Can a Selfie Save the Planet?

Photo courtesy of suesun on

So I heard you’ve been talking trash. #Trashtag, that is. In the past few months, posting pictures of litter cleanups has swept across Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram. The trend consists of posting before-and-after pictures of outdoor areas that people have cleared of garbage. All around the world, places like parks, beaches, and rivers are getting a facelift as bags of trash are hauled away and social media users post another selfie on their accounts. There are thousands of posts under #trashtag, showing off the tangible results of the viral phenomenon and raising awareness about the extent of plastic pollution in our environment. This circumstance of pro-environment action is just one example of the positive outcomes that social media can produce.

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Whether you love to scroll on your smartphone or hate the screen-time, social media channels have the power to influence our lives. As of 2018, 69% of Americans had a social media account, and that number is rising. Most people use social media every day, which creates an unparalleled opportunity to reach audiences on platforms where they engage the most. But it doesn’t have to be all silly cat pictures and #TGIF!

Today, environmental organizations are utilizing the power of social media to rapidly share their campaigns, raise awareness, and call their supporters to action. For example, World Wildlife Fund has nearly 4 million followers on Twitter, all of whom can click and share information, petitions, and fundraisers to an even greater number of people in an instant. Similarly, this access allows the public to directly contact large and powerful companies, giving an avenue to voice opinions and submit hundreds of comments. There is no faster way to reach people than with a snappy hashtag and a popular social media campaign.

What appears when you search for #elephantselfie on Instagram
Photo courtesy Celeste Barnes-Crouse

How does scrolling through newsfeeds turn into action? Instagram has an idea. They rolled out a feature that alerts users when they search or use hashtags associated with activities that may be harmful to wildlife or the environment. By creating this pop-up, users are paused in their flow of posting online and given a link to where they can learn more. Hopefully, this prompts people to change their behavior and get others involved to do the same.

A platform like Facebook can be a useful space for organizing friends and family to get involved. People have used to it start “plogging” in the USA – picking up trash + jogging, which comes from the Swedish “plocka upp”, meaning to pick up. Encouraging others to join in plogging makes a bigger litter cleanup project possible; if a Facebook group consists of people spread across the country, then cleanup efforts can occur in many places at once.

The Internet is an important and powerful tool for creating dialogue around plastic pollution and what we can do about it. However, it can have its pitfalls. While propelling topics to the top of everyone’s newsfeeds, it can also provide a platform for people to detract from productive conversation. And, of course, we can’t believe everything that’s said on the Internet, so we must hold each other to high standards to do our own research and vet the sources we share.

Photo courtesy of Graham Ó Síodhacháin

OK, enough trash talk. Let’s learn, share, and get out there to do some good for the planet!