and who describe themselves as public land advocates)” argue that “white men are gatekeeping, recreation is inherently a virtue and all we need is more infrastructure and education to accommodate more people” (para. 2).

However, Zinda argues that this is a failed refrain and goes on to argue that the

Wilderness Act guarantees the Rights of Nature to exist unmolested – also a novel argument when compared to other articles in the sample. Zinda also argues that while oil, gas, mining, grazing, industrial agriculture, and consumption are all threats to public lands, an equal threat is the recreation industry itself. The article articulates how “the crisis on public lands, exacerbated by Instagram, remains the same as it was in 1964” (para. 4). That is, public lands are facing an increasing population and encroachment into the wilderness. The article argues that, in order to protect nature, we must redefine natural rights to include the rights of nature and view wilderness areas as a legal means to create and maintain preserves.

In addition, there were three other articles that are not necessarily produced via alternative means but did advance alternative ideologies in their news content. First was the

Globe and Mail article, “Social Media Isn’t Ruining Our National and Provincial Parks – It’s

Making the Great Outdoors More Accessible.” Notably, this article was an opinion piece, meaning that many of the ownership and support concerns with The Globe and Mail discussed earlier in this chapter may not have as much influence over the editorial content. Next was the

Vice article, “Stop Blaming Instagram for Ruining the Outdoors,” which was discussed more at length in the Digital News section. Although this article challenged the mainstream view of the 173 issue, because of the production and support structures of Vice, I chose to include it in the Digital

News section rather than as alternative news. The next article which was discussed at length in the local news section is Danielle Williams’ article, “5 Reasons to Keep Geotagging,” which was originally published on her blog, Melanin Basecamp, but was captured in the search for the sample analyzed in this thesis when it was republished by High Country News. These articles in particular demonstrate a departure from the neoliberal logic that the individual must bear the weight of environmental responsibility as described by Dimick (2015). The fact that these articles espouse alternative viewpoints without necessarily being produced via alternative means

(as defined by Fuchs and other alternative media scholars), implies potential value in editorial content, independently owned local news outlets, and digital news outlets that are committed to challenging the status quo.

Modes of Production and Ideology

This analysis follows the theoretical and methodological tradition of critical political economy by first examining media ownership as it relates to content. As Gilens and Hertzman

(2000) write, “given the essential role of the news media in democratic governance, concern about who wields media power has been a critical issue in American politics” (p. 369). It is, therefore, a worthwhile undertaking to examine the various kinds of news ownership structures, which range from family owned, trust owned, corporately owned, etc. This remains an important lens of analysis as media owners are inseparable from the larger social totality in which the news is produced as several previous studies have demonstrated (An et al., 2006; Dunaway, 2008;

Dunaway, 2013; Napoli & Yan, 2007; Schaffner, 2005; Yan & Napoli, 2006).

174 By tracing the modes of production, that is the ownership and advertising support mechanisms of the news articles discussing the Instagram effect, I have worked toward answering the research question, what role do ownership and support mechanisms play in determining the ideologies perpetuated in the news articles in my sample? This analysis has shown that alternative news content like Danielle Williams’, “5 Reasons to Keep Geotagging,” move the needle in terms of expanding the geotagging debate beyond the surface level arguments presented in other articles. This analysis also exposed the pervasiveness of the ‘pristine wilderness’ ideology and, with it, the argument that people were and are inherently bad news for parks. Furthermore, as McChesney (2004) argues, increased corporate control of the news leads to the likelihood that the news will not contextualize important issues beyond what is happening in the immediate sense. A critical textual analysis revealed this to be true with very few articles exploring larger political economic reasons why public lands are struggling beyond increased visitorship as a result of Instagram. As predicted by the political economy literature, the national press mostly avoids challenging the status quo, with the exception of The Globe and Mail and

The Guardian, which is notable as The Guardian has completely divested from fossil fuels and no longer accepts fossil fuel-related advertising. The following chapter will continue examining these ideological trends by examining how the sources quoted in each article contribute to the prevailing ideologies and truth claims in each article.



Chapters Four and Five explored the underlying structures supporting public lands and the news media as well as probed some of the underlying issues regarding the ownership and support mechanisms of the outlets that contained articles discussing the Instagram effect. This chapter builds upon the preceding analysis by examining the sourcing trends in the articles discussed. By exploring the sources directly quoted in the articles about the Instagram effect, I answer my third research question: Who gets to speak in the digital news coverage of the

Instagram effect and geotagging, and why do they receive coverage over other sources? To conclude the analysis, this chapter will also work toward answering my fourth research question regarding the claims made within each article about the key components of the Instagram effect and geotagging debate. First, it may be helpful to briefly review the extant literature surrounding sourcing trends in the news.

As discussed in Chapter Three, the sources directly quoted in news articles shape the news a great deal. Herman and Chomsky’s (2002) propaganda model suggests that corporate- owned news organizations typically rely on official sources as they are often easily accessible, and that doing so may reduce the likelihood that journalists are sued for libel or accused of inserting their own biases into the news; if journalists simply report what official sources – that is members of the government, business leaders, and other people in power – say, they are better protected from claims of unprofessionalism (Herman & Chomsky, 2002; McChesney, 2004). In a similar vein, Bettig and Hall (2012) discuss the ‘golden rolodex,’ which is a cohort of official sources such as government officials, industry leaders, and other public figures that journalists

176 frequently rely on for information (Bettig & Hall, 2012, p. 19). Additionally, because sources are not bound by the same expectations of objectivity or neutrality that journalists are, sources can make “direct assertions in ways denied to journalists” (Carlson, 2009, p. 528). Throughout the past several decades, there has been a demonstrable trend toward relying on official sources

(Brown et al., 1987; Sigal 1973; Whitney et al., 1989). Yet, the role of the journalist in selecting and interacting with sources must not be overlooked. Because sources can be used to say what journalists often cannot, source selection has been described by some scholars as a dance

(Carlson, 2009; Gans, 1979).

The propaganda model’s assertion that an overreliance on official sources denigrates the democratic function of the news has been criticized as it underplays journalists’ agency in working in tandem with sources to create news stories (Carlson, 2009; Hardy, 2014; Murdock &

Golding, 2005). When dealing with sources, journalists can present their sources in a certain light or evaluate their claims (Das, 2019). It is for this reason that the journalist-source relationship is described as a dance or, perhaps more accurately, a tug-of-war (Carlson, 2009;

Gans, 1979). With this in mind, it is important to analyze the sourcing choices made in regard to the Instagram effect and claims made about the geotagging debate as sources (and journalists’ treatment of them) often drive the narratives and make truth claims within the news.

The analysis of 63 articles revealed a reliance on 9 main types of sources. These include: government sources (predominantly land managers), tourism industry officials, Leave No Trace officials, outdoor industry affiliates, representatives from outdoor advocacy groups, influencers/social media users, academics (researchers and/or faculty at academic institutions), writers/journalists, and lay people.

177 Government Sources

The literature suggests that an overreliance on members of government as official sources in the news is problematic because it allows those in power to control the narrative of current events (Bettig & Hall, 2012; Herman and Chomsky, 2002). This has been confirmed by several studies (Bennet et al., 2007; Dimitrova & Stromback, 2009; Entman, 2004). For example,

Dimitrova and Stromback’s (2009) comparative analysis of news sourcing trends in Sweden and the United States found that American journalists remain especially reliant on official, governmental sources. In the case of the Instagram effect, there is definitely a reliance on government sources, however, not in the traditional sense as a majority of the government sources quoted were land managers who work on the ground in public lands and so may be somewhat removed from the upper echelons of the agencies they represent.

On the topic of issues facing public lands, land managers or spokespeople for the federal land management agencies would likely be considered experts. This is reflected in the number of land management officials cited as sources across the articles in the sample. Land managers were quoted as sources a total of 48 times, doubling the next most frequent source category, tourism industry officials, which only had 24 quotes. Although it is logical to seek the input from land managers on issues directly related to the land, a reliance on park rangers or land management agency spokespeople may present a few challenges in covering the issue of the Instagram effect.

First, the list of places affected by increased use (perhaps in part due to social media) is well- known (Hot Spots, 2020). Due to the Leave No Trace Center’s publication of the list of current hot spots, journalists are able to directly contact park rangers and officials working at those locations. And, when posed with the question of whether Instagram is impacting overuse, it is likely that these officials will answer with a resounding yes, regardless of how prevalent the

178 issue really is across all public lands nationwide. A cross-check of hot spots and the locations where land managers were quoted as sources reveals some overlap. Horseshoe Bend, Joshua

Tree National Park, the Lake Tahoe region, and Devil’s Bathtub are all listed as Leave No Trace

Center Hot Spots. Officials from all of those locations are also quoted in the articles related to the Instagram effect. For example, The Guardian and Vox both quote Maschelle Zia, a ranger stationed in the Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Zia tells The

Guardian that, “social media is the number one driver” of the crowd at Horseshoe Bend.

Michelle Kerns, the deputy superintendent of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, corroborates Zia’s statement by telling ABC, “We saw this huge rise in social media, especially

Instagram” at Horseshoe Bend (para. 7). Furthermore, the simple allusion to land managers seems to give weight to the claims being made surrounding the Instagram effect. For instance,

The Telluride Daily Planet simply alludes to park officials’ statements along these lines arguing that Instagram is to blame for the harm being done to public lands, “according to park officials,” though the author does not mention any specific park officials nor include any direct quotes. By relying on park officials in the listed ‘hot spots,’ the news effectively narrows the scope of the issue to not include any of the funding or regulatory failures that play a part in the harm being done to public lands.

Other land managers quoted seemed to try to present a more even interpretation of the issue by arguing that increased visitation has both benefits and drawbacks. For example, the

Ringer quoted Miranda Leconte, a ranger in the Desolation Wilderness Area in Oregon, in the article, “Loved to Death: How Instagram is Destroying Our Natural Wonders.” While Leconte is no longer a ranger in the area, during her time there, she ran a personal Instagram account showcasing locations within the wilderness area with geotags because she “wanted the public to

179 know that the Forest Service isn’t full of ‘mean feds,’ but actual nice people” (para. 26). Leconte also described how she received animosity from her coworkers at the time with one of her former colleagues telling her that she was “ruining wilderness values and increasing the flow of visitors to Desolation Wilderness,” which he argued was a bad thing (para. 27). Leconte pushes back against this notion, telling the Ringer, “our public lands don’t belong to a handful of people”

(para. 65). This is echoed in Lisa Machnik’s quote in Bend Source Weekly. Machnik, a staff officer within the Deschutes National Forest, claims, “part of the discussion always comes down to, these are public lands, and they’re open to all” (para. 4). Still, as Leconte’s colleague’s comments show, not all rangers share this sentiment. Even Leconte is quoted later in the article as saying, “There’s one place in Desolation Wilderness that I won’t geotag. I think I’ve only posted one or two photos from the spot, and I stopped when someone recognized the area.”

(para. 67). The article notes how Leconte eventually deleted the photo because the place was

“too special” to her (para. 67).

This brings up a dichotomous motivation among land managers to address the Instagram effect; on the one hand, land managers relay their concerns about impacts to the land. On the other, they can act as gatekeepers of their favorite spots despite the fact that public lands are open to all. Along similar lines, land managers also make statements regarding acceptable uses of public lands. Returning to Zia’s interview with the Guardian, she noted, “People don’t come

[to Horseshoe Bend] for solitude. They are looking for the iconic photo” (para. 7). Others recognize that people’s behavior on public lands may be a result of a lack of experience or education – “people don’t know how to act in the wild.” Aaron Mayville, a ranger within White

River National Forest in Colorado, is quoted in Vice, stating, “Rather than trying to push people to other places to trying to discourage use, we’re trying to educate people” (para. 38).

180 This suggests that, even among land managers, there is not a consensus about the problem or the best way to properly handle it. Additionally, the location where land managers are selected from to be interviewed seems to have an effect on their diagnosis of the problem.

Whereas rangers such as Zia in the Horseshoe Bend area are likely to directly attribute

Instagrammers as the biggest problem facing public lands, others express slightly different levels of worry or concern. Janel Johnson was quoted in the KNPR article, “Controversy Blooms Over

Wildflower Geotagging,” and stated, “In certain areas around the larger cities, we do see some problems with heavy use...but for the most part, in Nevada, there isn’t a huge population density that you have in some other states” (para. 6). Other government sources such as mayors were also quoted to help contextualize the Instagram effect as it relates to specific locations.

Political figures in serving in capacities outside of land management were quoted a total of four times across all news outlets. Bill Diak, the former mayor of Paige, Arizona and Randy

Carter, the current mayor of Kanarraville, Utah, were both quoted in Vox and both offer confirmation that social media are the main driver for increased usage of local public lands. For instance, Diak states, “Social media, I believe, was the main trigger” of the increased visitorship at Horseshoe Bend in Paige. Carter adds, “[the trail] is shared so quick and it gets out there so fast...you can imagine what that does to the canyon floor, the trail, the water, people in and out...” (Haubursin, 2018, :56-4:05). The reliance on land managers and local government officials as sources in the news narrows the scope of the issue to only what is visible to these sources, which presents only a partial picture of the true nature of the problem.

The choice to quote land managers and government officials in Instagram hot spots creates a challenge in terms of presenting the full scope of the issues plaguing public lands as land managers at these sites are more likely to describe their personal experiences, which largely

181 corroborate claims that individual public land patrons are to blame for the problems facing public lands. Chapter Four revealed systemic issues and conflicts of interest at the top of nearly all federal land management agencies that are more systemic than the isolated cases of Instagram- fueled tourism. However, because journalists selected land managers who work for these agencies as sources, this analysis revealed that land managers rarely brought up larger, systemic issues within their agencies perhaps in fear of professional consequences. The decision to rely heavily on land managers as sources in articles discussing the Instagram effect thus enforces the neoliberal logic that guides the current deregulatory climate of the DOI and USDA by narrowing the scope of the issue and shifting blame away from federal agencies and onto individuals. This is achieved through careful selection of land managers that work at already overcrowded sites.

Tourism Professionals

Another type of source often quoted in the news stories related to the Instagram effect were tourism professionals. Across all of the articles, tourism professionals were quoted 24 times with six quotes in the national/prestige press, ten quotes in the local news outlets, two quotes in the public media, four quotes in the digital news outlets, and two quotes in niche outlets. As discussed in chapter four, the tourism industry presents a challenge for the effective management of public lands as it is the purpose of tourism boards to increase visitorship at their designated locations. In some instances, the goals of tourism agencies may differ from those of land management agencies; that is, for conservation aims, land managers may argue that there should be less people in a given area. But for tourism purposes, the mark of success is nearly always more people traveling to a location. These conflicting goals have come to a head in places like

Utah, where Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Bryce Canyon National Parks have all experienced massive leaps in visitorship, leading to resource degradation and infrastructural

182 harm within the parks. Tom Adams, the director of Utah’s outdoor recreation office, told The

Ringer that his department is trying to spread out visitors among the state’s various recreation areas in light of the crowding at Utah’s national parks. Adams states, “We’re saying, ‘hey, the

Mighty Five are amazing places, but what you don’t know about are the other hidden gems in the

43 state parks that we have, that many people say could be national parks’” (para. 8). Despite this, as discussed in Chapter Five, a look at the Visit Utah website shows that Visit Utah continues to market “The Mighty Five” national parks to prospective tourists quite prominently.

Similar conflicts exist in Oregon. Linea Gagliano, the director of global communications with

Travel Oregon, described Travel Oregon’s most successful campaign, “7 Wonders of Oregon.”

The campaign highlighted seven specific outdoor spots in Oregon. Gagliano said of the campaign, although it was wildly successful, “We began to realize that driving people to specific places drove stress that our natural resources potentially couldn’t keep up with...” (para. 59).

However, the 7 Wonders of Oregon also still remains on the Travel Oregon website as of 2020.

Of particular note in regard to tourism officials as sources is the prevalence of Jackson

Hole Travel & Tourism Board members across national, local, public, digital, and niche news outlets. Kate Sollit, the executive director of the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board was quoted a total of four times, while another Jackson Hole Tourism Board member, Brian Modena, the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism website, and Dustin Black, the creative director for the

“Keep Jackson Hole Wild” geotagging campaign, were each quoted once. This is important as this research remains critical of techno-optimistic claims as they relate to issues of land management and the media. In the articles that quote Jackson Hole tourism officials as a source, the story often centers around the success of the “Keep Jackson Hole Wild: Please Tag

183 Responsibly” geotag and campaign despite a lack of any clear metrics of success actually discussed.

The author of the UT Daily Beacon article, “Our Footprint: How Geotagging is Changing the World Around Us,” writes, “The goal [of the campaign], as said by the tourism board, is to revel in the beauty of Jackson Hole while understanding its susceptibility to human disregard”

(para. 7). However, when directly asked why the tourism board was rolling out this campaign,

Brian Modena, a member of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board, told the New York

Times, “We want to make sure people have a real connection to nature, not just a page with a pin on it” (para. 5). This sows seeds of doubt that the Jackson Hole campaign was really designed to keep landscapes from harm and not to shut people out. More troubling is Modena’s remark later in the article where he mentions, “We want to start a responsible conversation now about social media and conservation. Selfishly, there are hikes that I’ve seen that are beautiful that I’m not going to name” (para. 25). These statements position tourism boards as gatekeepers between the public and public lands, though the news consistently showcases actions by the tourism industry in a positive light. By choosing Jackson Hole tourism officials and the creator of the Jackson

Hole campaign, the news automatically preferences the tourism industry as the solution to problems created by Instagram and geotagging, rather than exploring whether the tourism industry is part of the cause.

Leave No Trace

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Education (LNTC) represents another category of sources quoted in the news stories related to the Instagram effect. In total, LNTC-affiliated sources were quoted 13 times with three quotes appearing in the national/prestige press, five quotes in the local news, three quotes in digital news, and one quote each in public and niche

184 news. Concerns regarding the LNTC’s corporate ties were explored in-depth in Chapter Four following the concerns raised in Chapter Two surrounding leave no trace as the prevailing outdoor ethic. These issues are worth exploring again with the prevalence of LNTC sources

(predominantly Dana Watts and Ben Lawhorn, the executive director and education director for

LNTC, respectively) in articles related to the Instagram effect.

To briefly review, “leave no trace” has been the hegemonic outdoor ethic since the 1960s

(Turner, 2002). Critics of the leave no trace movement have pointed out various cultural and class issues associated with leave no trace, including the ways that it others people from the land and furthers the (misguided) notion that wilderness areas, as they exist today, are representative of pre-colonial North America (Cronon, 1996; Simon, 2009) and encourages recreation that relies heavily on expensive outdoor gear (Simon, 2009; Turner, 2002). Additionally, the LNTC has compounded some of these issues by inching further away from its origins as an educational program in partnership with land management agencies and becoming increasingly beholden to the corporate donations of the growing outdoor industry (Public Lands Hate You, 2020).

When LNTC officials are quoted, they are often careful to clarify that they do not wish to act as gatekeepers who bar the public from public lands. Ben Lawhon, the education director for the LNTC, told the Ringer, “Who’s to say who’s the gatekeeper? Just because you found it and someone else found it and isn’t going to be as quiet about it as you – who’s so say who [should] have ownership of these places?” Lawhon explains the danger in keeping people out of the outdoors in the Desert Sun article, “Before You Snap a Nature ‘Gram This Summer, Think

About What You’re Doing to Public Lands.” Lawhon states, “One of the risks we run if we make the outdoors too exclusionary, who’s going to come to its defense when it’s on the chopping block? (para. 24). However, Lawhon never explains what ‘the chopping block’ is or what that

185 means for public lands. Ultimately, although Lawhon tries to portray a balanced perspective, the

LNTC ties to the outdoor industry shine through when he is quoted in the Ringer speaking about

‘the right way’ to visit public lands. He states, “Some of these folks, they do their homework.

They went to REI, did the research, found the place, got educated, got their gear...” implying that the trip to outdoor retailer REI and buying outdoor gear were necessary components to enjoying public lands (para. 51). So, although Lawhon attempts to portray a non-exclusionary front, he necessarily couples outdoor recreation with consumerism instead of pointing out that there are various public lands where people can go that are less crowded and do not require technical gear.

The reliance on Leave No Trace officials as sources in articles regarding the Instagram effect compounds the issues raised in previous chapters about the outdoor industry. The LNTC, as a dominant organization in the outdoor space, essentially codified the argument that Instagram was having a drastic effect on public lands by issuing social media guidance in the summer of

2018 (Walsh, 2018). By choosing to quote LNTC officials in the news, the conversation stays couched in the same hegemonic belief that public lands are in danger of being “loved to death” by those who visit them, and that it is the individual recreationalist’s responsibility to “leave no trace.” To be sure, the LNTC and leave no trace as a land ethic has allowed for considerable strides in preserving land and waterways across public land corridors in the United States

(Boyers et al., 2000; Carle, 2004). However, the issues raised in preceding chapters cannot be ignored in regard to the reliance on LNTC officials as sources on the Instagram effect.

Outdoor Industry

Chapter Four explored the numerous ties between the outdoor industry and the political structures supporting (or not supporting) public lands in the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the ubiquity of the outdoor industry in this space, several industry affiliates

186 were quoted as sources in the news articles covering the Instagram effect. People within the outdoor industry, including REI employees, professional nature photographers, and heads of other outdoor brands, were quoted a total of seventeen times with one quote in a national news outlet, six quotes in local news articles, five quotes in digital news articles, three quotes in public media, and two quotes in niche articles.

As political economy of media scholars have argued, the news tends to cover business interests favorably (Hardy, 2014). By gaining access to the public forum of news as an official source, the outdoor industry, like the tourism industry, can solidify itself as the solution to problems of overuse rather than a potential cause. For example, in the article that ran in March of

2019 in AZ Central titled, “Hiking Enthusiasts in Arizona and Beyond Become a ‘Community of

Doers’ with Keep Nature Wild,” the outdoor apparel and accessory brand, Keep Nature Wild, is praised for organizing a volunteer clean up in Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Sources quoted in the article include land managers: Claire Miller, the preserve and parks manager of the Phoenix

Parks and Recreation Department, and David Jordan, the park supervisor for Lake Pleasant

Regional Park. Other sources include executives from Keep Nature Wild, Cameron Jarman,

CEO, and Melissa Wright, the impact manager for Keep Nature Wild. Similar to concerns raised in other articles, the land managers express concerns related to “the strain that ever-increasing recreational activity has put on parks” (para. 3). Miller told AZ Central, “We can’t get ahead on preventative measures because we are always trying to catch up – there is what feels like a never-ending backlog” (para. 5). Although the article points out that land managers struggle to keep up with maintenance and repairs “in the shadow of not enough money and resources” (para.

6), the solution presented is a group of volunteers organized by Keep Nature Wild rather than increasing funding and resource allocation for the overburdened parks. Corporate goodwill takes

187 up the mantle of a functional land management strategy, which can be murky as trail clean-ups make for good PR, but ultimately don’t solve the underlying funding and staffing crises facing public lands.

Social Media Influencers/Users

It seems fitting that social media influencers are also quoted as sources in news stories about the Instagram effect. Across the articles sampled, social media influencers or specified social media users were quoted a total of 24 times with six quotes in prestige/national news, four quotes in local news, nine quotes in digital news, one quote in niche news, and four quotes in public news. Although arguably social media influencers or avid social media users may not, in other contexts, be considered expert sources, in the case of the Instagram effect, it is understandable why journalists would want to include the statements made by influencers.

However, this presents something of a similar problem as that discussed with the outdoor industry: it is unlikely that social media influencers would consider themselves part of the problem when asked about the Instagram effect. The following case from the New York Times confirms this assumption.

The New York Times article, “Is Geotagging on Instagram Ruining Natural Wonders?

Some Say Yes” (2018), quotes Emily Breeze Ross Watson, a personal trainer and Instagram influencer from Charlotte, North Carolina. The article details how Watson traveled from

Charlotte to Jackson Hole with a friend, exchanging geotagged photos on her Instagram account for a free hotel stay at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Jackson Hole. Although the article focuses on the problems associated with geotagging on public lands, Watson states, “I definitely think it is cool to bring awareness to the area” (para. 16). The article then discusses a specific location within Jackson Hole that has experienced increased visitation as a result of all

188 of this “awareness:” Jenny Lake. Tourism board member, Brian Modena, suggested that Jenny

Lake was particularly vulnerable to increasing amounts of visitors inspired by Instagram. Watson addresses this concern, stating, “I was in awe of it...I can’t imagine them getting mad” (para. 17).

This is, perhaps, the only logical response that an influencer could give without admitting that their business practices are having negative impacts on public lands.

Although Watson presents an example of an influencer outside of the outdoor realm, there were a few other key outdoor or public lands influencers quoted as sources in the articles written about the Instagram effect. Two notable individuals are Katie Boué, formerly with the

Outdoor Industry Association and now working as the mind behind the Outdoor Advocacy

Project,21 and Steve, the anonymous man behind the @PublicLandsHateYou account. These two sources present an interesting dichotomy that illustrates the ideological divide even within the realm of outdoor influencers. Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than the KNPR article and accompanying 15-minute radio segment, “Controversy Blooms Over Wildflower

Geotagging” (2019). Journalist, Heidi Kyser, interviewed Janel Johnson, a botanist with the

Nevada Natural Heritage Program, in addition to Katie Boué and Steve. Steve’s argument largely represents the claim that Instagrammers are ruining public lands via geotagged photos. In the article, Steve states that the reason he started his account was to vent his frustration at the

“increase in abuse to our public lands” (Kyser, 2019, para. 12). Boué counters this view, stating that, “funding is what this all really boils down to for me, funding and infrastructures” (para 17).

She argues that, instead of calling out bad behavior on public lands (as Steve’s account does) that people should be calling their senators and representatives to demand better funding for public

21 The Outdoor Advocacy Project is a resource library provided for people who have an interest in the political economic facets of public lands management and environmental issues. Both a website and an active Instagram account, the Outdoor Advocacy project provides free articles and toolkits developed by policy and environmental experts to help educate the public about current land and sustainability issues. 189 lands. She also mentions the $12 billion national park backlog and notes that in Nevada specifically, the federal land maintenance backlog equals about $223 million.

As evidenced by the examples discussed in this section, social media influencers make up a portion of the sources quoted in these articles, but do not constitute a homogenous group. The ideological tensions between Watson, Boué, and Steve all represent part of the larger conversation surrounding public lands conservation versus public use values that have been contested since the mid 20th century, furthering the notion that the Instagram effect is an evolution of the parks vs. people debate discussed in Chapter Two. Some of these differences may be attributed to the type of news outlet that quotes these sources. Steve was quoted a total of four times in Vice (digital news), The Guardian (national news), Nevada Public Radio (public news)., and King5 (corporately owned local news). Katie Boué was quoted twice; first in the

Nevada Public Radio article and once more in digital news in the Racked article, “How the Rise of Outdoor Influencers is Affecting the Environment.” As discussed previously, Steve can be a fairly divisive presence surrounding the issue of Instagram use on public lands. On the one hand, he has successfully brought issues of overuse to the attention of his over 70,000 Instagram followers. On the other hand, he has publicly shamed numerous individuals and spurred death threats and harassment upon them via his followers.

Although the Guardian and King5 both refer to Steve as a vigilante, neither article is particularly critical of his methods. The Guardian states, “...an anonymous online vigilante is trying to shame influencers who are trampling the plants they claim to love” (para. 1). The closest the article comes to addressing any controversy surrounding Steve is by quoting Freddy

Tran Nager, a social media content strategist and adjunct professor at the University of Southern

California. Nager states, “If you do something outrageous you may get hate comments, but the

190 algorithms can’t distinguish sarcasm. They just count the comments” (para. 15). So, the most critical the article is of Steve is by suggesting, through another source, that his methods are not problematic so much as they are ineffective. In the King5 article, “The PNW Instagram Vigilante

Shaming Folks Who Spoil Special Places,” is also fairly sympathetic toward Steve, stating, “This anonymous man is careful to call out the action, not the person, and doesn’t allow personal attacks on his page” (para. 11). However, Steve regularly includes the Instagram handles of users he is calling out on his page. The article also states, “He’s being called a social media vigilante, but he just wants people to think twice before sharing photos of themselves unwittingly destroying fragile spots, feeding wild animals, and using mother nature as a prop” (para. 14).

Vice acknowledges that Steve’s tactics are controversial, writing, “Though Steve said he wants his account to focus on accountability, some accuse him of facilitating bullying, as some of his followers have threatened or harassed influencers he’s called out” (para. 20). Neither the

Guardian nor King5 mention concerns surrounding bullying or harassment. However, despite the fact that Vice claims, “social media isn’t to blame – lack of support for public lands is” (para.

17), the closest the article comes to critiquing Steve’s tactics is by stating, “Steve’s posts have received criticism, including some that his attitude is elitist. He said the criticism has given him a lot to think about but it has not changed his mind on the problems with geotagging” (para. 23).

Nevada Public Radio (KNPR) balances Steve’s claims with other sources, notably Katie

Boué, who is directly critical of Steve. The article states, “[Boué] said instead of calling out behavior on social media accounts, people should be calling their senators and representatives and demanding adequate funding for public lands” (para. 18). Furthermore, the article mentions how, “Boué is also concerned some conservationists are using the debate about geotagging as a way to keep people out of their secret spots or their favorite hiking areas” (para. 21). The Racked

191 article, “How the Rise of Outdoor Influencers is Affecting the Environment” (2018), focuses more on Boué’s role as a social media influencer and consultant than an activist, predominantly quoting her on how she chooses to work with certain outdoor brands for sponsored content.

In this way, one can see how different ownership structures lead to different treatment of the same sources. National and corporately owned local news outlets paint a sympathetic view of

Steve, despite controversies surrounding his approach to public lands advocacy. KNPR as a public news outlet largely just sets the stage for a debate between Steve and Boué without weighing in heavily on either side, while The Ringer, a digital news outlet, chose to focus more on Boué’s work as an influencer than her role as a leading public lands activist, thus making the issue more about individual influencers and less about the larger structures that Boué was able to discuss via KNPR. The differences in treatment of the same sources creates an interesting dynamic within which to study sourcing trends across news organization because they reveal how, even with similar source selection strategies, journalists treat or prompt sources differently depending on their aims or the aims of their organizations.

Outdoor Advocacy Groups

Another group of expert sources quoted in news stories related to the Instagram effect include members of outdoor advocacy groups such as Latino Outdoors,22 the National Parks

Conservation Association,23 Save the Rhino International,24 and the Center for Biological

Diversity.25 In total, members of outdoor/land advocacy organizations were quoted seventeen

22 Latino Outdoors is an organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for the Latinx community to engage in outdoor recreation. Visit latinooutdoors.org to learn more about this organization. 23 The National Parks Conservation Association is an advocacy organization that lobbies on behalf of national parks. More information about the National Parks Conservation association can be found at npca.org. 24 Save the Rhino International is an international rhino conservation charity that aims to support rhino populations through conservation programs in Africa and Asia. More information can be found at savetherhino.org. 25 The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting species and habitat areas in the United States. More information about this organization can be found at biologicaldiversity.org. 192 times with four quotes in prestige/national news, nine quotes in local news, three quotes in digital news, and one quote in public media. Oftentimes, advocacy groups work alongside governments to protect habitats, biodiversity, and public lands, but exist outside of the governmental structure that is responsible for land management. This matters greatly in the

“dance” between journalists and their sources because the arms-length distance that advocacy groups keep between their organizations and government could allow for sources to speak more critically and freely about land management practices in the United States under DOI and FDA leadership than journalists or land managers are able to.

This was certainly the case with Jeff Ruch, the executive director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who was quoted in the 2018 Guardian article, “Crisis in Our National Parks: How Tourists Are Loving the Land to Death.” Although the title of the article places the blame squarely on the shoulders of tourists, Ruch raises the important issue of cell tower expansion within national parks – a policy that has been supported within the upper levels of the DOI, as discussed in chapter four. Ruch states, “Why come to a national park as opposed to Disneyland? Because you get to confront natural wonders” (para. 49). The article does not offer any additional commentary on the issue of cell tower expansion in national parks, but as an official source, Ruch is given the space to bring it to the audience’s attention. However, instead of describing the policy-side of the issue, Ruch argues against the increasing cell towers for aesthetic reasons within the parks rather than the issues discussed in chapter four surrounding public interest.

Ruch is not the only source who raised counter-concerns in the news stories about the

Instagram effect. Cathy Dean, the CEO of Save the Rhino International, was quoted in the New

York Times article, “Is Geotagging on Instagram Ruining Natural Wonders? Some Say Yes” that

193 ran in November of 2018. Dean’s take on the Instagram effect is that it “is a little alarmist”

(Holson, 2018, para. 22). Although Dean is referring to claims that geotags make it easier for poachers to find rhinos rather than speaking specifically about geotagging fueling overuse of public lands, her take still runs counter to the logic of the prevailing narrative: that social media is to blame for issues facing land and animals.


Up to this point, all of the categories of sources within the sampled articles have been quoted in news outlets ranging from large national news to niche news. However, researchers from academic institutions were only quoted a total of eight times with two quotes in local news, one quote in digital news, three quotes in niche news and two quotes in public news. Notably missing are quotes from academic sources in larger national/prestige press outlets. Herman and

Chomsky in their updated propaganda model (2002) pointed out historical issues surrounding the reliance on academic sources in the news as, in some instances, academic research has been funded by those in power. In the present study, it seems that academic sources are mostly relied on to lend credence to the claim that increased use of public lands is harming wildlife and the land itself or to discuss how technology, improved signage, and updated infrastructure can be used to mitigate these impacts.

For instance, Ashley D’Antonio, a recreation ecologist and assistant professor at Oregon

State University’s College of Forestry, was quoted in the Outside article, “What’s Being Done to

Save Wild Spaces from Instagram” (2019), following a discussion of new signage within

Yellowstone National Park. As a result of the Safe Wildlife Distance Campaign, researchers found that 16 percent more visitors kept their distance once updated signs were in place. Antonio states, “There’s a whole science around how to educate visitors and interpretation, and when you

194 give someone an action they can do, they’re much more likely to comply” (para. 15). This sentiment is echoed by Spencer Wood, an environmental scientist at the University of

Washington’s Center for Creative Conservation. Wood described the success of the study using geotagging data to understand use patterns in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, stating,

“Popularity on social media platforms mirrors popularity in real life, but we’re digging into what those biases are and papers like this help us understand them better” (para. 6). Researchers are largely focused on solutions, as evidenced by the quotes above. While there are certainly promising campaigns being developed by academics, their inclusion as sources likely keeps the conversation focused around the scope of their research and their success, which may not provide adequate context for the larger political economic issues at hand surrounding public lands and their overuse.

Writers and Journalists

In the news articles sampled, writers and journalists were quoted a total of eleven times with five quotes in digital news, two quotes in local news, two quotes in niche news, and two quotes in public news. Out of the ten quotes, six of them were from outdoor-related bloggers

(and four of those were all Casey Schreiner of Modern Hiker). Schreiner presents one of the leading voices in the debate surrounding the Instagram effect and was heavily relied on to make claims in the public news. Like Ben Lawhon of the Leave No Trace Center, Schreiner tries to present a balanced take on the issue, stating in the Marketplace article, “So we’re getting new people into the park, which is great, but a lot of times those new people aren’t necessarily educated on ‘leave no trace’ ethics, or how you act in the wilderness” (para. 6). In the Desert

Sun, Schreiner seems to assume that those who travel into the outdoors due to geotagging trends automatically do not have any experience in the outdoors, stating, “Especially in something like

195 the outdoors, where landscapes are very fragile, there’s a lot of things that you need training for, or at least [to] be aware of in terms of safety. I feel like when you just drop someone off in the middle of the woods, it’s a recipe for a problem” (para. 6). However, there is no guarantee that people using geotags to get outdoors are as inexperienced as Schreiner claims.

The other four quotes were from other journalists who had written about the topic previously. Examining other bloggers and journalists as a source is interesting in this case because it illustrates a similar ideological spectrum explored in the discussion of Instagrammers as sources. Perhaps at no point did the conversation about the Instagram effect change more than when Danielle Williams wrote her blog article, “5 Reasons to Keep Geotagging,” in May of

2019. Williams’ take on the geotagging debate and the Instagram effect as a whole presents a counter-hegemonic stance, which is then capitalized upon in other articles that employ her as a source. For instance, Vice’s critical take on the claim that Instagram is ruining public lands discussed in the previous chapter heavily relied on Williams as a source that was able to deftly challenge the prevailing assumptions about the geotagging debate. In the Vice article, Williams defends the use of Instagram on public lands, stating, “Conservation needs conservationists. We need the next generation, and they happen to take selfies” (para. 16). However, unlike other articles or sources that make a similar argument – social media can make people better advocates for public lands – this one actually addresses what ‘the chopping block’ is by describing maintenance backlogs, “a hostile presidential administration, lack of funding for conservation and protection, climate change, and a lack of education about the aforementioned challenges”

(para. 8). The article refers to these as “the real problems” (para. 6).

Alternatively, there are other writers who represent the stronghold belief that

Instagrammers really are to blame for ruining public lands. One such writer is Molly McHughs.

196 McHughs was formerly with The Ringer, but has since moved on to become the Tech and SEO editor at the Daily Dot. McHughs’ freelance writing also appears in Business Insider and Wired.

McHughs’ (2016) article, “Loved to Death: How Instagram is Destroying Our Natural

Wonders,” was one of the earliest articles about the Instagram effect in the sample for this analysis, making McHugh one of the formative voices for the argument that Instagrammers are destroying public lands and geotagging is accelerating their demise. Two years later, in 2018,

McHugh was quoted in the CBC article, “Why These Thrill-Seekers Are Reluctant to Geotag the

Stunning Sites They Find,” saying, “secret spots are precious and geotagging is overrunning them” (para. 6). It is clear that, like other types of sources, writers do not have one singular attitude toward the Instagram effect. Rather, they are able to represent the broad spectrum of arguments both in their own writing and as sources in other articles. This, again, calls into question the journalist’s role in selecting sources. The writers that are chosen and the viewpoints they espouse can greatly shift the focus and content of the news.

Lay Sources

Although the body of literature on sourcing in the news suggests a reliance on expert over lay sources in the news, Takahashi’s (2011) analysis offered a bit of complexity, which could explain the number of lay sources quoted in articles about the Instagram effect. To be sure,

Takahashi’s (2011) study confirmed what Hall et al. found to be true in 1978 – that journalists rely on primary definers, i.e., official sources, when reporting the news. However, it also explored complexities that emerge when journalists incorporate lay sources into their reporting.

In total, lay sources (everyday citizens) were quoted in the sampled news articles a total of seventeen times with ten quotes in prestige/national news, four quotes in local news, two quotes in digital news, and one quote in niche news. According to Das (2019), “a lay source with a low

197 level of access can offer immediate and useful insights that can make journalistic content more powerful” (p. 129). The incorporation of lay sources certainly adds a similar complexity to the present analysis.

Most often, lay sources were people who were patronizing public lands, such as the seven people quoted in the Guardian article, “Crisis in Our National Parks: How Tourists are Loving

Nature to Death” (2018). In the article, a total of seven lay sources are quoted, making up the majority of the lay sources quoted across all of the articles. The individuals interviewed for the articles include three visitors to Horseshoe Bend, one visitor at Glacier National Park in

Montana, and one resident and one visitor in the town of Estes Park outside of Rocky Mountain

National Park in Colorado. Notably, although the Guardian quoted Zia, the land manager at

Horseshoe Bend, in order to make the case for the overcrowding problem, the lay sources interviewed at Horseshoe Bend do not raise similar concerns. Jenny Caiazzo, a Horseshoe Bend visitor, stated, “Now that I’m here, I see it’s even more beautiful than the pictures” (para. 79), while Brett Rycen, a visitor from Australia, stated, “It’s breathtaking” (para. 80) with no mention of the crowds. Another visitor, Tristan Fabic said, “This is the place where I wanted to propose. I saw it on Instagram and thought it would be really cool” (para. 81). Still, other lay sources confirm the article’s claims about overcrowding. One 82-year-old resident of Estes Park outside of Rocky Mountain National Park stated, “Oftentimes it seems we are in crisis mode, just trying to figure out how to get around...and there just doesn’t seem to be a solution to the overcrowding” (para. 59).

The lay sources serve a series of functions including corroborating claims that Instagram is fueling unsustainable tourism and providing an alternative viewpoint of people who are simply happy to be enjoying the land regardless of crowds. Of course, a concern with lay sources is that

198 they do not provide much context of an issue outside of their immediate experience. This is certainly the case with some of the lay sources quoted about the Instagram effect. Typically, these sources raise issues of how their favorite trails became more crowded or, in the case of the

Estes Park resident, how increased tourism made it more difficult to get around town. However, for information on systemic issues plaguing public lands, lay sources do not provide necessary context, but rather are able to corroborate what other, more official sources, explain about overcrowding on public lands through their own experience in the moment.

Sourcing Discussion

To review, this study confirms the work of previous media scholars by illustrating a preference for official government sources in the news articles in my sample. However, the type of official sources differs slightly from previous studies that prioritize high-ranking government officials. In the present context, land managers are overwhelmingly seen as experts on the issue of Instagram’s impact on public lands as illustrated by the fact that land managers were the most quoted source with 48 quotes across a sample of 63 articles. What sourcing trends reveal, in this case, is a lack of context and gaps that remain to be filled in.

Through all of the stories, with a few notable exceptions of Katie Boué and Danielle

Williams, rarely did sources ever bring up the underlying issues that contribute to the denigration of public lands in the political economic sense. This is an important perspective that is missed when journalists rely on sources to frame the news. Land managers, as discussed previously, may be unlikely to bring up issues related to funding or staffing shortages for fear of professional consequences. Tourism board members and industry officials are unlikely to breach similar topics because of their role in funneling people into public lands.

199 The outdoor industry has the express purpose of making a profit off of outdoor recreation, so it would be unwise to advocate for a reduction in recreation activity, while Leave

No Trace officials are closely tied to many of the corporate players in the outdoor industry, and so they may be less likely to challenge the role of the outdoor industry in contributing to the problem in the news. It seems that the sourcing decisions made in the coverage of the Instagram effect on the news zero in on the hyper-visual. Journalists approach land managers at some of the most crowded sites in the United States to ask if overcrowding is an issue. They speak with lay people at the rim of Horseshoe Bend with phones in hand and corroborate the stories told by officials that manage the site. They allow influencers, the outdoor industry, and the tourism industry to offer their side of the story, and largely do not probe past the issue as it exists on the surface level. Additionally, never are government officials questioned about the lack of funding, nor are officials from Instagram available for comment (though only the New York Times article mentioned trying to get in contact with representatives from Instagram). This serves to narrow the scope of the issue and provides an avenue by which to blame individuals, rather than larger institutions for problems facing public lands.

Sources have a large hand in shaping the narratives perpetuated in the news – a claim that, at this point, is hardly controversial given the research on the topic going back to formative texts like Newsgathering in Washington (Nimmo, 1964). Additionally, the literature has found that the role of sources ranges from providing information, providing different viewpoints, offering interpretations, and validating other news accounts (Dimitrova & Stromback, 2009).

Critical political economy scholars have highlighted issues that arise when the news overly relies on official sources as this can further entrench the hegemonic logic of neoliberalism, keeping those already in power in their positions of authority above the scrutiny of journalists (Bettig &

200 Hall, 2012; McChesney, 2004; Herman & Chomsky, 2002). The necessity of sources in the news and the various functions that are served by both official and lay sources, indeed, are well documented.

However, it is critical to note that, although sources may offer a wide range of stances on an issue, none of those interpretations may necessarily be correct. And, due to the ubiquity of professional journalism standards (McChesney, 2004), it is unlikely that journalists themselves will directly challenge what their sources say. For this reason, the news coverage of the

Instagram effect largely remains at the surface level, where the shocking visuals of hundreds of people clamoring around the edge of Horseshoe Bend reign supreme. Yet, there are many facets of this issue that are less visible such as the systemic underfunding and understaffing of public lands as a result of an Interior Department that prioritizes profit over the public interest in many instances discussed in chapter four. This chapter and the preceding chapter have illustrated how the production side of the news (ownership and advertising support mechanisms as well as sourcing decisions) have great impacts on the ideologies perpetuated within news stories about the Instagram effect and the geotagging debate. All told, these production choices and ideological patterns collectively shape the truth claims about the Instagram effect which is discussed in-depth throughout the remainder of this chapter.

What is the Instagram Effect According to the News?

The ownership, support mechanisms, and ideologies explored in Chapter Five, along with the sourcing trends explored earlier in this chapter all influence the central truth claims of the articles covering the Instagram effect. This analysis provides the foundation to answer my final research question: What are the key components of the Instagram effect on American wilderness being reported in digital news media? As the political economy of media body of literature

201 affirms, the production of the news greatly influences the content that is reported to audiences.

However, it is predominantly the reporting, not the underlying structures supporting news production, that audiences see. For this reason, this thesis moves beyond focusing on solely on production and also incorporates textual analysis.

After conducting a textual analysis of the 63 articles related to the Instagram effect, there were several claims made in the news regarding the key components of the Instagram effect. Of the articles that defined or passed judgement on the Instagram effect, those claims can be categorized into five main themes: Instagram (or the structures that directly support it including smart phone use, the internet, etc.) is directly responsible for ruining public lands; Instagram effect is a “double-edged sword” or has some positive and negative impacts on public lands;

Instagram is responsible for increased tourism, but technologies can solve the problem;

Instagram is one of many problems facing public lands; and Instagram makes public lands more democratic. Additionally, many of the articles weigh in on the geotagging debate, making claims ranging from ‘geotagging is ruining wilderness’ to people should continue geotagging in the outdoors to encourage others to experience public lands. The remainder of this chapter explores these claims in depth.

Claim: Instagram is Ruining Public Lands

Out of the 63 articles analyzed in this sample, 26 of them made the claim that Instagram is ruining public lands. Although some of these stories, like the New York Times article, “Is

Geotagging on Instagram Ruining Natural Wonders? Some Say Yes,” rely on sources to present a more balanced account of the Instagram effect, the articles in this section ultimately conclude that the Instagram effect is 1) increased use of public lands as a result of Instagram/geotagging on Instagram and 2) this is a bad thing.

202 While some news outlets such as The New York Times, Vox, FStoppers, ABC, Petapixel,

The Ringer, Tree Hugger, The Outline, Quartz, Eco Warrior Princess, Duluth News Tribune, the

New Zealand Herald, MPR, Metro, and iOWT Report all basically conclude that the Instagram effect is harming public lands, some of the other news stories that fall within this camp present a bit of nuance within this claim. For example, both CBC and The Register Guard conclude that the Instagram effect is harmful, but predominantly because it puts people in danger, rather than landscapes. Both of these articles take an anthropocentric approach to describing the problem focusing on Instagrammers tackling trails that they may not be prepared for, leading to increased rescue missions, injuries, and deaths on public lands. Furthermore, while several articles suggest possible solutions, many of the proposed antidotes to the damages of the Instagram effect include making the choice to stop geotagging and using alternative geotags provided by tourism boards like Jackson Hole’s.

Yet, the Outside Magazine article, “The New Rules of Leave No Trace” (2018), was published prior to the updated social media guidance published by the LNTC later the same year.

So, the article suggests avoiding “checking in” or not geotagging on public lands in addition to minimizing personal polution and donating to outdoor advocacy organizations. Though these solutions are nuanced, they present problems when examined through a critical lens as all of these solutions place the onus on the individual land user rather than the larger systems that may be more apt to solve the problems of pollution and overuse on public lands. The article solely focuses on individual actions without addressing any of the larger systemic issues either related to Instagram or public land management in the United States.

It is important to contextualize the truth claims surrounding the Instagram effect and the geotagging debate by revisiting the prevailing ideologies that were present in many of the articles

203 analyzed within this sample. The articles that arrive at the conclusion that Instagram is ruining public lands arguably do so because of the pervasiveness of the wilderness ideology – that is, that public lands and wilderness areas exist to represent a pristine, pre-colonial nature and are places to find solitude and quiet reflection. However, as the contradictory mission statements for land management agencies demonstrate, this is not the sole purpose of land conservation in the

United States, even though it may be perceived by some in this camp as the most noble.

Claim: The Instagram Effect is a Double-Edged Sword

Another heavily represented stance among news stories about the Instagram effect is that increased visitation to public lands as a result of Instagram is a double-edged sword. Overall, 27 articles out of the 63 analyzed present the issue as both a positive and a negative for public lands.

On one hand, many articles (through the sources quoted or via the author/journalist directly) recognize that getting more people to experience public lands could be a way to create potential advocates for conservation goals in the United States. To be sure, this positive was also acknowledged by sources quoted in many of the articles in the “Instagram is ruining public lands” camp; however, the “double-edged sword” articles present both sides of the issue and then do not weigh in one way or the other. But on the other hand, these articles also present stories from many of the “hot spots” like Jackson Hole, Horseshoe Bend, and popular national parks to illustrate the ecological damage being done by increased amounts of people on the land.

This represents an important point for this analysis: the aim of this thesis is not to contend that the Instagram effect does not exist – the widely covered nature of these impacts very much suggest that it does – but rather, because of the issues highlighted in chapter four regarding maintenance backlogs, infrastructure decay, environmental deregulation, and a prioritization of fossil fuel extraction on multi-use lands (which eclipse all other uses), and a complete lack of

204 blame assigned to larger players like Facebook/Instagram, I argue that the Instagram effect is but one issue of many that are currently plaguing public lands. This is a stance that the Guardian article, “Crisis in Our National Parks: How Tourists are Loving Nature to Death” (2018), also takes. The article addresses how many of the National Park Service’s infrastructure dates back to the 1950s and ‘60s when park visitor numbers were much lower. Additionally, the article highlights burgeoning environmental challenges such as global warming, maintenance backlogs, and increased cell tower encroachment into parks. Perhaps this is an evolution in the “double- edged sword” stance – not only does the Instagram effect have both positive and negative impacts, but it also thrusts existing issues facing public lands into a more mainstream consciousness. Another possible evolution of the double-edged sword argument is the claim that technology can be both the problem and the solution for saving overcrowded public lands.

Can Technology Reverse the Impacts of the Instagram Effect?

Many of the articles that claimed the Instagram effect was a double-edged sword also made claims that technology could help reverse the impacts of the Instagram effect. For this reason, it may be helpful to revisit the techno-optimism and Wilderness 2.0 conversation laid out in Chapter Two. Barry (2012) describes the belief that human technological abilities can solve environmental problems without the need for large-scale social, economic, and political transformation as “techno-optimism.” This term was also explored in this thesis to describe the ways in which it was thought that the internet would make news making more democratic. For the time being, though, I will focus on Barry’s (2012) conceptualization, applying it to the wilderness 2.0 technologies described in the articles making techno-optimistic claims. These claims were predominantly drawn from the Washington Post, Outside Magazine (Wastradowski,

2019), Popular Photography, Refinery29, Gizmodo, AZ Central, Outside Magazine (Solomon,

205 2018), Aspen Daily News, and Mountain Journal (2019), though other articles included techno- optimistic themes as they related to successful alternative geotag campaigns (like the one in

Jackson Hole).

To briefly review, wilderness 2.0 refers to technologically mediated relationships that people form with nature in the age of constant connectivity (Büscher, 2013; Elliot, 2016;

Stinson, 2017). Although some wilderness scholars (Smith, 2015; Stinson, 2017) have argued that something in our relationship with land is lost when access to technology is gained, others have forged ways to use technology to advance conservation goals (Fischer, 2018). Because this is still a contested role of technology, the claims advanced in the news articles related to technology’s role in mitigating impacts of the Instagram effect are still considered techno- optimistic rather than verifiably beneficial – and, to be certain, “technological solutions” are not homogenous, meaning that some attempts to use technology to solve overuse impacts have likely been more successful or impactful than others.

Some examples of technological solutions proposed or highlighted within these articles include the “Keep Jackson Hole Wild” geotag campaign utilized by the Jackson Hole Travel and

Tourism Board. This also bears the weight of ideological significance as pro-(tourism) industry themes were discussed at length in Chapter Five. Many articles lauded the success of the alternative geotagging campaign, signifying that Instagram could act as both the hero and the villain of the wilderness plight. Other technological successes occurred most frequently in articles that quoted academic sources as often the academics reviewed how their research, through technology, helped public land conservation efforts. One notable example was the project spearheaded by researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland described in the

Gizmodo article, “Social Media Might Not Ruin Nature After All” (2018). In the study,

206 researchers took data from a 2015 survey conducted by the Scottish government and compared the data to see if the time and placement of geotags in Flickr photos matched the survey data for hotspots within the Cairngorms National Park over a five-year period. They found that the Flickr data aligned well with the survey data, indicating that geotags may be an effective (and non-cost prohibitive) means of measuring traffic within public recreation sites.

Although cases like the one described above present technological solutions to some of the problems facing public lands, these interventions do not get to the root of other problems such as climate change, underfunding, and lack of effective leadership in the upper ranks of land management agencies. Additionally, by lauding technological solutions as the awaited savior of public lands, larger technology companies like Facebook/Instagram can, once again, market themselves as problem solvers rather than problem makers.

No Claims & Alternative Claims

Out of the articles analyzed, there were seven that shied away from making any claims about the Instagram effect – positive or negative. Some of these articles (Mondaq and Stanford

Daily) simply explained the events related to the Instagram effect in a purely didactic manner.

Others, such as Fox News, The Guardian, NPR, and The Aspen Times relied on their sources to make claims and shape the narrative. For instance, Fox News did not weigh in on who was to blame for the Instagram effect. Instead, Fox News’ article was predominantly comprised of

Instagram captions posted by the influencer, Cleo Codrington with little commentary offered in the article. And, as discussed in Chapter Five, CounterPunch’s article, “Delegislating

Wilderness” (2019), briefly couched the argument that federal wilderness areas no longer meet the legal definition of wilderness and so ought to be delegislated in the larger discussion of the

Instagram effect and the parks vs. people debate.

207 In interrogating claims about the nature of the Instagram effect, it is also important to note that, at times, journalists themselves do not make claims, but rather rely on their sources to do so. This is the case with NPR’s article, “Instagram Crowds May Be Ruining Nature” and Fox

News’ article, “Instagram Model Denies She Swam in Sacred Spring After Fierce Backlash”

(2019). The Guardian also relies on the primary source, Steve from Public Lands Hate You, in the article, “The Vigilante Shaming Influencers for Bad Behavior in National Parks” (2019). In fact, the most critical part of the article about Steve’s work is the title. Throughout the piece, the

Guardian gives him a platform to speak and largely does not question his assertions or quote any other sources who were critical of Steve. An overreliance on sources to drive the narrative and claims made in the news without commentary or challenge from journalists may rob the public of valuable information about the issue at hand as it is no guarantee that what sources say is correct.

Claim: Instagram Makes Public Lands More Democratic

Claims that social media, and Instagram specifically, make public lands more democratic and accessible to more diverse groups of people were only made by three out of the 63 articles in the sample. Although the Instagram effect as a net positive for public lands is the minority claim

(evidenced by the small number of news articles that perpetuate this claim), it is perhaps one of the most worthwhile ideas to explore in a critical political economy context.

The articles that make the claim that the Instagram effect equals more democratic access to public lands include High Country News’ republication of Danielle Williams’ “5 Reasons

Why You Should Keep Geotagging” (2019), Vice’s “Stop Blaming Instagram for Ruining the

Great Outdoors” (2019), and The Globe and Mail’s “Social Media Isn’t Ruining Our National and Provincial Parks – It’s Making the Great Outdoors More Accessible” (2019). These articles

208 all challenge the prevailing pro-capitalist and pristine wilderness ideologies discussed in the previous chapter by discussing not only the systemic political economic failures plaguing public lands (and the environment in general), but also critiquing the claims that Leave No Trace and the anti-geotagging movement are couched in gatekeeping behavior that may result from pervasive white elitism that has a stronghold on the outdoor space (Davis, 2018). That is, those who argue against geotagging are essentially saying, ‘get off our lawn,’ despite the fact that their lawn is public land and open to all.

This alternative viewpoint challenges the dominant ideologies as they relate to the larger neoliberal influence over the outdoor space and public lands. In this way, these articles represent an alternative definition of the Instagram effect: that it is a fundamental and inclusive evolution in the way that people interact with public lands. Going forward, it is important to remain vigilant of the fact that Instagram (Facebook) continues to profit handsomely off of its users

(Fuchs, 2010; Projected Revenue of Instagram from 2017 to 2019, 2020). In the following and final chapter, I discuss potential ways to increase access to public lands without relying on for- profit conglomerates like Instagram.

To conclude, this chapter began by answering my third research question: Who gets to speak in the digital news coverage of the Instagram effect and geotagging, and why do they receive coverage over other sources? The primary groups of expert sources quoted in the news include government sources, which were predominantly land managers, with 52 quotes, tourism industry officials with 26 total quotes, Leave No Trace Center officials with 13 quotes, outdoor industry representatives with 17 quotes, social media influencers with 24 quotes, outdoor advocacy groups with 17 quotes, members of the academic community with 8 quotes, writers and journalists with 10 quotes, and lay sources with 17 quotes. There are likely several reasons

209 why these sources were chosen to speak in the news articles over other sources that have been discussed throughout this analysis. However, some of the most salient include issues of access and visibility. The Instagram effect, in many ways, is hyper visual. The images of poppies being plucked from the ground and hot springs being overrun with people are certainly striking. It makes logical sense, then, to interview land managers at these locations to get a sense for the issue. However, in doing so, the news creates the perception that issues of overuse are prevalent everywhere, when dispersed recreation opportunities exist across the United States. Additionally, as discussed earlier in this chapter, quoting land managers may be problematic as they are less likely to speak poorly of leadership decisions within the DOI and larger presidential administration that leave public lands without adequate funding or staffing.

Following the sourcing analysis, this chapter’s textual analysis was conducted to answer my final research question: What are the key components of the Instagram effect on public lands as they are reported in digital news? In order to answer this question, I sorted the claims made in the news stories regarding the Instagram effect finding that 26 out of the 63 articles reporting on the issue cite Instagram as the predominant reason for the damage being done to public lands.

Another 27 articles claimed that the Instagram effect is both positive and negative because, on one hand, it increases visitation (and therefore revenue) to parks. On the other, infrastructural challenges mean that so many people can damage sensitive landscapes. Another 7 articles made no definitive claims about the Instagram effect, while a small number (3 articles) shifted the perspective of the prevailing ideologies by arguing that the Instagram effect makes the outdoors more inclusive and accessible to traditionally marginalized groups of people.

These numbers are important as they show that articles about the Instagram effect mostly perpetuate the claims that Instagram is ruining public lands, or at least is partially to blame for

210 many of the problems plaguing public lands in the United States. This largely confirms

McChesney’s (2004) claim that collapsing media ownership leads to a lack of contextualization in the news. Given the issues uncovered in Chapter Four which directly contribute to degradation of public lands at the policy level, it is disappointing that the news leaves such systemic problems largely unaddressed. Not only does this rob the American public of adequate information with which to make informed voting decisions, but it also serves to shift the blame from larger political or corporate players like DOI/USDA leadership or even Facebook to individual public land patrons. In the final chapter of this thesis, I review the findings of my research, suggest solutions going forward, and make suggestions for future research.



The preceding chapters have been an exploration into a relatively recent and ever-evolving conversation about people and our relationship with land, technology, and each other. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the Instagram effect and to understand the contours of the geotag debate as both phenomena are discussed in the news, I posed four research questions:

1. What are the political economic factors that contribute to the Instagram effect at the

policy level?

2. What role do ownership and support mechanisms of digital news articles play in

determining the ideologies perpetuated in articles about the Instagram effect?

3. Who gets to speak in the news coverage of the Instagram effect and geotagging, and why

do they receive coverage over other sources?

4. What are the key components of the Instagram effect on American wilderness being

reported in digital news articles?

In order to answer my research questions, I utilized Mosco’s (2009) four cornerstones of political economy research, beginning first with a historical perspective of wilderness in the

United States, paying close attention to the ways that political economic power issues have arisen within the capitalist structures of the United States political system, exploring this history of public lands through this lens extensively in Chapter Two. Mosco (2009) also asserts that political economy research assumes social totality – that is, it assumes a wholistic approach that explores the relationships between commodities, institutions, social relations, and hegemony.

212 Chapter Four’s exploration of the political economic connections between the governing bodies that manage public lands and the media provided a wholistic approach within which to interrogate the Instagram effect as it is reported in the news. Chapters Five and Six also worked toward accomplishing this end by exploring the ownership and support mechanisms of articles discussing the Instagram effect and by evaluating the sourcing decisions made by journalists covering these stories.

These chapters illustrated the problems that systemically plague the public lands system at the policy level as well as highlighted some of the deregulatory decisions that have allowed

Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, to generate profit at the expense of the public interest largely uncontested by regulators. Additionally, Chapter Five showed how the consolidated ownership of the news revealed a similar preference for profit-making over the expression of diverse viewpoints in the news and a facilitation of informed democratic thought.

Finally, Chapter Six revealed how sourcing decisions have a great impact on truth claims presented in the news coverage of the Instagram effect and the geotagging debate.

Throughout all of this, the consequences of neoliberal ideology have been observed as a thread that runs through all aspects of this debate. As the neoliberal logic of deregulation collapses news production and undermines the purposes of land management agencies, the

American public is robbed of their ability to fully understand the complete context of the issue at hand. The Instagram effect issue highlights a time when the news ought to serve as a watchdog, exposing the numerous abuses of power and deregulatory decisions being made in the upper echelons of the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture. However, due to

213 ownership and advertising constraints brought about by the age of corporate synergy, the news is not able to perform this function adequately for the American people.

What is left is a finger pointed squarely at the individual – a person who has just as much right to use public lands as anyone else whether they are taking a selfie at Horseshoe Bend or basking in the coveted solitude of wilderness. This is in keeping with neoliberalism’s tendency to focus on the individual, rather than the collective as the collective has the ability to challenge the status quo. In reality, the problem goes much deeper than the majority of the news media probes with a few notable exceptions.

As mentioned throughout this analysis, the Instagram effect exists at the crossroads of the hyper-visual and the invisible: on one hand, the crowds of people snaking through the sienna poppy fields, leaving dusty, flower-less patches of torn-up terra in their wake presents a striking and emotive visual for the news to capitalize on, and on the other, a hostile presidential administration that places industry elites at the helms of the organizations designed to care for public lands in the public interest. As a result of these appointed positions, figures like former

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt can defund and deregulate the very agencies they are supposed to protect and support. And, because the news has been trending toward increased consolidation and objectivity for the better part of the last century, it is all but powerless to expose these abuses as cuts to newsrooms hamper journalists’ abilities to do investigative work.

What this analysis revealed is that locally-owned, independent journalism is more effective in providing a more complete context as well as counter-hegemonic perspectives to the problem at hand. High Country News’ decision to run the “5 Reasons to Keep Geotagging” 214 article proved paramount in shifting the conversation away from placing blame on individual public land patrons, and instead reflected on how the larger political economic issues facing land management agencies have contributed to the current problem of overuse and land degradation.

This is evidenced by the fact that, two months after Williams’ article ran in High Country News,

Vice ran their own article, “Stop Blaming Instagram for Ruining the Outdoors” (2019).

Furthermore, Vice utilized Williams as a source in the article, thus bringing more attention to her argument. Also, The Guardian contextualized the problem in a much broader scope than the other national news articles, perhaps in part due to the disinvestment in fossil fuels by the

Guardian’s windfall trust.

Additionally, when considering the claim that the internet may remove some of the gatekeeping barriers to producing the news, this study found that, primarily, online news presents many of the same problems of corporate control as do other, more mainstream news outlets.

However, Vice news notably challenged the status quo by also contextualizing the Instagram effect and the geotagging debate within the larger conversation of lack of funding and support for public lands at the federal level. To the point that the internet can foster more diverse points of view, I can only say this is partially true in regard to this issue. While CounterPunch represented a truly alternative news site (via completely a completely reader-supported platform), the prioritization of advertising revenue on several of the blogs analyzed led to a lack of critical perspectives on the issue of the Instagram effect and a rehashing of similar ideologies perpetuated across other types of news.

Finally, Mosco argues that political economy research must also incorporate moral philosophy and praxis. In keeping with this guidance, this thesis does not shy away from 215 discussing policy problems and moral issues that arise from them. Nor was this research undertaken to simply point out problems – rather, it is my aim to keep praxis at the forefront of this work and to break down the ephemeral distinction between research and policy and, in doing so, work toward tangible social change.

Toward a More Just Future

As discussed throughout this thesis, the outdoors is a space steeped in hegemonic masculinity, whiteness, and classism. It has not always been a welcoming space for all.

However, the benefits of spending time outdoors are well-documented. And public lands are held in trust for all people in the United States, regardless of their age, sexual orientation, race, gender expression, level of income, or citizenship status. It is for these reasons that I argue that the

Instagram effect, while causing damage that is real enough, does in many ways also contribute to the diversification and democratization of public lands. No longer is the outdoors cornered by a select few wealthy, predominantly white individuals. For me, the geotag debate goes beyond the fact that anyone can have access to recreation opportunities via location data alone. I assert, that by tapping a geotag, anyone can see themselves represented in the diverse faces of people who frequent public lands. In this way, not only do geotags provide information about where to go, they also show who goes there, what they look like, and what they wear.

However, a few problems remain. On the one hand, relying on a corporate social media platform, like Instagram, to facilitate outdoor experiences still may lead to the commodification of the self and of personal data. A possible solution would be for outdoor influencers to move off of the Instagram platform and begin sharing their photography on apps like AllTrails which provide more context about elevation gain, length and difficulty of trails, and information about 216 management and fees of public land sites. Plus, AllTrails lacks many of the metrics such as likes or shares that are used to incentivize competition and status-seeking behavior on other social media platforms like Instagram.

Another possible solution would be for the FCC to hold Instagram accountable for the damage it has had a hand in causing to public lands. Like the FCC’s response to undisclosed advertisements on Instagram, this approach would prioritize going after the larger advertisers that fund the overuse of public lands in order to sell products and Instagram and its parent company, Facebook. Notably, Instagram has already acknowledged its impacts on wildlife by providing a warning message that pops up when users view popular wildlife-related hashtags like

#slothselfie. When a user taps the hashtag, a message from Instagram pops up that reads:

“Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts is not allowed on Instagram.

You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment.” The user then has the options to learn more, show posts, or cancel their search of the hashtag. By clicking ‘learn more,’ the user is then redirected to information about wildlife exploitation and resources from the World Wildlife Fund, World

Animal Protection, and other wildlife-focused organizations.

A similar resource may be helpful for hashtags related to public lands like #wilderness,

#hiking, and #greatoutdoors. Rather than geotagging campaigns created by tourism agencies to limit the information provided about specific sites, providing the public with more information about locations would likely prove helpful in limiting resource damage and protecting public health. Additionally, providing more information overcomes the problem of gatekeeping as it pertains to the outdoors. As the population grows, there will be more people who take advantage 217 of the recreation opportunities provided by public lands. Rather than shutting people out by keeping information about certain locations a secret online, there ought to be more focus on providing information about dispersing use across more public lands.

The Instagram effect has shown that the problem isn’t necessarily increased use of all public land sites in the United States. Rather, there is a collection of ‘hot spots’ that are typically too small or understaffed to handle the level of crowds they receive. Therefore, by providing more information about less-crowded state parks, state forests, national forests, or national monuments, the impacts of overuse can be mitigated through dispersal. Influencers, whether on

Instagram or another platform, could have a hand in ushering this change. Rather than posting pictures at overcrowded national parks or other hot spots, influencers could be hired by tourism boards or land management agencies to promote less crowded recreation areas and provide information about dispersed camping and permitting requirements.

To this last point, the question of limiting access to public lands through permitting and increased usage fees comes up fairly regularly. Notably, Ryan Zinke attempted to increase the use fees for national parks before his tenure as Interior Secretary ended, though this decision was so unpopular, it was quickly dismissed. Other sites, like the Wave in Arizona, have limited permits available through a lottery system. I believe that permits can be valuable in giving land managers a better picture of how many people are recreating within a specific area. However, I do not believe that permits should be used as yet another gatekeeping measure to keep people out of the outdoors. Therefore, I researched several models for permitting systems across the United

States and found a promising model utilized by the state of California for awarding fire permits.

218 To obtain a fire permit in California – that is a permit that allows for campfire use on public lands in the state of California – one must simply take a free fire safety quiz online or at a ranger station or visitor center and then obtain a printed copy of the permit. Although the revenues collected from entrance fees at national parks remain an important part of funding park operations, California’s permitting system could provide an added layer of support for other federally managed public lands such as BLM recreation sites, national monuments, and national forests, which often require no use fees and no permits. By establishing a free permitting system contingent upon completing a course or skills quiz, land management agencies could facilitate knowledge about safe outdoor recreation practices while not imposing a cost-prohibitive barrier to public land access.

Many of these suggestions still place the onus on individuals to lessen their impacts on public lands. However, in order for public lands to truly provide a space for all people to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors, there must be tangible actions taken by federal bodies to ensure the public’s access to these spaces and the broader health of public lands, starting with Congress. An ideal opportunity for Congress to highlight its commitment to public lands would be fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanently. To this point, it seems some headway is currently being made toward securing LWCF funding for the future.

As of early March, 2020, a bipartisan group of senators is poised to approve a bill that would ensure full and permanent funding at $900 million a year as part of the Great American

Outdoors Act package (S.B. 3422, 2020; The Wilderness Society, 2020). In the past, billions of dollars have been diverted away from LWCF for non-conservation purposes (LWCF Coalition,

2018; The Wilderness Society, 2020). According to the Land and Water Conservation Fund 219 Coalition (2018), more than $22 billion has been rerouted from LWCF to other, non- conservation purposes over the past 53 years. The proposed Great American Outdoors Act bill not only aims to fully fund LWCF, but it also proposes a $1.9 billion investment over the next five years for deferred maintenance needs in the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife

Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Education, and the Forest Service (S.B.

3422). The passage of this legislation would be a positive step forward at the federal level for better land management. However, several problems remain for public lands that go beyond

Congress. Chapter Four revealed how the deregulatory actions by officials leading land management agencies under the Trump administration prioritize private industry gains at the expense of the American public most notably through unprecedented downgrades in national monument designations and increased leasing to oil, gas, and mining companies.

For these reasons, public land advocates and scholars must continue the important work of agitating members of government to address funding lapses, maintenance backlogs, and infrastructure improvements while pointing out the injustices of deregulation within federal agencies. In an ideal world, the news would address these matters of policy and would expose the numerous abuses that occur within land management agencies when political elites with deep industry ties are appointed to high-ranking positions in the Interior and USDA. Because independently owned local news outlets, public news, and non-fossil fuel beholden national news outlets have been found, in this study, to address these issues, it is important to support journalistic institutions such as these through readership and subscription. In addition to reader support, I echo Victor Pickard’s (2020) call for a truly public media system that places the public interest over profits. 220 In his 2020 article, “We Need a Media System That Serves People’s Needs, Not

Corporations,’” Pickard describes the crisis of commercial journalism as revenue and readership continue to drop. Like other media scholars (McChesney & Pickard, 2011), Pickard argues that a possible solution for the decline of public interest journalism is a five-pronged approach to creating a truly public media system. The five parts of Pickard’s approach include: 1) establishing noncommercial/nonprofit public options for media institutions supported by public subsidies, 2) breaking up and preventing media monopolies and oligopolies to encourage diversity, 3) regulating news outlets via public interest protections based on information needs,

4) enabling worker control but unionizing newsrooms, and 5) fostering community ownership, oversight, and governance of newsrooms (Pickard, 2020). Although it is perhaps difficult to imagine a total rework of the existing media landscape, a media system free from the economic imperative of appealing to wealthy and powerful owners, investors, advertisers, and high-income audiences would mean that media outlets could focus their efforts on providing information to audiences previously neglected. Pickard (2020) argues that such a shift would require abandoning the assumption that the market’s effects on journalism are inevitable. But this is precisely what must be done in order to ensure a more democratic media system.

Limitations and Recommendations for Further Research

This study focuses predominantly on the organization and creation of the news media from an ownership, advertising, and sourcing lens. This is due to the theoretical understanding of political economy that the way the news is produced can have impacts on the content that makes its way to audiences (Hardy, 2014; McChesney, 2004). In doing so, this study places more of a focus on the larger history and social totality of the creation of texts than the audience’s 221 responses to the texts. Future studies should consider examining audiences’ responses to the

Instagram effect in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the issue.

Also, the sample size of 63 articles is somewhat limiting. However, the Instagram effect is a complicated and multi-faceted issue. As this study has shown, renewed ‘loved to death’ concerns have arisen in an era of unprecedented deregulation within the public lands system and the media landscape in the United States. The small sample size partially indicates a breakdown in the domestic news media. A recent Harvard study found that nearly 95% of responding households indicated that protecting national parks for future generations was important to them

(Haefele et al., 2016). Additionally, a 2017 survey of voters in seven western states conducted by researchers at the Colorado College found that 68% of respondents support protecting sources of clean water, air quality, and wildlife habitat while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on public lands (Weigel, 2017). This is compared to only 22% of respondents who indicated that the current administration should increase the amount of national public lands available for oil and gas drilling and mining (Weigel, 2017). The fact that only 63 articles directly address a prominent issue facing public lands is problematic in the face of a public that cares deeply about recreation opportunities on public lands.

Because of these positive attitudes toward public lands in the United States, this study narrowed the scope of the analysis by examining the Instagram effect as it related to public lands in the United States and the geotagging debate in the news. This research could be extended by focusing on other sides of this issue including international public lands and Instagram-driven tourism in general. As briefly mentioned in some of the articles analyzed in this study, numerous landmarks and locations in the United States and abroad are experiencing increased tourism, 222 likely in-part due to Instagram and other social media platforms. There is a growing body of literature addressing concerns related to overtourism worldwide that has questioned the right to travel versus residents’ rights to place (Perkumine et al., 2019) and whether social media data are leading to overtourism in places like Spain and China (Alonso-Almeda et al., 2019). Still others have questioned whether the term ‘overtourism’ is actually operationalizable or if it is just the latest academic buzzword (Koens et al., 2018). Future studies could build upon this body of literature by examining how the news treats overtourism in other places and spaces outside of public lands.

I will conclude my recommendations for research and the future of public lands in the

United States with a quote by Edward Abbey, the American author and essayist who openly criticized public land policies of the 1960s and ‘70s. In a speech delivered to environmentalists in Montana and Colorado in 1976, Abbey implored, “Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast...a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it” (Noss et al., 1994, p. 338). In this current age of deregulation and mounting environmental crises, it becomes easier than ever to become removed from the very issues we care most about as we are swept up in policy concerns and ongoing debates about public lands and who and what they are for. Abbey’s words serve as a reminder of a beautiful truth that, for now, they are here for us and it is best not to waste the opportunity to explore them and advocate on their behalf.



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Company Date Acquired Acquired For (USD) AboutFace August, 2005 200,000 Parakeya July, 2007 Undisclosed ConnectU June, 2008 31 Million FriendFeed August, 2009 47.5 Million Octazen February, 2010 Undisclosed Divvyshot March, 2010 Undisclosed Friendster May, 2010 40 Million ShareGrove May, 2010 Undisclosed Nextstop July, 2010 2.5 Million Chai Labs August, 2010 10 Million Hot Potato August, 2010 10 Million Drop.io October, 2010 10 Million FB.com domain name November, 2010 8.5 Million Rel8tion January, 2011 Undisclosed BELUGA March, 2011 Undisclosed Snaptu March, 2011 70 Million RecRec April, 2011 Undisclosed DayTum April, 2011 Undisclosed Sofa June, 2011 Undisclosed MailRank June, 2011 Undisclosed Push Pop August, 2011 Undisclosed Friend.ly October, 2011 Undisclosed Gowalla December, 2011 Undisclosed Instagram April, 2012 1 Billion Tagtile April, 2012 Undisclosed

228 Glancee May, 2012 Undisclosed Lightbox.com May, 2012 Undisclosed Karma May, 2012 Undisclosed Face.com June, 2012 100 Million Spool July, 2012 Undisclosed Acrylic Software July, 2012 Undisclosed Threadsy August, 2012 Undisclosed Atlas February, 2013 Less than 100 Million Osmeta March, 2013 Undisclosed Hot Studio March, 2013 Undisclosed Spaceport April, 2013 Undisclosed Parse April, 2013 85 Million Monoidics July, 2013 Undisclosed Jibbigo August, 2013 Undisclosed Qnavo October, 2013 Undisclosed SportStream December, 2013 Undisclosed Little Eye Labs January, 2014 15 Million Branch January, 2014 15 Million WhatsApp February, 2014 19 Billion Oculus VR March, 2014 2 Billion Ascenta March, 2014 20 Million Liverail August, 2014 500 Million ProtoGeo April, 2014 Undisclosed Pryte June, 2014 Undisclosed PrivateCore June, 2014 Undisclosed WaveGroup sound August, 2014 Undisclosed Wit.ai January, 2015 Undisclosed Quickfire January, 2015 Undisclosed TheFind March, 2015 Undisclosed Surreal Vision May, 2015 Undisclosed

229 Pebbles July, 2015 60 Million Masquerade March, 2016 Undisclosed Two Big Ears March, 2016 Undisclosed Nascent Objects September, 2016 Undisclosed Infiniled October, 2016 Undisclosed CrowdTangle November, 2016 Undisclosed Faciometrics November, 2016 Undisclosed Ozio July, 2017 Undisclosed Fayteq August, 2017 Undisclosed Tbh (app) October, 2017 Undisclosed Confirm.io January, 2018 Undisclosed Bloomsbury AI July, 2018 30 Million RedKix July, 2018 100 Million Vidpresso August, 2018 Undisclosed Chainspace February, 2019 Undisclosed GROKSTYLE February, 2019 Undisclosed Servicefriend September, 2019 Undisclosed CTRL-labs September, 2019 Reportedly between 500 million and 1 billion Packagd September, 2019 Undisclosed Beat Games November, 2019 Undisclosed PayGiga December, 2019 70 Million

Information about acquisitions was compiled by Ramzeen (2020).


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Michelle Presley obtained her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Florida State University in 2014. In 2018, Michelle began to pursue a Master of Arts in Public Interest Media and Communication from Florida State University. This thesis was completed in order to satisfy the requirements for her Master of Arts degree. Michelle’s research interests are primarily centered around public lands and wilderness in the media.