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Social Media in Wildlife – Alexandra Wickson

Social media can be a tricky subject to navigate in the natural resources profession. The use of social media is ubiquitous these days, but there are many strong opinions and incorrect information on the Internet. If we as future advocates of conservation don’t sort through this information, dispel myths, and correct inaccuracies, who will? We can use social media to our advantage to educate, foster cooperation, and to promote the understanding and practice of science. One of the biggest ways we can be good stewards is to improve our own online presence and learn to decipher viral posts.

Improving our online presence means not only engaging people in a conversation about conservation but also being selective about what we post and share. It’s important to remember the stereotypes and the perceptions that are associated with certain posts, actions, or animals. Often refuting these stereotypes or perceptions can be done with a simple caption. Here are some examples:

  • Necropsy labs-explain the reason for the necropsy and be aware that some people don’t like to see pictures
  • Sedated/Deceased Animals-show respect for the animal, don’t post pictures of an animal covered in blood, and explain why the research was done or how hunting contributes to conservation (use it as an opportunity to educated people!)
  • Clearcutting-explain how harvesting trees is utilizing our renewable resources and how this kind of disturbance restarts succession and is positive for many wildlife species
  • Snakes-explain why snakes are valuable to the ecosystem and to humans and educate people on the ways to distinguish between venomous and non-venomous snakes.

Part of improving our online presence includes learning how to decipher viral posts. These posts are typically meant to connect with people emotionally or announce a novel discovery, but often these issues are summarized in a way that misleads the reader or leaves out information. Some examples include:

  • Photoshopped pictures of animals
  • Videos of the loris or sea otters being touched, petted, etc. but in reality these animals are suffering stress from human interaction. Here’s an example of the criticism the sea otter video faced, from biologists and federal agencies alike.
  • Encouraging wildlife as pets but not discussing the long lifespans, diseases carried, and the effort of caretaking that goes into many exotic pets (ex. Raccoons, amphibians, reptiles, endangered species, venomous species, prairie dogs, etc.)
  • The recent announcement that tiger populations are increasing (this may be true, but reading the article lets you know that their population might not have actually increased, it may just be that our detection of them is increasing)
    • The news is still good news, don’t get me wrong, but the headline is misleading. The article itself admits that we have improved the technology to detect secretive animals like tigers and that the territory monitored for tigers has expanded. So while we have better estimates of their populations (which allows for better management), this study is not claiming tiger populations are safe from previous threats (poaching, habitat loss, etc.) or that they are no longer in need of protection.

Being in the field of wildlife conservation is exciting and fun, but it’s also hard work and an important cause, so it’s crucial that we use our professional expertise and knowledge to educate and correct myths. While doing these things, we need to remain objective and analytical of media we consume and distribute. When in doubt, look for a scientific source to back it up and remember, if it seems weird or too good to be true, it might be!

alexandra&corny

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