Associate Professor Carleton University Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Given its extensive volume and reach, social media has the potential to widely spread conservation messaging and be a powerful tool to mobilize social change for conserving biodiversity. We synthesized both gray and primary academic literature to investigate the effects of social media on wildlife conservation, revealing several overarching benefits and risks. We found that social media can increase pro-conservation behaviours among the public, increase conservation funding, and incite policy or legislative changes. Conversely, social media can also contribute to species exploitation and illegal trade, cause unprecedented increases in tourism pressure in protected areas, and perpetuate anti-conservation behaviours via misinformation. In most cases, we found that content sharing on social media did not result in a detectable impact on conservation; here, however, we focus on providing examples where conservation impact was achieved.
With more than two billion social media users, it is critical we share the potential effects of social media on wildlife, and get people thinking about the consequences of their online actions. We conclude with recommendations of best practices to social media administrators, public social media users, non-governmental organizations, and governing agencies to minimize conservation risks while maximizing beneficial outcomes. By improving messaging, policing online misconduct, and providing guidance for action, social media can be used to more effectively help achieve wildlife conservation goals.