Selling extinction: The social media(tion) of global cheetah conservation

Brandon, Suzanne


This paper contextualizes the social media(tion) of global cheetah conservation and examines how representations of extinction are ‘spectacularized’ and used to leverage global money and power. ‘Spectacles of extinction’ flow quickly over social media platforms; specifically, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, gaining support, followers, and funding for conservation efforts in Namibia. This paper draws from thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Namibia and two years of online data collection and examines the chasm between spectacularized extinction online and conservation realities in Namibia, pointing to the problem of mediating conservation politics over social media. The Namibia-based cheetah conservation NGOs in this study focus their efforts at the international level. Their global marketing campaigns to #SaveTheCheetah are circulated over mass media, social media, and other communication platforms and technologies to engage global audiences and mobilize attention to cheetahs’ global #RaceAgainstExtinction. This paper argues that by mediating conservation politics online, cheetah conservation NGOs conflate and confuse raising money and awareness with effective action. Framing extinction as something that can be solved by global audiences over social media reinforces economic, informational, and power asymmetries in conservation.