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Exploring social media as a tool for disentangling cultural ecosystem service values of whale-watching to inform environmental judgements and ethics: the case of Húsavík, Iceland

, , , , , , , & show all
Received 08 Feb 2023, Accepted 09 Jan 2024, Published online: 30 Jan 2024


This explorative study contributes to developing methods using social media data and social network theory in tourism studies to unravel cultural ecosystem values. Focused on the case of an emblematic village for whale-watching activity, Húsavík, in Skjálfandi Bay, Iceland, this study explores the cultural ecosystem service values of individuals as expressed through social media (TripAdvisor and Instagram) related to the practice of whale-watching. The aim is to document the cultural ecosystem service values and environmental judgements which provide information that could be used in future marine planning efforts. For this, 650 TripAdvisor entries posted between 2019 and 2021 were analysed, together with 100 images posted on Instagram between 2021 and 2022. The Social Network Analysis enabled visualization of the interconnected hashtag networks underscoring human-nature interactions. Instead of environmental and conservation values, the results show that they relate to ‘ocular consumption’ and ‘aesthetic consumption’. The lack of conservation values, cultural heritage values, or even spiritual values is likely a reflection of the Instagram and TripAdvisor platforms. We conclude that social media data should always be complementary to narrative and qualitative data.

Disclosure statement

Authors declare no conflicts of interest


1 ‘Instagram is a free photo and video-sharing app available on iPhone and Android. People can upload photos or videos to our service and share them with their followers or with a selected group of friends’ (https://help.instagram.com).

Additional information


This work was supported by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme [grant number 869327].

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