It's always disturbing to see vandalism in our national parks, but it's not so clear, as this New York Times story suggests, that social media is exacerbating the problem. The report quotes park personnel who blame the Internet for encouraging vandals. "With social media people take pictures of what they’ve done or what they’ve seen. It’s much more instantaneous," said Lorna Lange, the spokeswoman for Joshua Tree — where vandalism has "escalated this year into wholesale vandalism of archaeological sites and remote vistas," including that oatmeal cookie drawing pictured at right. That mimics an official statement by the park given to CNN in April. "While this started as a few markings, social media posts appear to have sparked numerous individuals' interest in adding to the vandalism of this scenic canyon." But, reading through the various media reports on this horrible assault on nature, it's unclear how much we can really blame Instagram and Facebook.
Minus the on-the-record remarks from park officials there's not much evidence to support the claims that the Internet did this. The Times article mentions a vandal putting her vacation pictures on Facebook — but in the context of the police using it to find the violators. That is the only reference to a specific someone posting their dirty doings online. The Los Angeles Times found a "graffiti expert," former San Bernardino police investigator Dwight Waldo, who pushed the Facebook theory. "It's all about the fame. They want worldwide attention," he said. "A lot of these things are posted on Facebook and stuff. These guys have their own pages." (An Internet search for said Facebook pages comes up empty.)
There might be some truth to what they say: if people are Instagramming their brunches and everything else they do, why wouldn't vandals put up photos of their work? But that's not the same thing as saying there is more graffiti because of Instagram. "In the old days,” said Lorna Lange, the spokeswoman for Joshua Tree, “people would paint something on a rock — it wouldn’t be till someone else came along that someone would report it and anybody would know about it," notes Lange. But, as much as that might gall people whose job it is to stop graffiti, having these incidents catalogued on the Internet should help track down the people who decided to deface nature. As with most societal woes, we are to blame — not the Internet.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.