Course:CONS200/2019/Conservation in the Social Media

From UBC Wiki

Social media is a series of interactive technologies consisting of websites and applications that enable its users to communicate and share information between one another. Social media has created and mobilized movements around the world. The Arab Spring is an example to which social media helped in mobilizing and achieving. Just like social media was able to mobilize revolutions, it was able to mobilize conservation movements.

Social Media and its Relationship with Conservation

Conservation is not an idea that has been recently developed. This movement has been a part of human thinking for centuries. It started because of resource degradation and ecosystem resilience (Scott, 2014). Conservation is considered subjective, and throughout time there have been many contradicting opinions and views regarding this topic. Being subjective can make the development and publications of new ideas and opinions rather difficult. It can lead to big debates and heated arguments. For instance, environmentalists can be heavily stationed in a narrow mindset that seeing the opposing opinions and expansions on traditional or pre-existing ideologies is unthinkable. Conservation encompasses many people and sometimes these people do not agree on smaller concepts within the large umbrella of conservation.

In present day there are still many different outlooks and ideas on conservation: what it entails, how to define it, varying means and ends and how to spread these views is also rather controversial. Many environmentalists have made changes and altered the view on conservation over time and to this day the concept is not a simplistic one. Over the years there have been many ways of getting conservation ideas out to the public; however, with technology now growing at a rapid and increasing rate, social media has become a major platform for this spreading of knowledge.


Social Media Tree.JPG

Communication has and always will be a significant part of human culture. From sharing stories and histories to transferring and spreading ideas, information and knowledge, communication is what makes it all happen. Throughout time, communication has been a key player in creating change (Rogers, 2003; King, 2003, as cited in Anderson-Wilk, 2009), and this will continue to be the case. It brings people together to address a problem or topic they are all invested and interested in. Communication has played a major role in the grassroots of conservation, the agricultural movement and with the process of understanding how to specifically target audiences (Anderson-Wilk, 2009).

Social Media as a Tool

This is a platform defined as “Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking” by the Oxford English Dictionary. This simply put, means it is an online resource where people can communicate with each other through. It is a relatively new concept and has grown incredibly fast throughout over the last decade. Social media is critical when it comes to communication as studies have shown that in order for people to fully accept and understand new information they need exposure to multiple types of media and channels (Isreal and Wilson, 2006, as cited in Anderson-Wilk, 2009). The main and most prominent examples of popular media platforms are Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Linkedin, and WhatsApp. Each platform is slightly different in how they work, what they prioritize and which age group they target and gain popularity with. Many of these sites provide a space for posting on a main page for all your “friends” to see which is where spreading ideas and opinions takes place. Friends can then comment on these posts or continue and share them, expanding and spreading the idea around to many diverse groups in very quick manner. Through this, social media provides two-way communication allowing for people to ask questions and contribute to discussion which is more effective (Rogers, 2003).  Social media and the tools it encompass, as Mark Anderson-Wilk says, “provides the conservation community the potential for greater reach and mobilization of conservation support” (2009). Another trend that is beginning to grow through the advancement of technology and social media is “big data”. This is the collection of large data pools from polls and algorithms to understand where people obtain information in order to better and more efficiently target media postings form companies and conservationists (Kark and Crandall, 2015). As much as social media is a great method for promoting ideas, it can also promote the opposing ideas and opinions just as well. This means that as long as there are different views (which will always exist), with communication such as social networking any standpoint can be clearly and convincingly portrayed quickly to large number of people.

Alternate Methods of Spreading Knowledge and Information

Apart from social media there are many other impactful methods to get conservation out and spread the common ideas associated with it. Before technology had progressed as far as it has today, social media wasn’t even an option. The social outreach would have had to been through speeches, presentations, letters and word of mouth; however, the most common way for communicating ideas surrounding the conservation movement were through environmentalist books (Anderson-Wilk, 2009). These pieces of literature were more often than not rather controversial but nonetheless they provoked thought and introduced the various ideas of conservation to the public. There are pros and cons to these other methods as well (Sweeney, 2012). Some pros are being persuasive and convincing, having a speaker preach their opinions can help with memory retention and make the topic seem more likable. However, with these methods through word of mouth, certain key elements can be easily forgotten, and others can be altered without doing so on purpose. Another drawback to these more traditional methods of communication is the time it involves. Passing on technical and heavy information through this format can be confusing and takes time to get across to one person let alone getting the idea to many. These oral methods only target auditory learners, leaving kinetic and visual learning at slight disadvantage. Overall, social media is very engaging and due to this has a high response rate in information relay.

Looking Deeper into Twitter

Although there are numerous social media platforms, and all have an effective role in relaying vital information, when the environment is the topic, it has been claimed that Twitter is the most effective. Conservation meetings are held all the time to discuss major factors, influences and solutions. These meetings are great for environmentalists to share their thoughts; however, they do not provide the large-scale public with any of this knowledge (Shiffman, 2012). Shiffman claims that Twitter can help resolve this problem. Twitter is an online database where people can easily search for information regarding a specific category and find and share this information easily (Shiffman, 2012). Companies and environmentalists use twitter accounts as a place to post and share information in a blog-like form which is helpful within the conservation community. The main part of twitter that will be impactful for making these conferences and meetings more open and public is the aspect called “live-tweeting”. This is a very simple concept that will spread knowledge without too much confusion or time. Conference live-tweeting occurs when attendees of the meeting share short informed tweets (or posts) regarding what is happening throughout the meeting (Shiffman, 2012). Presentations attended by a dozen or so people, now has the possibility to be seen by thousands of people all across the world do to twitter and live-tweeting (Shiffman, 2012).


One example of social media's role on the efforts of conservation is highlighted clearly with the wild Albatross in New Zealand, and this animal has greatly boosted ecotourism within this country since the mid-1980s (Higman, 1998).

Image of an Albatross

Social Media as a Platform for Conservation Issues

There are several opportunities social media can offer to researchers, scientists and conservationists to use social media as a means of publicizing their data, research and campaigns. Many platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and blog websites can be used as a tool to create a platform for a growing potential to mobilize the awareness, interest and conversation around conservation. In other words, this aspect of social media transcends connections into relationships between the social media user and the facilitator which creates a global conversation.

The conservation movement itself requires change, and change requires communication (Minin, et al. 2015). One basic example of how social media was used as a platform to spread the awareness of a conservation cause was through Steve Irwin. Steve Irwin was a famous zookeeper and conservationist. He vocalized his love for animals, specifically crocodiles, and educated individuals all within his TV shows such as ‘The Crocodile Hunter Diaries.’ Through his shows he was able to establish himself as an international celebrity. After his death, researchers were able to accumulate statistics showing Irwin’s impact. For instance, his well-known catchphrases, “crikey,” “no worries mate” which were “popular in all 160 countries where Animal Planet was broadcast” (74). The reaction from viewers shows how rapid Irwin’s fans are and when it came to his death, 79.6% of Australian respondents have already heard of the news hours it happened. All in all, the amount of successful, positive respondents Steve Irwin had shown how much impact and engagement he had.

Another example is focussed on the endangered Albatross species which has greatly advanced the ecotourism within this country since the mid-1980s (Higman, 1998). The Great Albatrosses are separated into three species: the Wandering 521, the Southern Royal Albatross  and the Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea exulans, Diomedea epomophora epomophora, Diomedea epomophora sanfordi respectively). All of these species live on sub-Antarctic islands and spend most of their lives out at sea; however, there is a colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses in Zealand on the Taiaroa Head Island (Higman, 1998). This is where the conservation movement stems from. Once realized, people started traveling to see these magnificent and rare creatures until in 1964 when the area became protected and was used officially as a tourist attraction (Higman 1998). New Zealand conservation teams set up a 24-hour live-stream of an albatross nest which has exponentially reached 2.3 million views from 190 countries watching the live stream (Roy). The live stream of the albatross species has given individuals the opportunity to look inside the lives of the birds and create an inclusive environment that is transparent between scientists and the public.

The Negatives of Social Media on Conservation

While social media has been effective in raising awareness, it can also result in the spread of misinformation. For example, a lot of climate change deniers have used social media to spread false narratives to deny that climate change is happening. It also distances online users from the reality on the ground, many users think that with a click of a button they can contribute to conservation rather than taking a direct initiative to make an impact. Furthermore, social media often does not inform users of the hectic bureaucracy and political procedures that need to be done to get a conservation initiative done.

Hindering the Value in Conservation Movements

Individuals may argue that social media platforms are a convenient, efficient and sustainable way of mobilizing conservation movements to individuals. However, it can often time hinder the value behind the conservation movement. For instance, online petitions can reach both local and global online-audiences, however, participants who sign them often don't pay close attention to the matter in question as those who psychically mobilize on the ground.

In addition, scholars are concerned of the digital inequalities that online social movements can lead to. Based on the Pew Internet and American Life project, physical location predicts the levels of access to technology and internet use, which can illustrate the marginalization of underprivileged groups who do not participate in online-protests just as much as privileged groups (Sylvester, 2010). With that being said, if online protests continue to gain popularity, it may be easily accessible, but it does not allow for all classes to participate.

Climate Change Deniers

Although based on science that has been proven time and time again, there are still people out there that deny climate change is happening. Regardless of all the facts and studies, these people don’t believe it and often they want to spread this view and convince other that climate change is just a ploy and is not real. Social media and networking enables and provides them the ideal platform to do just that. Not only does it allow them the opportunity but according to Shaun W. Elsasser it greatly amplified the message throughout America specifically (2012).

Climate Change is a huge part of the conservation movement right now as it is a time sensitive and pressing concern; however, with the deniers spreading false information and negative outlooks as fast as they can with social media it can really push back the progress that has been made.

Twitter's Negative Impacts

Looking specifically at certain Twitter users and the hashtags associated with their preferences can provide a significant amount of data that was analyzed by Pearce et al. in 2014. The first thing found was that the most commonly used hashtag was #IPCC, which related directly to the foundation that publishes scientific reports on climate change and conservation. People denying either of these movements would generally hashtag this when they were refuting the published report leading to other similar posts if the hashtag was followed. They also classified users into different groups and although it was found that around half were “supportive” of the movement, there was still over a quarter of the group who were not in support (Pearce et al., 2014). Although there are always going to be opposing sides, this Twitter analysis shows how significant and big the opposite side to conservation really is.


While conservation has been around for a while, what it means and how it should be done is still a heated debate today. There are many different conflicting ideas and opinions that are all considered valid due to conservation being a subjective subject.  This comes with difficulty in communicating conservation ideas effectively. Through social media, environmentalists have been given a new and somewhat more effective platform to spread the word about the importance of the conservation movement. They can now reach a global audience through different platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Out of all of these, Twitter is thought to be the most effective conservation tool, due to its focus on global trends and the emergence of “live-tweeting.” There are many examples of the positive effect social media has on conservation, like the wild albatross live stream in New Zealand, or the evidence that shows that Steve Irwin’s work in television increased awareness for conservation globally.

The arguments against social media and conservation are that while spreading information is much easier, the spreading of misinformation is as well. False information is just as prominent as factual information from credible sources online. Also, as long as there are different ideas about conservation (which there will always be), social media will never be a perfect platform for conservation.


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This conservation resource was created by Will. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.