Positive YouTube videos help deflect blame away from sharks

In a new study, researchers at North Carolina State University found that more people blame animals for shark bites after watching positive YouTube videos about them. They also found greater support on average for non-lethal strategies for responding to incidents in which a shark bit a person.

“We found that positive social media could help make the general public less likely to blame sharks for negative interactions, and more supportive of pro-conservation responses to issues that arise,” the co-author said. study. Nils Peterson, a professor in the North Carolina State Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Program. “Wildlife managers, conservationists and conservation biologists of these species can use it to build support for decisions beneficial to sharks.”

In the study, researchers interviewed 340 North Carolina residents before and after watching either a series of “positive” YouTube videos about sharks or “negative” videos that depicted sharks in scary settings.

“We wanted to see how the positive use of social media could change basic attitudes towards sharks, since the base is shaped by negative portrayals,” said study lead author Will Casola, a former graduate student. of NC State. “A group of social scientists once coined the term ‘Jaws Effect’ to describe how ‘Jaws’ and other shark-related content drove the narrative around these animals as violent killers.”

In the surveys, the researchers asked people to rate their fear of shark bites; to assess how intentional they think most shark bites are; and list who they think is responsible in the event of a shark bite: the sharks, the swimmers, no one, the government or whatever.

Before and after respondents watched the videos, the researchers also asked them about their support for lethal or non-lethal bite response strategies. Non-lethal strategies included leaving sharks alone, educating the public, conducting more research to investigate human-shark interactions, or paying for new technology to prevent shark bites. Lethal strategies included hunting sharks or using baited nets or drums. The researchers said these strategies can kill sharks because many species cannot breathe unless they move through the water.

“Theoretically, you could go there frequently and unhook the sharks and move them elsewhere, but the most likely result of nets or baited drums is a dead animal, although that depends on location and species,” said said Peterson. .

After watching the positive videos, people were less likely to view shark bites as intentional. More people blamed sharks, while more people blamed swimmers.

“Rather than just blaming the shark, we’ve seen people shift responsibility to humans for not performing high-risk activities,” Casola said.

After watching positive videos, they also found decreased support on average for all three lethal response measures and higher support on average for three of the five non-lethal strategies. Meanwhile, negative videos increased support for two of the three lethal measures – shark hunting and baited battery lines – and decreased support for two non-lethal measures.

In future work, the researchers want to explore how people’s attitudes towards sharks and shark management strategies would change after watching videos about them in the middle of advertisements or spaced out over time. They also want to explore whether people’s attitudes are influenced by unconscious bias and upbringing.

The study, “Influence of social media on fear of sharks, perceptions of intentionality associated with shark bites, and shark management preferences,” was published online in Communication boundaries. Co-authors included Justin M. Beall, Lincoln R. Larson, and Carol S. Price.


Note to Editors: The summary of the study follows.

“Influence of social media on fear of sharks, perceptions of intentionality associated with shark bites, and shark management preferences”

Authors: William R. Casola, Justin M. Beall, M. Nils Peterson, Lincoln R. Larson and Carol S. Price.

Posted: 21 Oct 2022, Communication boundaries

DO I: 10.3389/fcomm.2022.1033347

Summary: Sharks, an essential component of marine ecosystems, represent one of the most threatened taxa in the world. Shark conservation efforts are limited by fear and public misperceptions. Positive social media-based outreach can provide a cost-effective way to reduce fear of sharks and change misperceptions about the intentionality of shark bites. Using framing theory, which suggests that the way information is presented influences how it is processed and the resulting changes in perception, we experimentally assessed the impacts of positively and negatively framed YouTube videos on fear. of sharks and perceptions of shark bite intentionality. among participants in the coastal state of North Carolina (NC), USA, in the spring of 2020. Respondents completed a pre-test, followed by a randomly assigned positive or negative video treatment consisting of approximately 15 minutes of shark week videos. Pre/post-test comparisons suggest that positive YouTube content decreased fear by 24%, perceived danger by 27%, and perceived shark bite intentionality by 29%, while negatively framed media decreased does the opposite. Negatively framed media resulted in more respondents blaming shark bites on the shark or the swimmer. Positively framed media caused people to blame the swimmer or no one. Positive-framed media has diminished support for lethal responses to shark bites, such as shark nets, hunting people-biting sharks, and drum lines. The positive treatment has increased support for responding through research, leaving the shark alone, and education. Negatively framed media decreased support for responding by leaving the shark alone or doing nothing and increased support for some lethal responses to shark bites (i.e. drum lines and shark hunting) . When positive and negative treatments had different effect sizes, positive treatments tended to have more impact. Collectively, these findings suggest that social media can be a valuable tool for harnessing the power of communication to promote shark conservation.

Shirley K. Rosa