Calling from the echo chamber: Instagram’s #climatechange action potential

April 20, 2017

Can online communities overcome isolation to affect change? Royal Roads University researchers mined the depths of Instagram to find out.

Assistant Prof. Jaigris Hodson, Prof. Ann Dale and Master of Arts in Professional Communication student Brigitte Peterson looked at connections between people using the #climatechange hashtag on Instagram to learn how and if communities of shared interest mobilized.

“We looked at how people were connected to one another and mentioning one another on Instagram. We saw a lot of attention given to National Geographic for their beautiful photographs. We saw a lot of attention given to Leonardo deCaprio and we saw a lot of attention being given to high profile photographers,” Hodson says. “It’s really driven by celebrity and by mainstream public culture. If you have a big name already or some sort of following, then people will connect with you and regram or comment and they’ll share the hashtag. If you are somebody who wants to mobilize for the purposes of activism, your message will still be out there, but it won’t get any amplification so very few people will hear it.”

Community building for activism is clearly more complicated than just using a hashtag tag or talking about an issue on social media, Hodson says.

“Many different factors to come into play for issues to move beyond people talking in their communities about something they all agree on. The conditions do exist to connect people to be mobilized – if we can find a trigger,” she says. “We saw that very clearly with the Women’s March on Washington, and how that was a worldwide event.”

Hodson will present the team’s findings and share strategies for bridging virtual divides at Social Media Camp May 4, 2017.