Social media data have been used in various fields of science, but examples of their use in conservation science are still very limited. This paper looks at how social media data could be useful for conservation science and practice.
Citizen science and crowd-sourcing of biological data collection increasingly engage non-professionals in real scientific research. This is facilitated by the availability of smart phones equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS), high resolution cameras, and continuous internet connection. However, citizen science requires systematic organisation, marketing, commitment and skills, and is thus mostly focused in the developed world.
The paper presents the commonly used social media platforms and discusses how their content could provide new data and information for conservation science. For example, it could be possible to extract information from social media such as Facebook and Instagram, on biodiversity related content and users' nature experiences. Although this data would be heavily biased towards certain places, types of media users, and biodiversity features (species and landscapes), it could be valuable to understand changes in public interest in biodiversity and engagement with conservation. This could be useful for protected area tourism operators, or for fundraising or campaigning by conservation organisations.
The paper concludes that, although social media data are far from a panacea for all data challenges in conservation science, combined with other sources of data, this can provide innovative ways to address the information needs of future conservation challenges.