Different popular social media platforms. (Photo courtesy of Pexels)
Yorba Linda High School

Opinion: Social media and its effects on nature

Social media has been a prevalent source for accessing the internet as well as spreading a variety of information ranging from funny cat videos to serious emergency news. Many of us use this in our daily lives, and can be a natural instinct for some to post a selfie or a picture of beautiful scenery. Yet surprisingly, all these actions can ultimately lead to the downgrading of nature.

Social media users love to take photos of interest, and nature is one that is not to be left out. Although the act of taking photos is harmless, the side effects that come after is much worse. Interactions and artificial adjustments of natural life in order to take that perfect snapshot can greatly affect the ecosystem. Tourists trampling over flowers, plucking plants out of their spots, and taking natural objects home are all activities that can harm nature. Leaving trash and human waste behind can also affect the animals there as well.

In Lake Elsinore, Calif., a post of beautiful poppies sprouting near the Temescal Mountains went viral on the Internet. As expected, crowds of visitors soon came in order to post these picture-perfect flowers on social media.

According to Scholastic, “as many as 100,000 poppy seekers crowded into the town of 50,000. The sightseers caused heavy traffic on the roads. Some visitors even damaged the poppies by picking them or wandering off marked trails.”

The aftermath was a trail of trampled nature, exploited by the social media users for their photographic needs. 

This is only one of the several places that have fallen victim to this phenomenon. The Catskill Mountains and its beautiful stream-fed gorge, now left with human garbage and litter. A sunflower farm in Toronto, closed off due to the overflow of overenthusiastic people waving with cameras.

According to NewRepublic, “…Instagram, among other factors, fuels ever-greater numbers of visitors. The result is the erasure of sizable portions of the poppy ecosystem.”

This problem can scale even higher to a national level, where endangered animals in South Africa are put at risk to illegal poachers due to visitors taking pictures and uploading them online for all to see. 

The reason why this problem is so large and widespread is due to the contagious ability to geotagging. Geotagging is when social media posts are linked with GPS locations to show exactly where the photos are taken. Once a post is uploaded, everyone can locate and find out where to go in order to capture the scenery. This makes it so that an oversized population of inspired people visit the same spot that can result in putting the wildlife present at risk.

Although not all people do this, the great majority of social media users partake in some action that harms the environment. Signs plastered on fences and guidelines to prevent visitors from doing such actions are no help either.

Visitors tend to ignore them, and according to NewRepublic, “resource-strapped park rangers appear helpless to stop the madness.”

A 2016 study at Colorado State University stated that environmental effects of recreation were widespread, and “protecting biodiversity from potentially harmful effects of recreation is a primary concern for conservation planners and land managers.”

Prevention measures however are being taken place. Authorities of these locations have been reinforcing policies that protect the wildlife present. Campaigns have started to reduce and eliminate geotagging in order to save nature. The California Park Authority has already taken action in using the social media hashtag, #DontDoomtheBloom, which ironically helps save the flowers from social media. As solutions gradually appear, it seems possible to finally balance out the damage suffered in nature through the clicks of a camera.