There are very few things in my morning media diet with the potential to tickle my fancy, and the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union (NZTU) fighting a losing Twitter battle with the furry community – a battle that it initiated – simply hits different.
On Tuesday, the NZTU shared a tweet in response to an article about four IT professionals who also happened to be members of the furry community.
“Unbelievable,” it said. “Taxpayers are funding pro-furry propaganda.”
The Union’s issue? The article – which explored experiences in the furry community, misunderstandings about the fandom, and the overlap in furries and people who work in IT – had been written as Public Interest Journalism, funded by New Zealand’s Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
The $55 million dollar Public Interest Journalism fund is an initiative aiming to support “at risk” journalism. It’s a three year package being administered by NZ On Air – an independent government funding agency.
It should be noted that, despite its name, The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is a lobbying group and not a government body that represents all of New Zealand’s taxpayers. Whatever the case, it seems the NZTU did not appreciate funds going towards an expose on furry culture.
Only a few moments after the NZTU starting kicking up a fuss, dozens of furries from the domestic and international community came out to defend the piece.
“Furries count as public interest and it’s highly unlikely all that money went to one article,” said one comment. “You guys clearly don’t understand anything about funding or tax.”
“I pay taxes too...I paid taxes when I wasn't even in the country, I pay more since I became a Furry and started dabbling in IT…” read another.
Seemingly not content with the initial response to the tweet, the NZTU made a poster. God knows why.
In a statement, the NZTU told VICE that it believed taxpayers did not want public funds being spent on information about furries.
“The global furry underbelly might be able to throw its weight around on Twitter, but as we all know, normal people don’t use Twitter,” said a spokesperson.
“Normal people use Facebook, where the response to the furry article has been very different”.
Kjaru, a member of New Zealand’s furry community, told VICE the community was “absolutely” in the public interest.
“It’s a group that has been historically bashed by media, and this has added stigma to the community. The furry community is just a hobbyist collective where people can express themselves without strictly being associated with our usual identities,” they said.
“Many furries are LGBT+ or neurodivergent, and despite the profound benefits of being able to express yourself in a way that gets around public anxiety or body image issues, the stigma is often the biggest issue for people.”
Kjaru estimates that there are 500-600 active furries in New Zealand, and that the number is growing steadily.
“It’s absolutely in the public interest to show that we’re not only doing no harm, but are also, ultimately, just trying to live our best lives,” Kjaru said.
Another New Zealand furry, Ranger Martin, said furry fandom was a “self-sustaining economy” driven by commissioners paying artists for art of their original characters.
“Everyone here has come from all walks of life, from office workers to manual labourers, to executives [and people in] government and military positions,” they said.
“Furries are not out here trying to show that they’re better. They’re just chilling out with their friends and commissioning artworks.”
Ironically, by starting a flame war on Twitter the NZTU has brought the argument to furry home turf. It may have started a war it has already lost.
Read more from VICE Australia.