Tickled to death: analysing public perceptions of 'cute' videos of threatened species (slow lorises - Nycticebus spp.) on Web 2.0 sites

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 24;8(7):e69215. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069215. Print 2013.

Abstract

Background: The internet is gaining importance in global wildlife trade and changing perceptions of threatened species. There is little data available to examine the impact that popular Web 2.0 sites play on public perceptions of threatened species. YouTube videos portraying wildlife allow us to quantify these perceptions.

Methodology/principal findings: Focussing on a group of threatened and globally protected primates, slow lorises, we quantify public attitudes towards wildlife conservation by analysing 12,411 comments and associated data posted on a viral YouTube video 'tickling slow loris' over a 33-months period. In the initial months a quarter of commentators indicated wanting a loris as a pet, but as facts about their conservation and ecology became more prevalent this dropped significantly. Endorsements, where people were directed to the site by celebrities, resulted mostly in numerous neutral responses with few links to conservation or awareness. Two conservation-related events, linked to Wikipedia and the airing of a television documentary, led to an increase in awareness, and ultimately to the removal of the analysed video.

Conclusions/significance: Slow loris videos that have gone viral have introduced these primates to a large cross-section of society that would not normally come into contact with them. Analyses of webometric data posted on the internet allow us quickly to gauge societal sentiments. We showed a clear temporal change in some views expressed but without an apparent increase in knowledge about the conservation plight of the species, or the illegal nature of slow loris trade. Celebrity endorsement of videos showing protected wildlife increases visits to such sites, but does not educate about conservation issues. The strong desire of commentators to express their want for one as a pet demonstrates the need for Web 2.0 sites to provide a mechanism via which illegal animal material can be identified and policed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endangered Species*
  • Internet
  • Lorisidae
  • Social Media

Grant support

This project was funded in part by grants to Nekaris from the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-084, http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/), the Cleveland Zoo Asian Seed Fund (http://www.clemetzoo.com/conservation/grants/), Dierenpark Amersfoort (http://www.dierenparkamersfoort.nl/), and People's Trust for Endangered Species (http://www.ptes.org/). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.