Social Media: Maker of Dangerous, Disrespectful Adventures?

Yosemite National Park

16 Feb Social Media: Maker of Dangerous, Disrespectful Adventures?

Yosemite National Park

Every year, park rangers and search-and-rescue personnel respond to approximately 250 emergency incidents in Yosemite National Park. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Recently, on September 2, 2014, the Yosemite National Park Emergency Communications Center received a cell phone call from a hiker on the Yosemite Falls Trail at Columbia Rock, located about a mile from the trailhead. The hiker reported that a 28-year-old woman had slipped and fallen onto a rock and that she was bleeding profusely from several broken teeth. Help was needed.

When a ranger-paramedic arrived on the scene, the hiker who had called for help stated that the injured woman and three others in her group had decided to take an iconic “jumping photo” because they wanted to post it on social media. When they jumped, all four had tucked their legs behind them. However, when the 28-year-old woman landed, she slipped forward on the gravel and slammed her face into a rock.

The ranger-paramedic administered pain medication to the woman and assembled a team to carry her out.

Was getting that picture worth it?

The pursuit of social media stardom

The iconic “jump photo” involves tucking your knees behind you. ©Steve Corey, flickr

Lately, incidents such as this one in Yosemite National Park are becoming more common. Just last year, according to an Outside Magazine article published online on February 24, 2014, a motocross rider fitted a three-foot, pole extension onto his helmet so that he could attach a GoPro camera to it. What the motocross rider didn’t take into account is that mounting a camera on your head can change your center of gravity and throw off your balance. Unfortunately, the rider lost control, hit a tree and wrenched his neck.

Outside Magazine also reports that in another accident, an Australian BASE jumper leaped from a ledge in Moab, Utah, did a flip and released his parachute bridle. He fell to his death when a line wrapped around the chest-cam he was wearing.

It’s telling that all three of these recent accidents happened while people were filming their adventure exploits, with the main purpose of creating a post on websites, such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. That’s causing some to wonder: would people be taking the same risks if their activities weren’t being filmed for social media, with the hope of immediate stardom in the offing?

The quest for online notoriety

It seems that not only are more dangerous adventures being attempted, but more disrespectful ones, as well.

Last fall, a series of photos that appeared on the Internet blog Modern Hiker pictured numerous instances of graffiti vandalism in eight national parks: Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree in California; Colorado National Monument and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; Crater Lake in Oregon; and Canyonlands and Zion in Utah. The National Park Service (NPS) says it is one of the most widespread acts of serial vandalism ever documented in the National Park System.

The perpetrator, Casey Nocket of New York, was identified when Modern Hiker reported to the NPS that the photos were gathered from screen shots taken from Nocket’s Instagram and Tumblr accounts.

Would Nocket still have felt compelled to deface public wild lands if she weren’t active on social media? It’s hard to say, but the fact that she publicly posted photos of her actions means that social media did play a part.

Zion is one of eight national parks that suffered from disrespectful graffiti. ©John T. Andrews

In fact, in a New York Times article dated June 4, 2013, it was noted that some national park personnel say there is reason to believe that the recent spike in graffiti on public lands coincides with the rise of social media and the instant gratification it affords.

The documentarians 

In a time before Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr, when I was in my early 20s, I went on an adventure. I drove across the country for the first time, from the Midwest to the West Coast. I didn’t do anything particularly extraordinary on that trip:  basically, I just drove.

I do have a few, old, film photographs from that journey, such as one of Nebraska’s flat plains along the Platte River and one of Wyoming’s buttes. There’s one of a pink and purple sky over a gas station somewhere in Utah, where I stopped to fuel up just before sunset. I’m not in many of those photos.

But I wonder how that adventure would change if I repeated it today. Would I feel the pressure to grab the attention of my social media “friends” by doing something crazy and interesting every step of the way and then documenting it for them? I can’t help thinking that today we trade being fully present in our lives for the ability to show them off to others.

Sadly, after the Outside Magazine article on the motocross rider and BASE jumper was published, one commentator on an online biking forum wrote, “at least they got it on video.”

Do you think social media is causing us to undertake more dangerous—and disrespectful—activities in the outdoors?

Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,


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Candice Gaukel Andrews
A multiple award-winning and five-time book author and writer specializing in environmental issues and nature-exploration topics, Candice Gaukel Andrews has traveled around the world—from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica and from Greenland’s coasts to Patagonia’s steppes—searching for and telling the stories that express the essence of a place. To read her articles and see samples of her nature photography, visit her website at and like her Nature Traveler Facebook page at
Candice Gaukel Andrews

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  • Thomas Sawyer
    Posted at 12:56h, 17 February Reply

    Social media has caused a distraction in so many ways-well beyond the self-destructive tendencies related to the outdoor activities mentioned, and well into individual lives of many who place far too much emphasis on its importance.

  • Allen Martin
    Posted at 13:06h, 18 February Reply

    Long before social media was “the thing”, I regularly encountered graffiti on the rocks along the river where I lived in my teens, and saw friends do equally stupid stuff for much smaller audiences. I’m sure there is a draw to be “youtube famous” these days which didn’t exist then, but I have to wonder how many people decide NOT to do such things for fear of it being recorded and used against them later, either by way of being humiliated online if their stunt fails, or being busted by the police for their vandalism if the recording gets into the wrong hands. We also need to take into account the increase in population over the last 20 years, and the numbers of people visiting these locations as compared to a couple decades ago and do the math to see if there is in fact an increase in the percentage of visitors doing stupid stuff, or just an increase in the number of stupid visitors coinciding with an equal increase in visitors with more than 3 brain cells.

  • Deb Walker
    Posted at 21:05h, 19 February Reply

    I live in Vancouver, Canada and the number of hikers that have been rescued from trying things that they are either not prepared for or aren’t using common sense have been unfortunately been increasing. That coupled with the explosion of the “selfie stick” and the number of images from people not exercising good judgment has been a little disturbing, to say the least.

  • Venkatasamy Ramakrishna
    Posted at 12:14h, 24 February Reply

    I do not think the social media directs anybody in any way to behave in dangerous and disrespectful ways Candice. It is just that social behaviours have changed with the advent of new technologies and those weak minds wishing to be noticed or to impress would go to no end to do that. A result of the social impact of technology and affluence I suppose.

  • Candice Gaukel Andrews
    Candice Gaukel Andrews
    Posted at 23:21h, 24 February Reply

    Just yesterday, the “Canada Journal” reported that a man was arrested for standing on a Galapagos giant tortoise. He said he did so to attract a lot of “likes” on Facebook:

  • Frank Weaver
    Posted at 00:10h, 03 March Reply

    Great article.

  • Dale Stubbart
    Posted at 23:09h, 22 March Reply

    When I was in Boise, I learned that the Basque population there were brought over or came over to herd sheep. Herding sheep is a lonely business, so they carved stories into the trees. Many of those trees still stand and the stories are still there. Probably because the trees had limited space, symbols and shorthand were used, making many of the stories hard to read, even if you read Basque. Some of the Basque still herd sheep, but it’s not as big a business there as it once was. At first, I was appalled that somebody that close to nature as they must have been to live among sheep could have harmed a tree. Since the trees are still there, that brings into question how much harm was done. I’m speculating that two reasons for the carving/graffiti were boredom and a need to express oneself. I suspect those who spread graffiti today also have those reasons. I’m sure some are looking for group respect or fame or prestige. So, what if, there were other avenues for expression?

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