In mid-July, Reddit user erako shared a photo of some exotic-looking insects, curious as to what they were.
The insects seemed out of place for Mississauga, Ont. — they were bright red, covered with black bands and spangled with white stars.
The original poster couldn’t have anticipated the panicked messages and emergency emails that would ripple out across the internet and through multiple Canadian government agencies in response.
Case of mistaken identity
The insect was swiftly and correctly identified by the Reddit community as the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), an invasive insect that has been spreading outward from southern Pennsylvania since its accidental introduction in 2014.
Across Canada, entomologists, conservationists, farmers and foresters have anxiously watched for it. This pest feeds on the sap of more than 70 species of trees, shrubs and vines, robbing the plant of energy and providing opportunities for fungal diseases to colonize. Costs associated with lost crops, damaged plants and pest control can be substantial, with yearly harvests or entire orchards being lost.
Fortunately, it was a case of mistaken location: the photo had originated in New Jersey, not Mississauga. For the time being, Canada has avoided another insect invader.
The incident, however, served as a successful test of the important role social media and a whole nation of community scientists are playing in the detection and identification of introduced species.
Using the power of social media for natural history
People of all ages are taking to social media to connect with other naturalists. From Whatsthisbug on Reddit (which boasts 245,000 members), to the thousands of active entomologists on Twitter, to the hundreds of groups dedicated to insect identification on Facebook such as Entomology (146,000 members) and Insect Identification (62,000 members), social media are enabling biodiversity conversations.
New scientifically unnamed species — from fungi to flowers to insects — are now regularly found via Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.
Additionally, we are learning more about species familiar to us. Species’ ranges (the area where a species is found) and life histories are being monitored by a global community emboldened and enabled to share their findings for the world to enjoy. Scientists are actively participating as well, creating programs to answer questions about spiders and recruit volunteers to find bumblebees or collect forest pests.
Alongside the big social media networks, a website that has quickly established itself for natural history documentation is iNaturalist. A joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, iNaturalist has become a world-leading resource that combines observational data with artificial intelligence and community expertise to bring natural history into the digital age.
iNaturalists are already on the case
iNaturalist is already helping identify invasive urban landscape pests in Ontario. The European firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus), a brightly coloured bug that feeds on linden trees and hibiscus plants, was first identified in Canada by Paula Oviedo Rojas, a student at the University of Guelph, in her Etobicoke, Ont., backyard in 2017. A year later across town, backyard naturalist Karen Yukich discovered the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis) in her garden. While this moth has been causing significant damage to boxwood shrubs across Europe, this observation marked its first known record in North America.
Both species have since been observed spreading across the Greater Toronto Area by iNaturalists whose observations are helping researchers understand how invasive species move through urban landscapes.
Natural history in the digital age
As natural history goes digital, it is experiencing a renaissance. Natural history — one of biology’s oldest disciplines — is often trivialized as an outdated pastime, and not a true scientific discipline, even though it underpins much of modern biology.
The proliferation of smart phones means many people have an encyclopedia of knowledge, a high-resolution digital camera and GPS in their pockets. The curious are being transformed into community scientists who contribute vital data and observations from their local parks, backyards and city streets.
Become an invasive species detective
Many hands make light work, the saying goes. And many naturalists make early detections more likely.
The Canadian government is constantly on the lookout for potential new arrivals that can harm natural resources or decimate crops, and social media-connected community scientists are swiftly becoming our first line of defence. Major pests like the wooly hemlock adelgid, the spotted lanternfly, the khapra beetle or the Asian long-horned beetle are all likely targets for community detection.
So, as you move through your day, take a closer look at the insects and other organisms that share your environment. When something catches your attention, take a photograph and share it with the internet — your observation could be more significant than you may realize.
TikTok proposes social media coalition to curb harmful content – CANOE
TikTok has proposed a global coalition of social media firms for early identification and removal of harmful content, the company said on Tuesday, as networking apps face a barrage of criticism over issues ranging from misinformation to data privacy.
The company, owned by China’s ByteDance and at the centre of a political battle between Washington and Beijing, said it had sent letters to nine companies for a memorandum of understanding on content moderation.
Individual content review efforts by each platform can be advanced through a formal and collaborative approach, the short-video app said.
TikTok did not name the companies it had reached out to but said it had proposed a meeting between the firms to discuss the matter.
The app, a relative newcomer to the social media landscape, has had fewer instances of wrestling publicly with the persistent content moderation scandals that have dogged larger and more entrenched competitors like Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc.
A new model leverages the power of the media to win hearts and minds for climate action – UN Environment
Over $500 billion dollars a year is spent on paid media advertising, returning significant profit to the media industry involved in the buying and selling of advertising space. But there is ever-growing awareness of the gravity of the climate crisis, and advertisers, consumers and industry leaders increasingly want to be part of the solution.
“We are excited to see advertisers and the media industry throw their weight behind global efforts to reverse the climate crisis,” says Niklas Hagelberg, the UNEP’s Climate Change Coordinator. “The climate emergency urges us to find new ways to expand and accelerate the rising tide of public support for climate action, especially in an increasingly fragmented media and content landscape. By reaching a mainstream audience of 30 million people through this one-country pilot alone, we see huge potential in this partnership’s capacity to ensure UNEP’s message of the importance and opportunities of climate action reaches many more people worldwide. We’re very grateful to our partner Blue Life, and their implementing partners who have worked tirelessly to bring this to life.”
While there are now high levels of awareness of climate change, there remains confusion and misinformation about what actions are necessary and wide misapprehension that climate action will have a negative impact on peoples’ lives.
Paid advertising media space offers the thoughtful targeting necessary to efficiently reach mainstream audiences and address these misconceptions. However, paid media space is usually prohibitively expensive. To solve this, at the core of the partnership’s concept is the idea that as media space is bought and sold, instead of creating profits margins with each trade, could some of the space be retained for climate positive messages, and therefore transform UNEP’s ability to reach widespread mainstream audiences with climate positive messages.
Group wants Parliament, courts to hold social media to same standard as publishers – The Battlefords News-Optimist
TORONTO — Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is calling on Parliament to restrain social media platforms from distributing harmful or hateful content by applying the same laws that publishers and broadcasters already face.
The lobby group’s executive director says courts should be penalizing social media platforms that knowingly spread harmful content.
Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper that argues social media platforms aren’t passive or neutral when it comes to content distribution.
The report says platforms like Facebook and YouTube routinely exercise editorial control by promoting content that users have never asked to see or sometimes conceal content without consulting users.
The report says traditional publishers can be held partly liable under Canadian law for harmful content but the same standard hasn’t been applied to internet platforms.
The report was released as members of Parliament return to Ottawa this week and the Trudeau government prepares to lay out its plans for the coming session.
Among other things, Bernhard said that social media tell regulators and advertisers that they have very detailed knowledge of what’s being posted on their platforms and exercise control over what is made available to the public.
“(Facebook CEO) Mark Zuckerberg has claimed under oath that Facebook takes down 99 per cent of terrorist content before a human user ever sees it (and) 89 per cent of hate speech supposedly comes down before a human ever sees it,” Bernhard said.
He said that means Facebook in particular, and social media in general, should have the same responsibility to abide by Canadian laws as conventional publishers and broadcasters.
“If a judge finds that the content is illegal and that a platform has amplified it, the platform should be held responsible. And not only that, but that the penalty should be commensurate to their revenue and size so it hurts accordingly,” Bernhard said.
Facebook has said internet platforms are recognized as intermediaries, not publishers, under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement.
But Zuckerberg has also said Facebook has a responsibility to keep people safe and suggested new regulations could provide a standardized approach.
“These are complex issues and we are always open to discussing these important topics with the government,” a Facebook statement said Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.
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