Hashtag Flying Fox

—‘It’s always Halloween in Australia’



Celeste Lawson & Mike Danaher




Flying Fox. Photo: Paislie Hadley.

There was a widespread attitude across rural Australia during the 19th century and much of the 20th century that was almost war-like. The ‘Fauna War’, as it was infamously known in hindsight, with native birds and marsupials seen as the enemy of the farmers, was a reflection of Europeans perceiving Australian native animals from the second half of the 19th century as pests, and killing them in very large numbers. Bill Thorpe refers, for example, to a ‘Fauna War’ of the late 1800s in rural Queensland, backed by the Marsupials Destruction Bill 1877, where pastoralists killed large numbers of the kangaroos, wallabies and other marsupials that competed with their sheep, cattle and horses for grass, and which ate their crops (Thorpe, ‘Aborigines’, 25-29). Simply, native animals were treated as pests if they competed with the introduced utilitarian biota. The killing of ‘greedy’ marsupials extended to the killing of native birds, flying foxes and reptiles as well, or, as Marshall graphically puts it, ‘savagely butchering every koala, paddymelon, bilby and bustard’ (Marshall, Great, 17, 21). Thorpe says that the justification of this hunting is linked back to two deeply held beliefs among transplanted British ‘gentlemen’: the right of the aristocracy and gentry to hunt without hindrance in Britain; and members of Acclimatization Societies believing that native Australian fauna were inferior to imported species and really had no economic value (‘Aborigines’, 25-29). This belief that native fauna were inferior to exotic species, a form of biological cringe, is almost inverted today, demonstrated by legislation that condemns introduced biota and sanctifies most native biota. But this is tenuous at best, with recent calls for crocodile and shark culling whenever one takes a human being. The flying fox is also still much maligned in some communities in Australia for various reasons, including their raids on orchards, their ‘risk’ to human health, and their smell and noise. In short they are considered a ‘conflict’ species because situations bring them into conflict with people.


Colonial Australia’s history of having difficulty co-existing with flying foxes has allegedly led to weaknesses in the current approach to the management of flying fox colonies as adopted by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. Lack of understanding of the ecological usefulness and the vulnerability of flying foxes, coupled with the nature of the problems they cause humans, led to them being maligned by segments of the local community. The distribution of clearer information about the ecological roles of flying foxes could be useful as a basis on which to construct counter-narratives about flying foxes. Furthermore, new media, given their capacities for information distribution and for the sharing of affective states, might have a role to play in helping the public better understand flying foxes and their roles in nature, especially with regards to those colonies located in urban areas.


By focusing on almost a century of human attitudes and behaviours towards camps of flying foxes, this paper reveals some insights into why some humans continue to have difficulty co-existing with flying foxes. Employing a multidisciplinary approach bringing environmental history and media studies together, the paper further explores the potential of new media—specifically Twitter—to promote more positive perceptions of flying foxes. Firstly the paper contextualizes the discourse around flying foxes and humans by briefly exploring the history of the battle between horticulturists and flying foxes, and later the resistance by some humans in accepting flying fox colonies camping in urban centres, mainly because of perceived health risks. The paper then examines 496 Twitter conversations from 2015, using the hashtag #flyingfox, in order to gauge current public feeling towards flying foxes, revealing the potential of this form of new media to educate and inform the public with regards to giving the animal a more positive perception in our human-animal relations. This study concludes through our Twitter analysis that there is significant sentiment for the conservation of flying foxes developing in the community, and that there are opportunities for positive attitudes towards flying foxes to be established and deepened via this new media platform.



Historical perspectives

When Europeans began to settle the Australian continent in greater numbers during the 19th century, they felt general discomfort towards the natural environment. The land, including its flora and fauna, was ‘typecast as ancient, primitive and endemically resistant to progress’ (Griffith & Robin, Ecology, 3). Closed forests were indiscriminately cleared in order to create familiar home country landscapes and farms. Many of the animals were perceived as dangerous and a threat to the profitability of agriculture. It was common for many species of native animals to be declared as pests and hunted, while introduced animals such as song birds and foxes were valued more because they could fill the perceived gaps in primitive Australian nature. Over time this attitude has become almost inverted with greater attention to preventing exotic species from being introduced and degrading ecosystems, and native animals given unprecedented protection under legislation. However, for native animals such as the flying fox, their protection continues to sit uncomfortably with some elements of society.


The case of the flying fox reflects to some extent the speciesist viewpoint that humans have towards many animals in failing to describe them as inherently-valuable individuals (Freeman, ‘Little’, 90). Flying foxes were classified as vermin by local authorities, more-or-less as soon as European settlers came into contact with them because of pressure from farming groups. They were declared a pest in Queensland because they were seen to threaten the economic viability of fruit orchards (Booth, Land, 3). This problem of flying foxes invading orchards has a fairly long history in Australia and has been a concern to farmers to this day. British applied biologist, Francis Ratcliffe, was sent to Australia between 1929 and 1931 to study the biology of the flying fox, which was considered a major pest species for the Eastern coast, especially Queensland (Griffith & Robin, Ecology, 69). He was hired by CSIRO to investigate the damage that flying foxes did to orchards, and it was the first major study made of flying fox populations in Australia. Fruit growers as well as the government agencies that administered them saw the flying foxes as simply a pest that needed to be totally exterminated, with the flying fox dubbed an ‘evil’ (Mount Cotton Improvement Society & Mount Cotton Fruit-Growers, Correspondence). Ratcliffe did not agree with this perception. He said only a small minority of the animals did any harm, and only sporadically, concluding that they were a minor nuisance rather than a major pest (‘Flying’, 55). He recommended shooting only particular troublesome flocks (78). Ratcliffe’s seminal work, published in 1931, also pointed to the ecological importance of flying foxes.


The influential farming lobby advocated, however, for a wholesale destruction of the species, although there was confusion over the most effective practical solution. Weapons of mass destruction utilised against the flying fox included introducing bacterial diseases, shooting, cyanide gas, strychnine poisoning and explosives, but these methods did not protect orchards (Ratcliffe, ‘Flying’, 68-74). Nowadays, it is recognised that netting is the only sure method of protecting fruit from flying foxes. Nets also exclude birds, insects and hail, and can be constructed to be non-lethal. The cost of nets can be offset with better quality fruit and greater quantity.


In Queensland flying foxes were first protected under the Fauna Conservation Act 1974. However, permits to shoot them could still be applied for if they were considered a pest. Many were killed illegally. In a regressive step, on 29 March 1984, the Queensland government declared the four species of Queensland flying fox to be non-protected fauna for the purpose of the Fauna Conservation Act 1974 (Lane, ‘Going’, 306). This was owing to complaints from the horticulturists’ lobby, so the open season on the flying fox began once again. The Nature Conservation Act 1992 replaced the Fauna Conservation Act 1974, but it took the Queensland government until late 2008 to outlaw the killing of flying foxes, even though they are a native species. From September 1 2008 the Queensland Government ceased issuing damage mitigation permits for shooting flying foxes because it was believed it was inhumane (Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, ‘Flying’). Despite their current legislative protection, overall flying fox numbers are in decline because of problems related to habitat destruction, such as fragmentation of feeding sites and the destruction of roost sites (Davison-Lee, ‘Joy’, 3).


Flying foxes have also been demonised because of the health risk they pose to humans and other animals. Since 1994 there have been isolated instances of Hendra virus infecting and killing horses, a virus which the flying fox can host. Public attitudes towards flying foxes faced a major setback with the tragic death of a woman in late 1996 in Central Queensland due to the Bat Lyssa-virus. Although less than 1 percent of wild flying foxes carry the virus and the risk of human infection is extremely low (Kuring-gai Bat Conservation Society Inc, ‘Frequently’), the media continues to malign the flying fox because of this virus. Sensationalist headlines in newspapers such as: Flying foxes flew into a frenzy during attack on woman; Battle of Jericho begins; Killer Bat kills mother of 2; Coast bats pose health risk are not uncommon. As such headlines show, positive attitudes towards flying foxes tend to be overlooked in traditional media and mainstream journalism—which feature conflict and impact as dominant news values (Bainbridge, Goc & Tynan, Media, 246)—both because of their perceived nuisance value and, in more recent times, because of their risk to human health.


Too often it is the people with a negative attitude towards flying foxes who are the most vocal when it comes to demanding that colonies be either relocated or culled. Prior to the advent of new media, such vocalisation generally appeared in local newspapers, and is still evident in traditional media often as public comment in letters to the editor. For example, in 2006, a Yeppoon citizen wrote in saying,


It is time for a cull on the fruit bat colony in Fig-Tree Creek. They have gained plague proportions … taking off to destroy someone’s livelihood and hard work. The EPA should employ about a 100 blokes with shotguns and 1000 rounds of duck shot to thin them out (Capricorn, 5).


Comments like this give flying foxes a bad name and, unless countered by an alternative message, can leave others adopting the same opinion. Sensational reports in traditional news media have been blamed for a public perception that bats are disease laden (see Davison-Lee, ‘Joy’, 3). These days, however, this vocal minority can arguably be countered with public support from more informed community members who will not tolerate the same levels of animal cruelty that have occurred in the past.


A change of attitude can arguably result from simply educating the public about the important role flying foxes have in nature. According to Ratcliffe (‘Flying’, 41), flying foxes prefer to eat the nectar and pollen of eucalyptus blossoms to fruit, and in fact this was their diet prior to European settlement. Fruit is actually not good for them because the fibre increases their body weight, making flying difficult, so they essentially extract the juice from the ripe fruit. Flying foxes are forced to eat fruit when their native eucalypt habitats are destroyed through land clearing, and during extremely dry weather. Like all native species, they also have an essential role in the ecosystem, with their main roles being to pollinate native trees—on which other species depend—by carrying the pollen on their fur, and disperse seeds. Importantly, because they are able to do this over long distances, they assist to maintain the genetic diversity of Eucalypts (Australian Government, ‘Flying’). The important ecological role that flying foxes play has not been well understood, however, impeding mainstream recognition of their conservation value. In terms of the theories surrounding ideas of a moral responsibility to the environment, the actions and perceptions described above—seeing the flying fox as pest—represent an environmental anthropocentrism where the flying fox’s conservation value is derived from human interests alone (Singer, ‘Ethics’, 21). This assumes that since the animal was not perceived to have any anthropogenic value it could and should be declared and treated as a pest. Conservationists currently argue conversely for a theory of moral responsibility to the environment that would embrace the flying fox for its ecological role, or in some cases for an animal rights view, which generally accords sacrosanctity to the flying fox in the same way that it applies to humans (Attfield, Ethics, 46). Either would mean that the flying fox qualifies as a morally significant being which should be treated as such.


In our analysis of literature pertaining to public misinformation prevailing about flying foxes, and calls for an ongoing program of public education on the ecological role of flying foxes from government environmental agencies, animal activist groups and conservationists (for example, SEQ Catchments Ltd, Animal Justice Party and Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society), we see a challenge that presents itself. This is to change some people’s negative impression, as well as the traditional media’s coverage, of flying foxes from being a public nuisance to an animal with significant ecological benefit, as well as to promote an acceptance of a moral responsibility towards the flying fox. There is, we suggest, potential to make this change using new media, the possibilities of which we explore with specific reference to Twitter. Our aim is thus to analyse Twitter posts about the flying fox in order to evaluate the ability of new media to promote positive perceptions and conversations.




New social media offer opportunities for like-minded individuals, community groups, businesses and public organisations to learn and work cooperatively (Blewitt, Media). Given that most scholars working on social media activism conceptualize social media as tools that can be used to pursue particular objectives (Poell, ‘Social’, 717), Twitter is a form of social media used for instant conversations. Tweets are limited to 140 characters so a shorthand language is often adopted, and embedded images and links to other sites within the tweet are the norm. The use of the hashtag symbol (#) is the main way of structuring message exchange around a particular topic, issue or event (Pond, ‘Twitter’, 144), indicating that a specific tweet is part of a larger conversation (Twitter, ‘Story’). The average Twitter user follows 118 accounts, and about half of the users tweet at least once a week, while 16% only follow others and do not post at all (Sensis, Social). Twitter users are twice as likely to follow breaking news and live updates than Facebook users (Barthel et al., ‘Evolving’; Shearer, ‘Key’), and are more likely to retweet news than to post original tweets (Barthel & Shearer, ‘Americans’). Many Twitter accounts are organisations, causes, non-profit organisations or media outlets, rather than individuals.


With approximately 2.8 million Twitter users in Australia in 2015 (Cowling, ‘Social’), and because Twitter’s focus is on current events, news and opinion—as opposed to the foremost social networking site, Facebook, which is primarily used for contacting friends and family—Twitter is ideal for the analysis of conversations about current environmental and conservation causes. Although Theocharis et al. (‘Using’, 215) have claimed that Twitter is mainly used for conversation and linking information, and less so for calling for action and organization, Twitter arguably can work as a communication and activism tool because of its quick flow of very short and direct messages calling for action, its ability to easily and massively diffuse tweets across diverse social networks, and its ability to attract the attention of previously uninterested publics (203). Twitter also has the advantage of keeping an issue consistently on the front burner (Poell & Rajagopalan, ‘Connecting’, 719), with retweeting comprising a mechanism for helping discussions evolve through endorsement, increasing the visibility of a certain topic (Theocharis et al., ‘Using’, 205). Finally Twitter, as with other new media, is structured so that everyone can participate in the conversation, not just journalists; multiple views can easily be presented and debated.



Data collection, coding and method of analysis

Using the Twitter Archiver tool, tweets featuring the hashtag #flyingfox were gathered between June 23 and November 9, 2015, a period of 20 weeks, which included Halloween and several other events which brought questions regarding the status of flying foxes into the public domain. This search included tweets regardless of the country of origin. It also included non-English tweets, if #flyingfox was used. The Twitter Archiver tool collected the tweet, the username, the number of followers, the number of follows, whether the tweet was ‘favourited’ and the number of retweets. The Archiver saved the information in an Excel document, and this document was imported into NVIVO where it was coded and analysed.


Twitter account holders use Twitter in two ways: to follow other users and to post their own tweets. In this paper, a tweet generated by a user and posted by them is referred to as an ‘original tweet’. If that tweet is then reposted by a different user, it is referred to as a ‘retweet’. In Twitter shorthand language, a retweet is indicated by RT at the start of the tweet. Tweets were coded a priori using NVIVO software. A priori codes included: conservation, environmental impact, lyssa virus, smell, noise and eradication. Other codes emerged from the analysis and were also added. These included: swing, Johnny Depp, and image.


During coding, the tweets were also classified by sentiment, depending on the context of the tweet. A positive tweet was identified as one that promoted conservation or recognition of the ecological role of flying foxes. (Interestingly, although some conservationists argue for animal rights regardless of the animal, this sentiment was not picked up in any of the tweets analysed.) A negative tweet was one that foregrounded disease risk from flying foxes, promoted eradication or viewed flying foxes as a pest. In addition to considering the language and words used in the tweet, sentiment was determined through the use of emoticons, hashtags, images and analysis of the sites to which the tweet was linked. For example, a tweet featuring an image of a flying fox which also included the hashtag #conservation was coded as a positive sentiment. Some tweets could not be classified as either positive or negative, so were left neutral. These tweets included general statements of fact, images with no comment, and references to bats at Halloween.




There were 1,460 tweets gathered which used the hashtag #flyingfox. Of these 1,460 tweets, 964 were not related to the animal flying fox. A total of 561 related to the high speed zip line of the same name, with other irrelevant tweets including a cosmetic range and a brand of wine. If the tweet did not relate to the animal, it was removed from the analysis. Once irrelevant tweets were removed, there were 496 tweets analysed. Often a number of hashtags were used in the tweet, and some tweets consisted entirely of hashtags, with no other content or links. Other tweets included only a link to another website or image in addition to the #flyingfox. This is not unusual practice for Twitter as users generally draw on a number of social networks, not just Twitter alone, so links are often tweeted to direct followers to Facebook, Instagram or other websites. Because the text space on Twitter is so limited, further detail about a conversation is often only available by adding a link. Of the 496 tweets, there were 653 links, indicating that many tweets contained two or more links (see Table 1).


Number of tweets

Number of links

Number of hashtags

Number of unique users






Table 1: Number of tweets, hashtags and unique users


There were 258 unique Twitter accounts that used the hashtag #flyingfox. Although the vast majority of these users only tweeted once using the hashtag (see Table 2), one Twitter user in particular was prolific under the hashtag #flyingfox (@bats_rule), generating 140 original tweets which were often then retweeted by his followers.


Twitter account

Number of tweets

Number of followers





























Table 2: Top Twitter users: numbers of tweets and followers


Followers are relevant to this paper. The number of followers dictates how many people are going to receive each tweet. If users retweet to their followers the flow on effect can rapidly snowball. The user @check123com only tweeted three times in the analysis period; however, 13,737 people received these tweets. These tweets included an image of flying foxes or a link to a short video. There were many retweets resulting from just these three tweets; some conversations continued, however, without the use of the hashtag #flyingfox so these resultant tweets were not analysed for this paper. For example, of the tweet below by @check123com, its image was liked 42 times and retweeted 23 times. The user @mukkumocoilike tweeted: ‘@check123com images of animals are always conducive to reminding us the importance of an invaluable forest!’. @mukkumocoilike has 232 followers, each of whom would have received the tweet, thus potentially continuing the conversation.


Tweet using #flyingfox and including embedded video, posted by @Check123. Screenshot.


The use of hashtags means that the tweet is part of a larger conversation and is searchable without having to follow an individual Twitter account. This study, for instance, was generated through the #flyingfox hashtag, but many other hashtags were also used in each tweet. Common hashtags used with #flyingfox included: #bats, #batsrule, #wildlife, #nature and #australia (see Table 3). Whilst the search was not restricted to Australia (it was a global search in all languages), Australia dominated the references to flying foxes. Table 3 shows the most common hashtags included in the tweets.



Number of tweets


























Table 3: The most common hashtags used in conjunction with #flyingfox


Most of the 496 tweets analysed were stand-alone original tweets or retweets not requiring a reply. However, a few of the ongoing conversations that occurred throughout this time period are worth mentioning as they point to some of the benefits of Twitter-use in the context of issues of animal conservation and public education. Three conversations in particular will be considered: the plan by the Mauritius government to eradicate all flying foxes on the island; Johnny Depp’s adoption of an orphaned flying fox; and Halloween. First there was debate during the analysis period concerning the Mauritius government’s decision in November 2015 to eradicate 18,000 flying foxes (20% to 60% of the population, depending on source; see Morrin, ‘Editorial’), with the further development of a Twitter campaign to fight for flying fox conservation in Mauritius. A number of different hashtags were used in this debate and campaign relating to conservation, including: #justdosomething, to get people to sign a petition to stop the eradication, and #massacre, to highlight the Mauritius government’s plan. Although there were only eight tweets directly relating to this conversation, other tweets indirectly referenced the Mauritius government decision. Interestingly, the Mauritius government’s attitude of flying fox eradication mimics the attitude of early 20th century Australia discussed earlier in the paper. The debate in Mauritius thus provides a 21st century insight into the issues that also faced early Australian farmers. In Australia, as in Mauritius currently, public debate led to discussions about conservation.


Johnny Depp adopted an orphaned flying fox, ‘Jackie Sparrow’.

As is not unusual in social media, the Twitter version of a conservation debate involves celebrity endorsement. Johnny Depp, for example, adopted an orphaned flying fox, named Jackie Sparrow after the actor’s famous character in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The flying fox was being treated in a Queensland wildlife clinic while Depp was in Australia filming and the blow-by-blow account of the flying fox’s treatment generated 19 tweets, some of which were retweets. Although there were many tweets relating to the adoption of the flying fox which did not include the hashtag, only tweets which included the #flyingfox hashtag were viewed for this analysis. A superficial search on Twitter for Johnny Depp, for instance, revealed more than 30 tweets relating to the adoption of the flying fox (called a bat in most tweets), with hundreds more tweets relating to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Jack Sparrow. However, even with the modest number of tweets considered here, the nature of Depp’s celebrity status and his number of followers clearly positively promoted flying fox conservation and generated further interest in flying foxes, demonstrating the potential of new media to positively promote flying fox conservation (see figure 3). Examples of tweets:


@bats_rule: Australian bat clinic Johnny Depp’s sponsored bat #batsrule #jackiesparrow #megabat #flyingfox #fruitbat #johnnydepp


@ceninvoncatlien: Johnny Depp has become an unlikely sponsor for an orphaned bat in Australia…


Tweet by @ceninvoncatlien, featuring Johnny Depp and the orphaned flying fox. Screenshot.


Halloween also fell during the period of analysis, giving rise to a spike in images posted of bats during this period. Only two tweets featured the hashtag #flyingfox, although there were thousands of tweets featuring images and references to bats. For example: @saltycomedylive: ‘It’s always Halloween in Australia, this is what they call a “Flying Fox” #flyingfox #bat #batman…’. This tweet featured a link to an Instagram account with a photo of a flying fox. The photo received 16 likes. It is worth stressing here that photos and images are recognised as a core part of Twitter’s appeal, and that research has shown that tweets with images are more likely to be retweeted (Lee, ‘Create’). Dan Zarella states, for instance, that tweets with links or images are 94% more likely to be retweeted (see Lee, ‘Create’). A new media campaign for flying fox conservation would thus be more appealing with the inclusion of images, insofar as cute animal images that appeal to our emotions, like these of the flying fox included in this paper, may itself promote the establishing and sharing of positive sentiments in Twitter conversations and community.




Emilio Ferrera and Zeyao Yang link Twitter sentiment to emotional contagion. In their study of Twitter users, they found a significant correlation between the number of positive or negative words in a tweet and the exposure of the user to positive or negative tweets immediately preceding that tweet’s posting. For instance, they held that about 80% of users were affected by emotional contagion in 50% of their tweets (see Ferrera & Yang, ‘Measuring’). This would imply that a sentiment categorisation about flying foxes is likely to follow the same trend, with conversations about certain themes encouraging a similar tone in posts on the same theme. Given our interest in the development of more positive responses to flying foxes, tweets were also categorised according to sentiment, with broad polarizing themes emerging of conservation and ecological benefit versus disease risk and eradication. Historically, as noted, traditional media coverage of flying foxes promoted negative views, evidenced by the sensationalist headlines mentioned earlier in this paper. Yet in this Twitter analysis, the tone of tweets about flying foxes overwhelmingly focused on conservation and ecological benefit, with 347 tweets (69.9%) relating to conservation and only 19 tweets (3.8%) relating to disease or negative impact (the remainder were neutral). Negative tweets were either news stories or tweets from users who had a personal dislike of flying foxes; they reflected the prevailing demonisation of the species, particularly relating to risks to human health. For example, one tweet featured the hashtag #livinginfear. There were also 14 tweets about lyssa-virus, with six of the 14 also featuring the hashtag #lyssavirus (a dog was infected after being bitten by a flying fox, and a vet was bitten and was waiting for her test results). The vet posted two of her own tweets, while the others were generated by media outlets.


Mainstream journalists generated negative tweets about the smell (two tweets) and noise (two tweets) of flying fox colonies. In Coolum, the local council tweeted to advise residents of an early morning dispersal project to move a flying fox colony, which would result in loud noises. In Cairns, tweets from journalists of the local newspaper reported that flying foxes were to remain in the CBD, and this was reported as a ‘win’ for conservationists. The mainstream news media thus contributed to the ongoing public conversation about flying foxes. However, of the tweets featuring the hashtag #flyingfox, only six (1.2%) were identified as being from a media outlet, although all six perpetuated the demonisation of flying foxes and the risk to human health. (There were additional tweets identified from the mainstream media about flying foxes, but these were not analysed because they did not feature the hashtag #flyingfox.) It is significant that mainstream media contributed to the Twitter conversation only with a negative inflection.


As stated, tweets relating to conservation and ecological benefit formed the majority of tweets analysed. This shows that Twitter users are regularly being exposed to conversations of conservation, making it an educational tool. In line with Ferrera and Young’s propositions too, these positively inflected tweets were also shown through analysis to be more likely to be retweeted than those concerning disease and risk. The overall positive tone of tweets relating to conservation was additionally reinforced through the inclusion of multiple hashtags—such as #nature, #batsrule and #wildlife—and links to photos or videos. Examples included:


@iamjeffcorwin: Amazing human moment in @Australia feeding these 3 baby flying foxes. I get to call it #work!


@maidsinblack: This video of a #flyingfox being tended to is next level #cute!


@artanis06: Met this cutie on the maldives..our name for him is Rudi #flyingfox #animal #maldives


@janettemattey: Rescued flying fox munching a grape proves bats can be cute too #cute #flyingfox


@projectdfolklors: Happy Baturday! #baturday #babybatsinburritos #megabats #flyingfox #fruitbat #cutenessoverload


@recltd: Rescued #flyingfox munching a grape – if you didn't like #bats before, you will now – video


@robster_89: Loved seeing these big fellas in #Cairns. The spectacled flying fox. #flyingfox #bats #massive

Tweets by @bats_rule using #flyingfox and including embedded video. Screenshot.


@DontShootBats: Is it just me or is this Black Flying-fox gorgeous? This was one of 450 bats saved in Casino NSW #bat #flyingfox


The dominant Twitter user of #flyingfox was @bats_rule. His profile revealed that he is a wildlife conservationist with 332 followers. During the 20 weeks the tweets were analysed, @bats_rule tweeted 140 times using the hashtag #flyingfox (although he has tweeted more than 9,600 times about bats). During the analysis period, his tweets were retweeted 86 times—especially tweets with photos, including one of a mother and baby flying fox being rescued from a barbed wire fence, and ongoing photos of Johnny Depp’s adopted flying fox (@bats_rule was the carer for this flying fox). As previously stated, the use of an image in new media is a common method to gather interest, and @bats_rule has some 4,280 photos and videos on his profile—indeed sometimes he would only post an image and no words. @bats_rule also always only tweeted positive posts relating to conservation. He has a high rate of retweets, but there were no replies to his tweets. So while @bats_rule was regularly sending out messages relating to flying fox conservation, the posts were one-sided and did not involve replies from his followers. Still, due to the volume of retweets, it is evident that his posts were welcomed by his followers and have a wide reach.




This paper has examined the kinds of consideration given to flying foxes through Twitter conversations during a period of 20 weeks in the second half of 2015. In the context of a long history of flying foxes being maligned by society, the media and legislation, it is suggested that such conversations distributed through this new media platform, might not just facilitate the promotion of a generally positive view of flying foxes, but be able to promote their ecological value, and therefore their conservation. Not only does the flying fox cause fit well with the nature of Twitter’s focus on current events and news, and with its capacities to share points of view, information and even emotional responses instantaneously, including through URLs, Twitter’s use of capturing and communicating cute images of flying foxes can further work to build a positive change in people’s attitudes. With the tone of the tweets considered in this study being overwhelmingly positive towards flying foxes, Twitter use, as examined here, has arguably generated significant and immediate public exposure for flying fox conservation by presenting more instances of the counter-narrative to flying foxes simply being perceived as a pest. Certainly such counter-narratives promoting flying fox conservation have no doubt existed in society, despite their lack of purchase in traditional media, but Twitter’s broad accessibility, convenience and instantaneity seems to have worked to encourage people to voice their opinions or at least agree with the opinions of others. Overall, this study has demonstrated that Twitter—with its practices of retweeting, trending topics, breaking ‘real-time’ news and speedy reporting of events (Poell, ‘Social’, 723)—holds significant potential to promote positive perceptions of and counter-narratives regarding the flying fox, a potential that may also support broader public debate and engagement concerning both other ‘conflict’ species and animal conservation.




Animal Justice Party. ‘Bats & Flying Foxes’, 2014.


Attfield, Robin. The Ethics of Environmental Concern. London: Blackwell, 1983.


Australian Government, Department of Environment. ‘Flying-foxes’.


Bainbridge, Jason, Nicola Goc and Liz Tynan. Media and Journalism. 2nd ed. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 2011.


Barthel, Michael and Elisa Shearer. ‘How Do Americans Use Twitter for News?’. Pew Research Center, 30 November 2015.


Barthel, Michael, Elisa Shearer, Jeffrey Gottfried and Amy Mitchell. ‘The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook’. Pew Research Center, 30 November 2015.


Blewitt, John. Media, Ecology and Conservation: Using the Media to Protect the World’s Wildlife and Ecosystems. Totnes, UK: Green books, 2010.


Booth, Carol. Submission No. 09 to the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee, Queensland Legislative Assembly. Land Protection Legislation (Flying-Fox Control) Amendment Bill 2012. September 2012.


Capricorn Coast Mirror, 27 January 1995: 5.


Cowling, David. ‘Social Media Statistics Australia—September 2015’. Social Media News 2015. 30 November 2015.


Davison-Lee, Joy. ‘Joy Leaps to Bat’s Defence’. Capricorn Coast Mirror, November 21 2007: 3.


Ferrara, Emilio and Zeyao Yang. ‘Measuring Emotional Contagion in Social Media’. PLoS ONE 10, 11 (2015).


‘Flying Foxes Start Annual Search for Food’. Morning Bulletin, 28 January 1989: 12.


Freeman, Carrie Packwood. ‘This Little Piggy Went to Press: The American New Media’s Construction of Animals in Agriculture’. The Communication Review 12, 1 (2009): 78-103.


Griffith, Tom and Libby Robin. Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1997.


Kuring-gai Bat Conservation Society Inc. ‘Frequently Asked Questions About Bats’.  2003.


Lane, Ruth. ‘Going in to Bat for Queensland Flying-Foxes’. Australian Natural History 21, 7 (Summer 1984-85): 306-07.


Lee, Kevan. ‘How to Create Shareworthy Twitter Images and Visuals’. BufferSocial, 16 March 2015.


‘Letters to Editor’, Capricorn Coast Mirror, 4 January 2006.


Marshall, A J, ed. The Great Extermination: A Guide to Anglo-Australian Cupidity,     Wickedness and Waste. London: Heinemann, 1966.


Morrin, Yvonne, ‘Editorial’, Bats QLD Newsletter: November 2015.


Mount Cotton Improvement Society & Mount Cotton Fruit-Growers. Correspondence from under Secretary for Agriculture to the Secretary for Agriculture. Department of Agriculture, Brisbane: Queensland State Archives. 9 July 1896.


Poell, Thomas. ‘Social Media and the Transformation of Activists Communication: Exploring the Social Media Ecology of the 2010 Toronto G20 Protests’. Information, Communication and Society 17, 6 (2014): 716-31.


Poell, Thomas and Sudha Rajagopalan. ‘Connecting Activists and Journalists’. Journalism Studies 16, 5 (2015): 719-33.


Pond, Philip. ‘Twitter Time: A Temporal Analysis of Tweet Streams During Televised Political Debate’. Television and New Media 17, 2 (2016): 142-58.


Ratcliffe, Francis. ‘The Flying Fox (Pteropus) in Australia’. Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Bulletin 53. Melbourne (1931).


Sensis. Social Media Report May 2015 2015.


SEQ Catchments Ltd, Management and Restoration of Flying-fox Camps: Guidelines and Recommendations, 2012.


Shearer, Elisa. ‘5 Key Takeaways About Twitter, Facebook and News Use’. Pew Research Center, 30 November 2015.


Singer, Peter. ‘The Ethics of Commercialising Wild Animals’. Animals Today 4, 1 (Feb-April 1996): 20-23.


Theocharis, Yannis, Will Lowe, Jan W. van Deth & Gema García-Albacete. ‘Using Twitter to Mobilize Protest Action: Online Mobilization Patterns and Action Repertoires in the Occupy Wall Street, Indignados, and Aganktismenoi Movements’. Information, Communication and Society 18, 2 (2015): 202-20.


Thorpe, Bill. ‘Aborigines, Settlers and the Fauna War in Colonial Queensland: The “Warroo Battue” of 1877’. Journal of Australian Studies 19 (1986): 25-29.


Twitter. ‘’. 30 November 2015.


Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. ‘Flying Fox Decision Triumph for Wildlife and Community—May 2008’. 18 August 2015.




Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy

ISSN 2200-8616


< Contents

< Close Issue