Matt Phelps: positive approach


Twitter – sorry, 'X' – can be a pretty miserable place these days, can't it? I've been gradually going off it for a while and finding myself using it far less frequently, and this slow retreat was accelerated when Mr Tesla/Space X took the helm and made it even less enjoyable, in my opinion. I open the app so infrequently now that my phone recently automatically removed it due to underuse.

It's a shame as, for the best part of a decade and a half, it's been my go-to social media platform for sharing snippets of my birding and other nature stuff to a community of like-minded wildlife enthusiasts and, in turn, enjoying catching up on their sightings and views. It always felt like such an upbeat and positive place to spend time and, in many ways, it was the perfect platform for our hobby – even the logo was a bird!

I'm not sure if it's all due to the takeover at the top or maybe partly the general political and social climate of the times, but nowadays it's hard not to feel like it's all become a little overwhelmed by doom and gloom – not to mention, of course, a barrage of misinformation and conspiracy theories. 

There is plenty to feel down about in the natural world, but could some birders try and be a bit more encouraging on social media?

From a birding perspective, especially at a time when we ought to be encouraging as many young people as possible to nurture a love of the natural world and be positive voices for change to reverse the damage that has been done in recent decades, the tidal wave of negativity that can sometimes await when logging in to X is less than helpful. Yes, of course, we are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis and the sixth mass extinction, but purposeful generation of a nihilistic online narrative simply promotes more of the same – seemingly with no end goal except garnering a few 'likes'. 


Social media moaning

I acknowledge that I have been guilty of some overly negative Twitter output in the past, and I can understand that a kind of shared defeatism can feel oddly comforting when faced by yet more downbeat nature news. I have to say though that, generally speaking, it is older birders who are the worst offenders, harping on about the glory days and how everything is terrible now, so what's the point in even trying. I have seen online conversations unfold where birders of a certain generation seem to be trying to outdo one another with their pessimism in scenes reminiscent of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch. 

Anyone who has seen the documentary The Social Dilemma will know the frightening power that social media has in terms of dictating our moods and influencing our world view. Studies have proven that an increase in negative output from other users in our timelines leads to increased negativity in our own output. And the opposite is also true: if we are presented with more positive takes in our news feeds then our own narrative will reflect that. For all our technological advances we are still essentially a herd animal that can be driven and influenced by our peers and those we admire, whether we realise it or not. 

It's obviously no exaggeration to say that in the UK we have decimated our bird populations, but there are also a lot of people working very hard on trying to turn that around and there are good-news stories to be found, celebrated and shared, if we choose to. It's for this reason that we must all try harder to rise above it, and not be drawn in by the temptation to stir up pessimism and fatalism. Instead, let's strive to inspire positivity and optimism, let's pause before promoting bad-news stories or wallowing in or propagating more negativity. Let's fight against the tide of doom scrolling and instead be purveyors of everything we are grateful for and that which is worth celebrating. As birders, let's be torchbearers for how exciting and rewarding our hobby can be, rather than focusing only on the bad news.


  • This column first appeared in the November 2023 edition of Birdwatch. To be the first to read the magazine each month, take out a subscription to Birdwatch or Bird News Ultimate.
Written by: Matt Phelps

Matt Phelps works in conservation and is a patchbirder and all-round nature enthusiast based in Sussex. Follow him on Twitter: @mostlyscarce