Whenever an environmental related hashtag trends on social media this is always a good sign. Not because, yes, a particular hashtag has made people realize environmental changes and consequences but because in the least, people care. When buildings in Nairobi were being demolished on Riparian land, one could easily learn what the word Riparian is through social media. Social media has opened up spaces and voices for people to actually say what they want, good or bad. As environmental stewards, we can channel this platform to spark change.
Some may ask who the target audience is and whether a conversation on conservation can start online. When we go back to the death of the 11 rhinos which happened just last month, we can tell from social media that Kenyans are concerned about their national heritage and wanted answers as soon as possible. No one was left to chance including the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife. You may wonder, Oh well! Who will see my tweets and Facebook page or even be bothered? You may think you are spamming people on your timeline. Think again. Whenever you post something on the environment, be not afraid. As long as you are not selling pieces of ivory on the internet you are safe. The worst that could happen is someone blocking you, but that should be the least of your worries. Whenever you feel like you are spamming your friends, then they are not your friend.
When you want to share stories and knowledge concerning the environment, whether you are against certain policies or people or whether you are for all of it, the key to spreading the best message is to just start. Starting is always hard. You can plan, even how you intend to structure your tweets or posts with the best ideas ever, but how will you know what others think when you don’t hit the publish button?
Social media can be used to pose social change as problem-solving. Many times when people in the environmental field need to solve a problem, expensive time-wasting meetings over endless meetings will be held with relevant (those involved in the environment sector) stakeholders to address certain problems. Whereas the problem could be the social outlook of the citizens. The citizens could only be concerned and have a one-sided view of a specific issue. We can, therefore, use this space to enlighten, educate, empower and even start a conversation.
When Kenya banned the use, production and import of plastic carrier bags, the internet erupted with concerns of what Kenyans will now use. This was a great chance for anyone with an innovative idea to showcase their products. It was also an opportune time to educate Kenyans on the dangers plastic bags have caused to our environment. Flash forward to when the long rains caused flooding in Nairobi city and residential areas. This may have been an environmental disaster but we were able to realize the effect building on riparian land has which became a topic of discussion later on even after the floods.
The environmental sector should know using social media can be for good, and in the same way, we promote tourism in Kenya is the same way we should speak about the environment. It is not always about how elephants bring in foreign exchange but how an elephant is amazing ecosystem engineers and why we need to coexist together and protect them.
Conservationists can use social media to engage with the public about the science in nature (to prevent the public from being misled), increase science literacy, promote trust, explore career options, network internationally, and even influence policy. We have a responsibility to engage effectively with society, especially when trust is lacking (KWS, NEMA, other environmental government bodies) and scientific knowledge is not equitably accessible as it is only for the intellectuals. As an individual, do not feel the pressure to change the world with just one post. Environmental outreach should not just be in the grass root areas but in the online space too.