As the basis of a lot of social media stunts, it’s viral success is in part down to it being slightly narcissistic and also the familiarity of the concept – it being something we’ve seen before. In fact, as Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick pointed out, it’s been a trend that’s appeared annually since 2016 and although it’s nothing new, it’s still awoken the conspiracist in some people.
With Facebook not exactly being a shining light when it comes to handling people’s data, there were suggestions from people who know a lot more about this than me that this data could be used to train facial recognition algorithms. Which does make it all seem a bit Black Mirror-y and we all know how those episodes tend to end up…
To potentially avoid any data breaching consequences the hashtag has been co-opted by a growing number to highlight the dramatic changes that have occurred around the world in the last decade. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are slowly becoming awash with side-by-side comparisons of Amazon deforestation, melting glaciers, polluted waterways, and other environmental woes. In a tweet Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil compared the state of two icebergs, highlighting the shrinking ice sheets that continue to become a major issue. Whilst this message may have just been a moment of quick thinking from a somewhat controversial footballer’s media team its message of caring about the earth is a good one. With over 23 million followers, the things he puts out tend to get read, even if the majority of the replies are more concerned in what he does on the football pitch at the weekend.
It’s worth noting that although the photos are attempting to be used for good, they may not be entirely scientifically accurate evidence of climate change with some, possibly accidentally, misrepresenting photos to try and promote their cause. A notable example compares two polar bears. The first is the typical example you expect to see around Christmas time promoting Coca Cola. The second is an infamous photo that first made the rounds back in 2015 of a tragically thin polar bear struggling to make its way across the ice. Although heartbreaking to look at this second image was debunked as being a result of a climate change, with the bear more than likely being either old, sick or injured and not suffering from a lack of ice cover and available prey.
All of this social media hype comes on the back of a series of increasingly grim climate studies that have been released in the recent year. The average temperature of our oceans is beginning to rise, making waves stronger and deadlier. According to Nasa, Antarctica is losing about 127 gigatonnes of ice mass every year, while Greenland loses 286 gigatonnes annually with the cause being the planet’s rise in temperature. In fact, the average surface temperature has risen by about 0.9C since the late 19th century – and about a third of that has happened in the last decade.
Although what started as a light-hearted challenge amongst friends to highlight how they’ve “won puberty”, social media has allowed it to transform into a stark warning on how we’re affecting the planet. As we look at the photos of both the world and inhabitants we should be able to draw the same conclusion: we may not be able to change the past, but that doesn’t mean we can’t control our future.