Can TikTok save our planet?
TikTok is going beyond dance trends and has emerged as the destination for youth to strike up conversations about sustainability and spread awareness of the climate emergency. The zeitgeist of our generation. A bunch of environmentalist influencers and digital natives are using the platform to elevate public consciousness around climate change, and they are using one of the world's most active apps to do just that.
“There's too much gatekeeping of activism and what it could look like. Let the kids pop lock and drop it for the planet on TikTok.” Leah Thomas, the creator of Intersectional Environmentalist
What makes TikTok different?
Thomas Schinko is a senior researcher and scholar at the IIASA, and he argues that it's the storytelling element of the platform that draws in the views. He told WIRED that, “From our research experience we know that storytelling is key for communicating the climate crisis in a way that can lead to taking action. With creative ideas, artistic works, and a lot of commitment, they show in a partly humorous, partly frightening, and disturbing way how important it is to protect the climate.”
He is also leading a programme that is upskilling youngsters to become climate change “knowledge brokers,” because let's face it we are all more likely to want to watch a 50-second video about climate change on TikTok without all the jargon and complexity than you are to listen to a scientist. But there is a fear that if the narrative around climate change is painted as hopeless, people will disengage with it and become apathetic - or worse become ecophobic by internalising fatalism.
Eco advocates are really holding their own over on TikTok
EcoTok, a collective of 17 US-based TikTokers, activists, and environmental educator, and their content is super popular and have accumulated a lot of media attention for calling out politicians, celebrating intersectional environments and top green tips… amongst a lot of other things. So far they have racked up over 2 million likes, 4.3 million followers, and well over 115 million likes.
“We see climate change for what it is: a crisis, and we hope to empower the younger generations to do something about it by teaching them about science, activism, and ways to make changes in their own life. "Climate doomism," or a pessimistic outlook on the future of the planet, rivals climate denialism in holding up the fight against climate change. This is a huge priority for EcoTok Collective.” EcoTok
So let’s meet some of these movers and shakers!
She is opening up about her own eco-guilt and confessing all. As an imperfect activist, she is an advocate for everyone who cares about our planet, but are less than perfect.
NYC college student, Henry Ferland, is hunting the streets for litter and shares what he collects on TikTok - he really does find some strange stuff. His videos have a huge reach, and he regularly asks fans to write to their local government to consider a ban on single-use plastic waste. He has challenged himself to collect 500,000 bits of trash, and is almost there!
Christine Lan, is an actor by day, and a zero-waste cosmetic brand founder, by night. She is a member of the EcoTok collective and gives tutorials on how to make your own makeup using natural household items.
Climate champion Doria is an energy management expert and TikToker who is making energy efficiency less boring and measuring your carbon footprint more accessible.
QueerBrownVegan AKA Isaias Hernandez is an intersectional climate change advocate and founder of an independent media outlet that reaches 100,000+ followers. In his videos, he discusses veganism, sustainably and lots of other broad topics!
TikTok as a vehicle for action
The Biden's administration has now approved the Willow Project, and it's causing global outrage. Now that they have accepted ConocoPhillips' plans and they will start oil drilling in Alaska. We all know that drilling into the earth's core is only going to accelerate the climate emergency. It is estimated that it would generate enough oil to expel 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which according to CNN is “about the same as adding 2 million cars to the roads.”
The project will drive indigenous peoples out of their homeland and their health deteriorating from the onslaught of pollutants. Surely, we should be transitioning to cleaner greener energy, not locking into decades of fossil fuels? Activists have taken to TikTok to spread awareness of the damage the project could do to the planet. #StopWillow videos have been watched 50 million times and a million people have written to the White House to urge them to halt the project. The latest is that green groups are suing Biden in court as he is choosing to ignore the science.
"The Biden administration has failed to listen to the science, the voices of Native leaders in the region and millions of people across America who have pleaded for the protection of air quality, subsistence resources and the global climate by rejecting Willow," said Karlin Itchoak, of The Wilderness Society.
Football clubs are also raising awareness of climate change on TikTok
Pep Guardiola, Manchester City's manager, in partnership with Xylem, is raising the profile of the waste that is being pumped into our waterways. Over 80% of the whole world's wastewater is released untreated. "Xylem's mission is to solve water, help drive a global conversation, and inspire the next generation of fans to think differently about water." In a TikTok, Guardiola begs the question "How close must water pollution get before we act?' The post has been well received and introduces an important question to its 15.2 million followers.
TikTok: the hotbed of overconsumption and greenwashing
A study last year found that direct-to-consumer brands increased advertising spending by more than $30 million. The hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit has gathered 44.3 million views, inspiring influences to do shopping hauls from mostly fast fashion brands like SHEIN, it was revealed that SHEIN at any one time, SHEIN has as many as 600,000 products for sale on its online platform and workers are paid 3p per garments and expected to do 18 hours shifts. Recently there has been a trend towards something called ‘deinfluencing’ - pretty much doing the opposite of influencers by offering tips to be more sustainable and over on YouTube there has been a rise in ‘de-haul’ videos where creators share which shops, they will no longer be buying from.
“A curated social media feed can serve the same purpose as a fashion magazine or a beauty catalogue, and users tend to follow people they trust will recommend high-quality products” Jess Hunichen, the co-founder of Toronto talent management agency Shine.
Social media re-imagined
It's undeniable at this point that TikTok has its issues and now other platforms have also taken the challenge of reimagining social media platforms, meet Curv! Curv is a fascinating start that is drawing movements and organisations to communicate with their members on a social media platform that cuts out all the ads, filters, doom scrolling likes and follows. I first came across Curv when Force of Nature, a network of over 300 youngsters from 50+ countries across the world, joined it to engage more people. And I love it! Even though most of us youngsters can't vote, we can still use our voices on social media to speak our truth and force our leaders to take action… if they don't, they've failed us.
Just this week, TikTok updated their Climate Disinformation Policy
A culmination of campaigning from eco-influencers and Friends of The Earth has finally led to TikTok changing their stance on Climate Disinformation.
Why does it matter?
Well, some people believe everything they see, read or watch and this is a huge problem when it comes to climate change because it will mean that a lot of people are ill-informed and not dealing with science-based facts.
"TikTok's new policy to reduce the spread of climate disinformation is a step in the right direction. However, it can and should go further. TikTok, and social media companies like Google, YouTube and Facebook, should open up their algorithmic black boxes in order to build trust and work towards creating a safe and equitable digital public square. Furthermore, it’s up to political leaders to turn TikTok’s voluntary commitments into industry baselines. Only broader legislative action can provide the safety, security, and privacy required in our digital spaces. Initiatives like the Digital Services and Oversight Act and strong implementation of the E.U.’s Digital Services Act could take us much further towards transparency, and encourage this young industry to mature” Michael Khoo, Friends of the Earth
What will the policy cover, and what content will be labelled as disinformation?
If anything undermines basic climate science
Eliminating the whole “climate change isn’t real” rhetoric
Don’t worry free speech and open debate will still have a place on TikTok, but you're just better protected from the wrong kind of content
Want to read more about the policy, of course, you do!
Here is a link to Michael Khoo’s statement
So, can TikTok save the planet? As I have explored TikTok, creators are making waves in climate activism using the platform. For what it’s worth, obviously, TikTok is problematic. Just this week, governments across the West, are threatening to remove TikTok from politicians’ phones and devices, as there are renewed fears about data collection by the Chinese government, a potential threat to national security, not to mention the impact social media is having on youngsters. But, TikTok and by extension, social media can be a force for good and bringing climate consciousness into the public sphere, is invariably a positive thing, especially in the wake of the IPCC report it’s clear that there is evidence that we have to move together to solve this without delay.
By Ellie Meredith
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