This week we were directed to explore an issue or crisis in social media, and suggest three possible ways based in social media to address it. Introducing the “Sealfie” picture Twitter storm that is currently being launched against actress and TV host Ellen DeGeneres in response to the $1.5 million donation made on her behalf to The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) by Samsung for her now infamous Oscar “selfie” picture that broke social media records when the picture was retweeted 2 million times by fans that ended up “breaking” (read – crashing) Twitter during the awards show.
While a very generous donation from the star for a noble cause, it has come to light that the HSUS is one of the foremost sponsors of the campaign to end the practice of Seal Hunting here in Canada. A practice that is a vital component of the lifestyle, history and self-sustainability of many of the Inuit first nations peoples surrounding the Canadian East coast and Quebec. DeGeneres had also posted on her website the following quote from 2011:
Under the rallying call of Alethea Arnaquq-Baril – an Inuk from Iqaluit, Nunavut – the Canadian Inuit have responded in protest via YouTube videos and by sending selfies of themselves dressed in seal fur – or “Sealfies” (via #sealfie) directed back at DeGeneres.
DeGeneres, a vegan, is entitled to her opinion regarding the practice of seal hunting, and the use of fur, meat or other seal products. The root of the issue is that DeGeneres has through her statement and financial donation indirectly criticized an indigenous people’s way of life, equating them as “inhumane” killers. This is a people who have a rich history involving seal hunting that goes back many generations. They depend on seal products for their very survival, as within their community starvation is a very real possibility as more than 70 per cent of preschoolers do not have enough to eat, and imported food is extremely expensive. The Inuit people absolutely believe that the harvesting of seals is done with humanity and compassion, which is something that the Canadian government also supports.
Going forward, it’s important for DeGeneres to address this as she is a role model for many, and her words and actions carry weight. By remaining silent, she appears disrespectful and ignorant in the eyes of the Inuit and Canadian public. In my opinion a line can be drawn between not supporting the commercial seal hunting practice while apologizing for the slight made to the Inuit people. While DeGeneres doesn’t have to approve of hunting seals, she should embrace the opportunity to shed light on the poor economic conditions in Nunavut by offering support via fundraisers or donations to the Nutrition North food subsidy program.
This is where Ellen DeGeneres can really shine – with her skills as a comedian, and likable personality and engaging demeanor, connecting via a carefully crafted message in response to the “Dear Ellen” video would help address the issue of a community feeling misunderstood. A funny 5 – 10 minute video offering the chance for Ellen to explain her position, and most importantly to apologize for offending the Inuit people is essential. While humorous, the message should be of DeGeneres’ respect for their history and culture, and recognition of the necessity of their way of life and contain an offer to fund-raise for the subsidy program (and perhaps ship out some tofu) so that while their diet is something that is culturally respected, but should some want to try new foods (perhaps vegan?) it is cheaper for them.
A response to all “sealfie” photos is essential, with humour being used to reach out to the Inuit. She should respond back to all #sealfie tweets with a picture of her with a winter hat with a large foam Inukshuk on it and a t-shirt that reads ” I ♥ Inuit”. Hashtags of #loveseals #respectInuit. Messages can read “I respect the people even if I won’t wear the fur”. Offers for retweets with a link to her website to fund-raise donations for the subsidy program.
On DeGeneres’ website a revised statement should be posted detailing her apology to the Inuit people of Canada, her position on the hunt if used for personal use rather than for commercial gain, and the fund-raiser to help support the food subsidy program. The YouTube video should be posted, and of course her Twitter stream showing her responses to the sealfie tweets.