A Social Dilemma

Swipe, Scroll, Like, Follow


Over the years, the internet has improved, become faster, and spread to even the remotest of places. Along with the internet improving, social media has become like a fifth appendage to our lives. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, YouTube, Pinterest or the latest to enter the arena TikTok, these being the most popular ones. Social media has played a critical role in the past year as we have all been stuck at home due to COVID-19; connecting with friends and family has never been more urgent. During the two weeks of quarantine after emigrating to the Uk, I had a repetitive strain injury in my thumb from constantly scrolling through my phone being on Facebook and Instagram too often.


Social media and being on our phones has become a way of life in these modern times.


While social media has recently helped us get through some tough times, it can also mean certain death for various animal species. It has not just been law-abiding citizens who have started working from home but also criminals, like traffickers, dealers and the customers who demand animal products such as ivory, rhino horn, pet parrots, reptiles or monkeys, to name a few. Facebook, in particular, is known to have many public and private groups in which dealers can post adverts and sell to customers around the world. Once the customer shows interest in the particular animal or animal body part, they will usually move to a more secure platform like WhatsApp or Messenger. Social media platforms or partial aspects of social media fall into surface web; for example, a public group on Facebook. A private group on Facebook is classed as deep web as only certain people may join and see that group's content. Likewise, WhatsApp is classed as deep web as, in general, most of the people on your cell phone and in the groups you have are private.

WeChat and Instagram are also responsible for allowing advertisement's for exotic pets, ivory and rhino horn and other illegal animals and their body parts. eBay and Amazon have been implicated in the past for advertising and delivering illegal animal parts. Both these companies have pledged to take down any advert or item that may hinder any animal species' survival, including Facebook.



Different types of social platforms constitute as surface web while others are deep web


Now before you open up a separate tab on your pc or login to your favourite social media account to try and find these adverts, Stop. It's not that easy and straightforward. Due to law enforcement and the companies themselves clamping down on these illegal dealings, the sellers have had to develop different ways to sell their illicit goods. One of these methods is creating other code words for goods concerned; an example of this is ivory which may be sold under the alias name of ox bone. There are many different animal products out there, and all of them have other alias names, and as a consequence of law enforcement crackdowns, these names are constantly changing.



Amazon and eBay are committed to not selling or delivering illegal wildlife products but unfortunately some advertisement's do slip through the cracks.


How do these companies and social media apps keep up to date, you say? Well, if you thought that a person or team was sifting through advertisements and social accounts all day to take them down manually, you would be wrong. Besides being cost-effective, no human person or group would ever stay on top of the amount of content and new websites popping up every day on the web. No, they use algorithms with an up-to-date list of words, names and key phrases, and if those words pop up, they will be checked and or taken down. I am sure it's more complicated than this, but this is a simple way to understand it.


Misinformation


There's a lot of weird content on social media these days, mainly because everyone is stuck at home and are bored stiff. People are putting clothes on dogs, creating funny dances and family members playing tricks on each other. These examples are all pretty harmless, but some content on social media can be misleading and fake. Whether it be photos, reels, stories, or a bit of information under a picture, don't trust everything you read or hear, particularly from social media. Recent research on social media has found that content promoting baby otters makes great pets or that rhino horn cures Covid-19. Another popular trend in the travel industry and familiar with tourists is putting videos and pictures of themselves riding elephants, walking with or petting lion cubs, having selfies with tigers, monkeys and a whole range of other animal species (not cool). So, to simplify, don't believe everything you read and hear. If you see these pictures and think it would be cool or fun to do these things, I can reassure you that the animal in those pictures is not having a good time, does not want to pose with you and does not want to stand on one leg on a stool for you. These animals are beaten into submission and live in appalling conditions; this the cruel reality of what you don't see when the show is over.



These animals do not like or want to do this for you

The upside of social media


Although social media has an undercurrent of shifty businessmen and dodgy dealings, there is a lot of good that social media can provide. Nature conservation organizations have joined the fray of social media and have taken advantage of it. Recognizable ones like WWF and IUCN are a few, plus a host of individual people, passionate about nature conservation, raising awareness about illegal wildlife trade and climate change, wildlife tourism, and sustainability. By increasing the awareness of nature and its benefits to the general public, people will start making more informed decisions about where they go and what to do to have fun that won't endanger or abuse wildlife. Conservation campaigns and events can be seen a lot faster because of the popularity and the traffic that social media drives. A typical event recently is virtual marathons that raise money for conservation charities or nature reserves struggling for much-needed supplies.

So, I think the take-home message is that you don't have to delete all of them on your phone or tablet, but rather be an active participant, and if you notice anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, report it and block it. Another last tip, and I think there is some common sense in this one, if you come across posts that you can see animals being poorly treated or abused for tourism purposes, don't follow them. The less support they get, the less profitable it will be, and thus they will have to stop the activity altogether.



Many conservation organisations have active social media accounts, giving updates and awareness of many different conservation topics.


References


https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/can-social-media-be-weaponised-against-the-illegal-wildlife-trade/ar-BB167eXF

Di Minin, E., Fink, C., Hiippala, T., & Tenkanen, H. (2019). A framework for investigating illegal wildlife trade on social media with machine learning. Conservation Biology, 33(1), 210–213. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13104


Figueroa, M. E., Lawrence, D., Rani, M., Lewis, G., & Gray-Felder, D. (1988). Communication for Social Change.


Martin, R. O., Senni, C., & D’Cruze, N. C. (2018). Trade in wild-sourced African grey parrots: Insights via social media. Global Ecology and Conservation, 15, e00429. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2018.e00429


Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2018). Documenting and tackling the illegal wildlife trade: change and continuity over 40 years. Oryx, 52(4), 597–598. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0030605318001047


Siriwat, P., & Nijman, V. (2018). Illegal pet trade on social media as an emerging impediment to the conservation of Asian otters species. Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity, 11(4), 469–475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.japb.2018.09.004


Stringham, O. C., Toomes, A., Kanishka, A. M., Mitchell, L., Heinrich, S., Ross, J. V., & Cassey, P. (2020). A guide to using the Internet to monitor and quantify the wildlife trade. Conservation Biology. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13675


Xiao, Y., Guan, J., & Xu, L. (2017). Wildlife cyber crime in China: e-commerce and social media monitoring in 2016. 12.


Xu, Q., Cai, M., & MacKey, T. K. (2020). The illegal wildlife digital market: An analysis of Chinese wildlife marketing and sale on Facebook. Environmental Conservation, 47(3), 206–212. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0376892920000235


Yu, X., & Jia, W. (2015). Moving targets: tracking online sales of illegal wildlife products in China. TRAFFIC Briefing, 1009649(February 2015), 1–10.

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