April 22, 1970 – that’s when it all began.
After the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, the third largest oil spill in U.S. waters, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson realized he had the power to effect change. Inspired by students’ anti-war demonstrations of the day, he desired to combine that energy with a public consciousness about air and water pollution to positively change the national political agenda. After developing a national staff of 85 to promote this mission, Earth Day was created. In its first year, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate their beliefs for environment sustainability. Twenty years later, Denis Hayes, the initial national coordinator, was asked to make Earth Day an international holiday and, that year, mobilized 200 million people in 141 countries. Still organized by Hayes today, Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries and is “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.”
(Photo of Denis Hayes, National Coordinator, in 1970)
Just like any other holiday or momentous national occasion, Earth Day has not been exempt from social media. As you read the following examples, take note in how different social media players, both in size and power, relate Earth Day in different. Each social media reaction has its own motivations and is attempting to achieve a different goal.
The First Family + Earth Day
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama took to the web to address Earth Day and their political concerns for our planet and environment. In his weekly address (see below), President Obama addressed that this Wednesday is Earth Day and then stated that “there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change. Climate change can no longer be denied or ignored.” He then continues to mention various health, national security, and weather risks – including that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded. He included that this week he would be traveling to the Everglades to see how climate change and the rising sea level is affecting our economy.
Michelle, on the other hand, took this political issue and spinned it in a different, more social media-friendly way. Using #EarthDay and FindYourPark.com (see tweet below), the First Lady urged all citizens to go out and discover a national park. This is a part of the National Park Service Centennial initiative Michelle engages in as an Honorary Co-Chair. This initiative calls for everyone to find their park and, in turn, to create their own stories.
Google + Earth Day
Google, the number one search provider in the world, also contributed to the social aspect of this year’s Earth Day. As you all may know, Google utilizes their Google Doodles to enliven the Google homepage while celebrating “particular holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists.” As you click on these doodles, various types of information appear for each subject matter. For example, if it were Albert Einstein’s birthday tomorrow, some information on his famous “E=MC^2” equation may appear. As I clicked on today’s Earth Day doodles, I expected some informative, yet navigable information to pop up. However, I was wrong.
Google sent me to their “Earth Day: Which animal are you?” BuzzFeed-esque quiz. Yes, Google took the fun approach to today’s holiday rather than the informative. Before I continue, I should mention that beneath this quiz, they included various search results, including “In the news” Earth Day articles. As Obama stated, this holiday is meant to draw attention to climate change and the steps we need to take to cause positive environmental change. Being one, if not, the most daily-accessed site on the web, I expected Google to provide meaningful content on this issue. Do you think Google made the right move?
SM Users + Earth Day
I believe Social Media users today have the greatest potential and pull to spread information, especially for holidays like Earth Day. However, as I analyzed my own social media platforms today, especially on Instagram, I came to a conflict. Is it better for the public to discuss the actual environmental issues at stake or is the widespread “name-dropping” and non-informative exposure of Earth Day more important? As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, nearly one-half of the posted photos were related to Earth Day). While this was completely expected, I wondered if those who posted actually knew the history behind the holiday or started a conversation with their friends about the meaning of the movement? While I know that many of these posts help create a self-image, which is the goal for some social media users, is the lack of true, genuine support behind the holiday a negative thing? Do all of these posts create more knowledge of the holiday or do they corrupt the effectiveness of the Earth Day meaning?
What Form of Social Media is Best for Earth Day?
In conclusion, I would just like to pose the question – What type of social media post is most beneficial for Earth Day, its meaning, and its goals?
Do you think that President Obama’s risk-acknowledging video is important to start a serious discussion on this issue?
Is Google’s lighthearted “What Animal Are You?” quiz sparking thoughts in one’s mind about this significant holiday?
Or is the large amount of public “Earth Day” posts, which are creating mass exposure, the best way to support this important international topic?
Like I said previously, I do not know the right answer to this question. However, all three have the potential to spark an interest or a debate. Which one do you think is the best – in terms of motivations? Is there a different way you think social media should be utilized?