There’s a lot of negative talk about social media lately.
- ruining true human connection
- stifling creativity
- making us all depressed
The news regularly reports on how social media is being used to incite hatred and radicalise young people. It’s hard to get away from the ‘social media is bad’ rhetoric.
In the online business world there appears to be a lot of suspicion, false representation, pushy promotion and make-you-feel-bad-to-make-you-buy marketing on that’s making people feel disolusioned and some considering rejecting their social networks.
And whilst I’ve personally experienced and witnessed the dark side of social media and acknowledge that it can be unhealthy and used in a negative way, I want to share an experience with you today that demonstrates that social media can be used for good.
An antidote to the current trend to bash such an amazing tool for connectivity. A positive perspective.
My aim is to show you how social media can change the world for the better and that if you care about something deeply (in business or in your personal life) you can use social media for good and make a real difference.
I would love to hear your ideas and feedback on this topic. Especially if there’s a cause you care deeply about and are inspired to use social media to support. Drop me a comment at the end of the post or come and find me on Facebook or Instagram.
Using Social Media For Good
Some experiences hit you right in the heart and make you marvel at how amazing this world truly is. My weekend hanging out with rehabilitated and rescued elephants in Northern Thailand last November was one that would change the trajectory of my life forever.
It was such a humbling experience. From the moment we arrived and walked onto the wooden platform overlooking the park, and watched the elephants walking towards us, I had tears in my eyes.
The giant creatures were on the hunt for watermelon. Using their tough, rough trunks to search out the sweet fruit once they sniffed it out they let us feed them their favourite treats.
Throughout the next two days, we wandered the park, spending time with many of the elephants. We bathed them in the river. Watched them cover themselves and play in the mud. Made the old grandma elephants (who’s teeth had fallen out due to old age) squishy rice balls and slept in bungalows that overlooked their sleeping quarters. Being awoken by the trumpeting of trunks was the best wake up call!
Elephants are such emotionally intelligent, peaceful creatures.We felt very privileged to be there.
So how does a weekend hanging out with elephants in Thailand link to using social media for good?
On the Saturday evening of our trip we were fortunate enough to hear the founder of Elephant Nature Park, Lek Chailert, talk about her work in conserving Asian elephants since the 1990s. It was a highly emotive talk, and harrowing to hear how elephants have been treated so badly despite being revered in Thai culture and Buddhism.
What many tourists who want to get up close and personal with elephants don’t realise is that all elephants who…
- carry tourists on their backs for rides
- perform tricks like painting for tourist’s entertainment
- are used for begging on the streets of Thailand
- pose for selfies with tourists
- or exhibit any unnatural behaviour for the entertainment of humans
…have been subjected to a cruel process called Pahjaan or ‘breaking the spirit’. This a process that involves tearing a baby elephant away from its mother and herd, tying it up and beating it until its spirit breaks.
Lek played us a video of some of the footage she and others have captured of this maltreatment. I was in tears watching it. It is deeply harrowing to see creatures you respect and want to be happy being tortured and broken.
Even elephants who seem happy (you may have seen videos of baby elephants sitting in tourist’s laps) are invariably fed the wrong diet, lack nutrition, suffer from loneliness and stress and die much earlier than their life expectancy. Away from the paying crowds they are chained up and live a short, hard life away from their natural habitat and family.
As the video ended, I knew I would leave this place changed.
This video is not the one we were shown during Lek’s talk, but does give some indication of what happens to these poor elephants. It may be upsetting to watch, but it is what made me so determined to talk about this issue publicly:
“How Can We Help?”
The obvious question we asked of Lek after showing this video was:
“Aside from supporting places like Elephant Nature Park, how can we help?”
And her response was… social media.
She asked us to:
- Tell our friends and family about our trip to ENP and why we chose it over riding elephants or other options
- Educate our followers to ethical animal tourism so when they travel to Asia, they make the best choice for animals
- Reach out to people who share content and videos promoting rides and tricks with elephants and encourage them to rethink their posts and educate themselves
Lek was adamant that social media was the easiest and best way to spread a positive message and to educate others. Because that’s all that’s needed to save the elephants in Thailand from cruelty.
If tourists stopped paying for these “experiences” with elephants, there would be no demand and the people who exploit them would have to find other ways of making a living.
This is why, since returning from Thailand, I’ve spoken about this on my personal Facebook, my Facebook group and now here on my blog and business social media.
Just this week I reached out to Cooler Magazine via their Facebook page because they were promoting a video showing baby elephants “cuddling” tourists. I sent them a quick polite direct message that shared my experiences, and asked them to look up Pahjaan and educate themselves, as well as remove the video from their feed.
Here’s their response:
I was nervous of pointing this out to them, as I wasn’t sure they’d take it well, but I am thrilled that they’re taking action and responding to their audience like this.
I hope they do write an article about it, as they’ve such a huge influence on people who love to travel and love animals. Watch this space.
Whilst I’m not naive enough to think that everyone would respond this way, or that everyone who see’s my posts will change their minds, I know that what I’ve shared already has made a difference and I’ve had a few people tell me they’re glad they know better now.
I also believe in the ripple effect and that social media gives us a power to spread a message no other generation before has had.
Aside from promoting our businesses, what if we used this power for good?
What do you care about? What do you want to see positive change for in the world?
For you it might not be saving Asian elephants, but most people passionately care about a cause yet rarely do anything about it. How can you, through the use of social media, do something positive for what you believe in this week?
And can you take it one step further and find a way to use your business to support that cause to? (This is something I’m brainstorming right now).
This post is a little different to my normal blogs here but it is something that’s really dear to my heart and I know how many of my clients and readers are animal lovers too and have causes they too care deeply about and would like to see change in attitudes to. I’d love to hear your thoughts – feel free to comment below.
Thank you for reading.