Backpacker Radio 120 | Social Media x Backpacking

In today’s episode of Backpacker Radio presented by The Trek, we are talking all things social media and how it relates to the world of backpacking.  This is a long and lively conversation and we dive into some highly charged subjects including gatekeeping, is Instagram influencing a good or bad for the thru-hiking culture, the addictive nature of social media, and much much more.

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Social Media X Backpacking Panel 

Time stamps & Questions

00:02:44 – QOTD: What was the first social media app you engaged with regularly? 

00:09:19 – Wisconsin reminder: Delafield & Fitchburg events 

00:10:27 – Introducing today’s panel: Social Media X Backpacking 

00:12:24 – Zach’s take on Instagram being an ineffective tool to learn about backpacking

00:13:45 – Chaunce’s rebuttal on using social media for research 

00:15:56 – Zach’s recommendation to not use Instagram as your primary research tool 

00:16:06 – How much did Chaunce research for her PCT hike? 

00:17:00 – Elise’s take on applying critical thinking when viewing social media content 

00:18:30 – Blogging content vs. social media content 

00:21:30 – Chaunce’s defense of Instagram 

00:22:52 – Elise moderates and discusses Instagram serving as a highlight reel

00:23:54 – Example of people using Instagram negatively for educational purposes 

00:25:00 – Using social media tools for inspiration 

00:27:11 – Discussing the impact of diving into a thru-hike unprepared 

00:28:18 – Elise’s caveat to using social media for education 

00:29:44 – YouTube being a powerful educator

00:30:10 – Tagging locations on Instagram 

00:30:58 – Chaunce’s pro-tagging stance 

00:32:43 – Elise’s tagging stance and how it relates to increase crowds in the outdoors 

00:34:00 – How tagging locations relates to gatekeeping 

00:35:11 – Nuances of the gatekeeping debate 

00:36:46 – If you want to keep places private, why would you post about it to begin with?

00:39:25 – Chaunce’s stance on requiring permits for overcrowded areas 

00:41:25 – Elise’s point on paid permits being exclusionary 

00:44:23 – Pros and cons of Instagram influencing 

00:46:26 – Financial motivation to be an influencer 

00:53:45 – What are the benefits to growing your presence on Instagram? 

00:59:00 – Elise’s pros for growing her account 

01:00:39 – Elise’s cons for growing her accounts 

01:01:30 – People misplacing their anger toward influencers 

01:04:00 – Defining what constitutes as a “public figure” 

01:07:45 – At what point do you accept you’re a public figure? 

01:08:53 – Elise’s Guthook trolls story 

01:11:10 – Opening yourself up to negativity 

01:12:28 – Using hashtags to gain exposure 

01:12:47 – Summary of pros and cons of Instagram influencing 

01:14:55 – Thriving off of social media attention 

01:15:45 – Pressures of entertaining fans 

01:19:12 – Determining how comfortable you are with attention

01:22:12 – Can being an influencer impact your experience on trail? 

01:27:42 – Instagram providing instant gratification 

01:30:14 – Have you ever touched up a photo to alter your appearance? 

01:31:20 – If you were sharing with friends, would you still edit the photo? 

01:35:45 – Does Instagram make people more self-conscious about appearance? 

01:42:11 – Is the influencer world having a negative impact in backpacking? 

01:54:23 – The power of social media to influence positive change 

01:59:51 – How Zach landed on his decision to decrease social media usage 

02:06:51 – Zach, how do your opinions conflict with running the Trek’s social pages? 

02:08:50 – “The Social Dilemma” documentary 

02:10:49 – Chaunce’s social media conclusion 

02:16:10 – Being a good listener vs. solutioning 

02:18:05 – Defining what good social media use is for you 

02:22:17- Episode wrap-up 

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Comments 2

  • Clay Bonnyman Evans : Sep 30th

    What an interesting episode; I didn’t expect the topic to be so high-emotion, but it was informative listening to different points of view.

    A few thoughts:

    Re Who is a public figure? I come at this from a journalist perspective. When it comes to libel law, it’s theoretically easier to win damages (it’s a civil, not criminal, matter) if the victim is deemed *not* to be a public figure. That said, the bar for who qualifies as a public figure is pretty low, and in this, Zach is essentially correct that both he and Chaunce are, in fact, public figures (probably Elise, too, but somewhat less so, based on what little I know about her social-media presence, etc.)

    Libel is obviously different than being trolled online. But the operative legal precedent here is the biggest one of all: the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is not, in fact, illegal, to insult someone, even publicly, or to taunt them, or even lie about them, unless a plaintiff can demonstrate actual harm (i.e. generally not, say, hurt feelings). So while it’s perfectly understandable that influencers or others don’t like trolls or reading mean things that people write in comments—no one does!—all that falls under freedom of speech in the American system.

    Early on in the discussion I believe it was Zach who noted that what one sees on social media should not be considered a “true” or valid representation of reality. It’s a performance, in my opinion. Consider the recent tragic homicide of Gabby Petito (we can’t yet call it “murder” because that has not been determined; it has been determined, however, that Petito was killed by another human being, i.e. homicide). In her public posts, viewers saw a happy, beautiful, perfect world, full of smiles and happiness between her and her boyfriend. As we now know from police video, at minimum, what viewers see as a seamless thread of perfection and joy is simply not true. There were issues in the relationship, clearly, if only on that single day (which is all we have access to, that I’m aware of). Each of us constructs ourselves online, whether we’re constantly moping or seeking sympathy for, say, an illness, or portraying a gorgeous, perfect life. Reality, as always—and I mean *always*—is never quite so neat.

    Although it may not seem relevant here, the “Covington Catholic” incident inspired the best piece I’ve read about the dangers of accepting what we see in media and social media as “reality.” In that incident, high-school boys from a private Catholic school were seen seemingly taunting an elderly American Indian man (I’ve written a lot about Indian people; almost all I’ve encountered prefer this term to “Native American”) in an offensive, aggressive and even smug manner. An enormous reaction against the teens ensued, based on a short snippet of video.

    Ian Bogost, now director of the Program in Film & Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis (at the time he was at Georgia Tech), published “Stop Trusting Viral Videos” in The Atlantic. (URL: I highly recommend reading this relatively short essay, because I think it applies to anything we see in media or social media, whether a video, a photo, text, or whatever.

    “Video can capture narratives that people take as truths, offering evidence that feels incontrovertible. But the fact that those visceral certainties can so easily be called into question offers a good reason to trust video less, rather than more,” Bogost concludes, and I think he’s right.

    Finally, regarding Elise’s comments about John Muir and Grandma Gatewood: That Muir held absolutely odious views on racial matters, in particular, is not in question. Did Gatewood hold any such noxious beliefs? I don’t think we know, based on the information that’s been published about her. But given the time, the 1950s, and where she lived, Appalachia, it’s certainly conceivable that she held beliefs, racial and otherwise, that progressive-minded people today would find appalling.

    For me, the question becomes, Is it possible to honor and respect a person for their undoubted achievements while acknowledging their human flaws, or should we adopt a position that anyone from the past who does not hew perfectly to today’s (much better, by and large) standards should not be honored in any way? (By the way, I don’t think Elise suggested this; I’m just musing on the larger issue.)

    One of the most curious things about our social-media influenced culture is that it seems to have brought out a kind of hard-core secular Puritanism among some people, encouraging “pileons” and shaming and denunciations that have the look and feel, at times, of a religious congregation ousting “sinners” and apostates.

    In my opinion, not a great look. Because as someone once said, *all* humans fall short and, those who live in glass houses would be well advised not to throw stones (I’m paraphrasing religious quotes, but I am not religious and the broad message is one that has been shared by many religions and secular belief systems throughout history). Today’s righteous, morally indignant online warrior may be tomorrow’s villain, cast out for his or her or their own shortcomings, large or small.

    There are now myriad examples of this, easily found online. As for me, I’m pretty sure that social-media—which absolutely has large upsides—is behind this new wave of ill-considered moral outrage.

    Muir’s name need not be on a pass or building or statue. But surely we can agree that, whatever his shortcomings as a man who died 107 years ago—and by no means should we ignore or hide them—the work he did to preserve wilderness is worth acknowledging. Ditto for all of us, because none of us is perfect.


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