We all get them: goofy animal videos sent to us by friends and family that are too good to be true.
Some, like me, know they’re fake and move on. Others sadly see the same thing, and especially now, want to believe it and pass it on to friends. It makes them feel good and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Someone else saw this same issue and saw opportunity. She is the new so-called animal fact checker, Natasha Daly.
A 5-year veteran reporter and editor for National Geographic, Daly was recently profiled in the Columbia Journalism Review’s the Media Today section by Savannah Jacobsen. Jacobsen led by writing, “These days people are desperate for good news.”
Her piece points out Daly’s extreme dislike for fake news. And anyone who follows animals online knows there is a ton of it out there.
“I really gravitated toward the idea that animals can’t tell their own stories,” Daly told Jacobsen. “In many ways, it’s up to us as journalists to find them and pull them out and tell them for them.”
The 34-year-old Daly is perhaps best known for her yearlong exposé of the animal abuse that occurs with wildlife tourism. Afterwards, her interest turned to Nadia, the tiger at the Bronx Zoo that tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daly sensed a lack of transparency between the announcement that Nadia had gotten ill and USDA reports saying that lions in the same zoo also tested positive. She rightly felt this was crucial public information that needed to be distributed.
The next thing she noticed was something this writer has mentioned numerous times in this space; the alleged animal takeover of urban spaces. In this case, it was because of the pandemic stay-at-home orders that now suddenly had swans returning to Venice, Italy.
Daly checked it out and it was nothing new, just like occasionally seeing a red fox, coyote, deer or moose in Moscow or Pullman.
When she debunked the story, some people were thankful, and she cultivated some fans. But some people were mad.
Daly told Jacobsen that someone told her, “It’s basically like you just told us there’s no Santa Claus.”
Someone else said, “You must be really fun to hang out with at parties.”
Get a grip here, folks. Daly says she understands, because right now, the market for happier news has never been greater.
I agree, however happy news still doesn’t sell well. It never has. There is also an enormous chasm between legitimate positive news and concocted fantasies trying to deceive people, even if for a positive reason.
Daly soon saw the allegedly drunken elephants in China story. So did the Associated Press.
Allegedly in March, some elephants raided a tea farm and found some wine produced by humans. They drank it, became intoxicated, and fell asleep, butt-to-butt, in an almost heart-shaped pose.
Actually, the photo is over a year old and was credited to the Yunnan Province Elephant Management Bureau, which researches elephants. There’s no mention of the elephants being drunk. The Chinese news outlet Xinhua News reported the drunk elephants to the world on March 16 this year.
Journalism needs more people like Daly and fewer social media “influencers.”
Some may ask, what’s the harm with some funny little white lies? Nothing, if one knows the difference up front.
More often than not though, many animal stories, even false ones, find their way into network news if they attract enough attention on social media. The appeal is too great to ignore.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email email@example.com.