Can Social Media Beat Invasive Species??

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Recently, a new method of controlling invasive species has emerged, something I call the social media method. While traditional methods used to control invasive species—such as biological, mechanical and chemical methods—directly attack the pest, the strength of the social media method is its ability to educate and activate people. Conservationists have begun experimenting with high-tech social media solutions to help keep invasive species in check. The social media campaign against the Spotted Lanternfly has proven to be successful and is a model that we should emulate, both as we continue responding to the Spotted Lanternfly invasion and when responding to future invasive species. 

Spotted Lanternflies disrupt ecosystems by consuming essential nutrients and laying eggs on trees. This leaves over 70 species of hardwood, native and fruit-bearing trees vulnerable to disease and infection, and prevents growth. They were first discovered in Pennsylvania and then quickly spread throughout New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and the rest of the United States. It became apparent that this pest needed to be controlled immediately and that new method were needed. Scientists, politicians and environmental advocates collaborated to develop a social media campaign that could call upon diverse members of affected communities to make a difference. 

The social media method involves effective online communication and collaboration. Effective high-tech social media campaigns against invasive species have happened on two levels: professional and social. Twitter and Facebook are examples of platforms where education and communication can occur on both levels. In this way, social media is an asset, acting as a common space to formulate solutions, enabling a country wide-movement that created an army of researchers consisting of professionals and volunteers.

To understand the social media method, let’s look at examples of community members and organizations making a difference. 

  • On the social level, communities around the nation adopted a “no mercy” campaign, encouraging each other to stomp on the invaders one fly at a time. 
    • “Squish squad,” a group led by Pennsylvanian high schoolers, aims to stomp on Lanternflies and increase community awareness. 
    • Social media users have documented sightings, shared information, and created comedic material and other visual guides regarding the dangers of the Spotted Lanternfly 
  • On a professional level…
    • Organizations call out and celebrate individuals to both educate and inspire. The NYC Parks department celebrates Sara and encourages citizens to “be like Sara!” while also making people aware of the newly developed data system to log and track the pests created by The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets.
    • The City of Hoboken, Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture, and other government agencies and universities have posted educational graphics with identification information that has sparked meaningful conversations and encouraged participation in the “no mercy” campaign.

While these are just a few examples of the social media approach, this engaging and educational approach to addressing invasives has proven to be valuable and essential in this digital age. As we grapple with the challenge of mitigating intense invaders such as the Spotted Lanternfly, we have effectively collaborated and inspired action. Social media has been a crucial tool in educating and learning how to combat the Spotted Lanternfly and should be applied to other invasive species. In doing so, together we can sustainably coexist with native species, protect natural resources, and support human health and the economy. Encourage people of all ages, your parents, friends, kids and grandchildren to take action against the Spotted Lanternfly and any invasive species that come their way.

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