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photo credits ReserachGate


For the past three decades the world has become increasingly digitalised and thus providing climate change campaigners an added platform to share and shape public discourse on the issue.

According to ‘We Are Social’, 3.26 billion people use social media on mobile devices. As of January 2019, figures indicate  a growth of 297 million new users, which represents a year-on-year increase of more than 10 per cent.

An early and popular definition of social media states that it is an online structure where individuals use their own profiles to connect with other individuals by creating lists of friends’ profiles.

While original research on climate change communication focused on traditional media, such as news coverage of climate change and environmental campaigns in print, radio and television, academics are however increasingly turning their focus on the role social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram can play in advancing discussions around climate change in real-time.

Social media platforms provide a space for three important domains of climate change communication: information (awareness creation), mobilisation and discussion (with potential for behavioural change).

There is a wide range of possible roles social media can play in encouraging different attitudes and behaviours around climate change.

Social media platforms can be used by scientists, activists, and journalists to frame climate change discourses besides sharing the same among themselves and with ordinary people.Policymakers and academics can also use social media for climate change research.

In addition, social media platforms provide users with a space to discuss climate change issues. Scientists, activists and journalists use social media to interact with the public, who also use social media to criticize policies, as well as a means to crowdsource for news tip in their media coverage.

Further,  social media platforms have been used to coordinate rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of climate change-related disasters, as well as to organize movements and campaigns about climate change.

Increasingly, social media is being seen as particularly valuable tool due to being a fast or  even immediate, integrative, and cheap multimedia (compared to alternatives).

As such, social media should be beneficial for social and political actors, and therefore for climate change experts.

Social media communication can act as a trusted source of climate change information for publics, as well as a trigger and means for controversy and contestation, so research impacts are important in maintaining the quality of information and discussion available through social media. In this way, it is possible for organisations such as the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance to make  science public and  improve the culture of social media climate change communication.

 BY Maryann Mwende.

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