Billions of tweets are sent each month and we’re fast approaching 1 in 5 people globally signed up for a Facebook account. Yes, globally. Social media venues are here to stay and their users are ready and willing to spend a great deal of time and (increasingly) treasure in these internet realms. For all this attention, all those eyeballs, it seems like social media should be a powerful tool for environmental education. So far though, I think we, scientists, are failing at reaching the broader audience needed to actually inspire change.
This last year has seen a rise in social media as an advocacy tool. Above all else, the “Arab spring” might be the best example of Twitter and Facebook being used to make real change in the world. Here are several excellent sources to read more: Social Capital Blog, Huffington Post, Oxford Islamic Studies, TGDaily. Another more recent example was the flurry of activity surrounding Joseph Kony, an african warlord charged with forcibly turning tens of thousands of children into soldiers. This story caught the attention and soon the outrage of millions of people, but ended up being no more than a flash in the pan. Why do some viral movements overturn governments while others fizzle out just as quickly? Doubts about the claims of the group behind the viral Kony video and realization that Kony was no long in power in Uganda likely helped deaden the Kony2012 momentum, but we need to figure this out if we want to harness social media for the environment.
What is it going to take for the environmental movement to achieve real social media traction? Is Twitter actually the place to try to inspire people to learn more, to protect the environment, to conserve resources? I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth a try.
In my opinion, the failure of people to get engaged in environmental issues is in part a failure of scientists to clearly draw the connections between their lives and the expected impacts of climate change. As long as we fail to articulate those links there’s very little hope for redirecting this calamitous momentum, and if we can’t make that connection in less than 140 characters we’re not going to convince anyone anywhere.
I’ll be on twitter… still thinking it over. Let me know if you have any brilliant solutions!