Attenborough – 1; Social Media – 0

“Our Planet” – the Netflix documentary has been one of the most talked about documentaries where David Attenborough narrates the Earth’s functionality, effects of drastically changing weather, survival techniques of animals and the human impact.  The story goes from how the earth has changed from the last 100 years to where this amazing planet is headed to for the next 100 years (or rather “where we are leading it to”). The majority of the documentary focussed on different ways of survival that animals execute and how surviving for them has become more difficult over the past few decades and unsurprisingly the chief contributors to this are humans.

Let’s face it, we are facing 6th mass extinction and factors that are primarily contributing to it are Increasing amount of concrete jungles, excessive usage of plastic, warming arctic & increasing water level, trophy hunting, and excessive meat consumption. Attenborough discusses some of these factors individually and gives a sense of epiphany to the viewers about how intentionally / unintentionally we are rapidly cutting the branch that we are sitting on. Giraffes, lions, rhinos and polar bears are recently included in the vulnerable or endangered list of species. In the series, Attenborough talks extensively about sea life being disturbed due to plastic usage, making the viewers face reality. The series or rather ‘Attenborough effect’ has been such that 53% of people report using less plastic as they are concerned about the environment.

But what’s social media got to do with it? Social media inability to influence users on climate change is where I think the failing is. Social media’s power can certainly not be undermined when it has helped us to efficiently communicate with each other as friends or as an advertising channel, but on climate change, it has terribly failed to convince a captive audience on climate change. When well-known content creators like UNILAD posts a story on that, then why is it surprisingly attracting unwanted jokes like:

Social Media Posts

Not bothered about the comments but about the overall reaction emojis. Is it the content or people or just not something to talk about on social media? It surely can’t be the content because thanks to social media, within 2 days of Notre Dame fire, 25+GoFundMe pages were activated which attracted millions of Euros from social media, French billionaires and big companies who flocked to donate money. Not that the problem got solved (although such hefty amount would surely help) but look at the way it influenced the users to do something about a cause.

By no means, I am avoiding users who actually do care about climate change news on social media. I come across various measures that few social media users take to communicate the issues – whether by posting hard hitting facts or asking to sign a petition to oppose an action. But like how does signing a petition on Social Media can even affect anything or anyone when an Australian politician Fraser Anning got away easily with his remarks on New Zealand terror attack for which nearly 1.5 million social media users signed a petition demanding for him to be expelled Parliament. I personally have signed petitions to stop trophy hunting in African countries joining millions of people to completely ban it in Africa and is yet to impact at all.

Perhaps it’s time for David Attenborough to create his own social media channel.  If the message can impact via television, why can’t it translate online.  Or perhaps it’s down to how we feel about social issues in the privacy of our ‘own Netflix’ versus the image we want to project via social media.  While we want to be seen to be doing the right thing on social media, when push comes to shove, it’s about being ‘seen’ rather than being ‘seen to do’.  The TIME magazine quote about Attenborough sums up how I feel when they said “no living person has done more to make the people of Planet Earth aware of the world around them.” but is the challenge to turn awareness into action?  And are we conditioned to favour humour than facts on social media? Either way, there’s a worrying lack of action despite the good intentions.


By Akash Singh

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