Conservation on Social Media

One of the most prevalent challenges in communicating about conservation today is social media. Social media is one of the most effective ways to reach an audience, but it comes with limitations. How do you cite a source on social media? How do you retain an audience? How do you prompt someone to take action, or click a link?

Still, the most important challenge of communicating science over social media may be communicating complex ideas accessibly and helping people to care. One of the platforms I have used to communicate science is Instagram, with captions containing relevant scientific information and photos that complement the content.

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There’s blue ice up by the bridge again, but this photo is from last year— last year in early April, not early March. While I realize this is mostly anecdotal and not indicative of much, it does seem telling that blue ice pileup happened about a month later last year. Anecdote aside, average temperatures in the Great Lakes Region have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and are projected to continue increasing (umich’s GLISA team). This has affected precipitation, ice melt, flooding, storm intensity, and promoted the growth of algal blooms. It’s easy to look at 2 degrees and ask why you should care, but this is already damaging crop yields and clean water— that’s water you drink, and crops our economy depends on. And excuse the pun, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. But I guess the real question is what should you do, and the answers not easy. The answer is work to enact policy that protects our environment, be conscious of what you are consuming and try to consume less, and ultimately, talk about it, and don’t be afraid to be wrong. And none of that is easy, but it’s really, really needed. Don’t believe me? Check out  http://glisa.umich.edu/climate to get a summary of current and expected impact.

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This post on Great Lakes ice melt uses a photo highlighting blue ice in the Straits of Mackinaw to address the impact of increasing global temperatures. The issue of ice melt is explained on a larger scale, and facts are cited. An important part of science on social media is referencing other sources; it increases the speaker’s credibility, allows interested readers to do further research, and can help set a standard for facts and science on social media. Citing sources helps keep facts objective rather than subjective.

Communicating about conservation on social media can also call for external linking. Instagram captions aren’t always the best way to flesh out an entire issue— in the case above it made more sense to prompt readers to the blog itself rather than attempt to flesh out the intricacies of freshwater politics in a brief Instagram caption. The caption contains both a prompt to the blog post as well as to the organization involved, Michigan Overboard, who work to spread awareness about conservation and responsible recreation.

Another thing to keep in mind is the implications of Instagram posts on the environment. Posting pictures of wildlife can inspire people to bait other animals, or otherwise endanger animals or themselves. Posting photos that involved hopping fences, illegal campsites, or otherwise damaging nature can also influence others to do the same, so it’s important to discuss what exactly went into making a photo.

For example, providing the backstory behind a photo can encourage other people to respect the work that went into said photo, and the ethics behind it, including respecting wildlife and following Leave No Trace.