This blog will discuss how digital tools (blogging and social media), visual research methods (photo- elicitation) and photo essays can be used to generate and disseminate an awareness and understanding of environmental concerns. It will make reference to Carew, J’s reading .Online environmental activism in South Africa: a case study of the #IAM4RHINOS Twitter Campaign, which comments on the use of twitter as well as the power of the hashtag that was used during 2013 for the rhino campaign. The blog will also use Pauwels, L’s reading Conceptualising the ‘Visual Essay’ as a way of generating and imparting sociological insight: issues, formats and realisations, Pauwels, L’s other reading on ‘Participatory’ visual research revisited: a critical-constructive assessment of epistemological, methodological and social activist tenets and Thaler, AD et al’s reading Digital environmentalism: tools and strategies for the evolving online ecosystem, in Environmental leadership: A reference handbook, with sort reference to Tinkler, P’s reading Using photographs in social and historical research.
The blog will discuss the basics on creating an account for a specific purpose, how to get as much attention about it as it can, specific terms that are used in the cyber world, the emotional connection people make towards the cause, visual stimuli in photographs and in art,
Basics on twitter
Twitter is a blogging space that allows for a user (persional, business, politicians or brands) to say what they need to in 140 characters, this allows for precise and direct communication towards thousands of people. The introduction of environmental issues in social media, opens up a wide range of new followers, the target audience broadens and suddenly more normal people who are not necessarily in the field are exposed to the issues (Carew, 2014). Subsequently mass media has been forced to adopt social networks such as twitter to engage with audience members. Campaigns form to raise awareness, especially in emergency cases, such as the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings in 2011. These campaigns call on users to show their support for a cause by donating money, sharing content or posting a tweet featuring a specific hashtag. Environmental movements are increasingly using social networks as platforms to recruit members, to promote their causes, to facilitate fundraising efforts and manage campaign activities (Carew, 2014).
Important people re-tweeting
Many of the campaign supporters mentioned prominent celebrities in their tweets, petitioning them to get involved in the cause. It must be noted that influence is often associated with a person’s level of interest in, or a vast amount of knowledge about, a topic.
Using Images and art as stimuli
The technique whereby images are used as a stimulus in the context of an interview was originally applied in psychological research. It was subsequently adopted by a number of social scientists and is now primarily known as ‘photo-elicitation’, though in fact many types of images can be used (still and moving, paintings or drawings, etc.), and thus ‘image-elicitation’ or ‘visual elicitation’ would be a more appropriate term. The visual materials used as ‘stimuli’ to obtain unique kinds of information from respondents and informants may include pre-existing ‘societal imagery’ (historic or archive pictures of cities, advertisements, etc.), as well as researcher- or respondent-generated materials (Pauwels, 2013). Pauwels also says that having images make the interview more productive, saying that the interview is no loner interested because of limited stimuli.
Another approach to visual/photo based stimuli is to have artwork based stimuli. The essay is now considered a visual/photo essay. History of the visual essay can date back to the 1940’s with the beginning of glossy magazines. Today the visual essay has found its place in art and educational spheres as well as on social media platforms and in mass media and in activist forms (Pauwels, 2011).
It is important to briefly highlight the emotional appeals that formed part of the initiative. Emotional citizenship is a commitment to and sense of responsibility toward one’s community, and it is these emotions that drive individuals to act. Describing emotions as ’social relationships,’highlights how an emotion like anger represents a relationship between the angry person and a provocateur.
Another term that arises through social media is ‘slaktivisim‘. ‘Slacktivism’ is a combination of the words ‘slacker’ and ‘activism,’ which sees an individual showing support for an issue with little to no tangible result other than to allow the person to feel good about having contributed in some way . This type of support requires little more than the click of a button and very seldom has any real impact according to research from the University of British Columbia, which found that wearing a cause-specific bracelet or ribbon, liking a page on Facebook, retweeting a hashtag or signing a web-based petition rarely served as a precursor to actual social action (Carew, 2014).
Online activism – also known as cyberactivism, digital activism and electronic advocacy – involves the use of the Internet and mobile communication tools to organise and facilitate protest efforts and to garner support for a cause or movement. This new breed of activism, enabled by modern technology, is a source of public discourse directly linked to changes in how citizens respond to powerful figures in society.
Although one may expect that the backing of these famous faces would generate the most interest around the cause, it was actually the support of a handful of passionate Twitter users who had the most influence, generating sizable amounts of traffic around the hashtag. In fact, it was the efforts of a small group of Twitter users that indirectly contributed to a significant amount of the hype generated around the rhino conservation conversation, showcasing that influence can be gained spontaneously.
Carew, J. 2014. Online environmental activism in South Africa: a case study of the #IAM4RHINOS Twitter Campaign. Global Media Journal. African Edition 8(2):207- 230.
Pauwels, L. 2012. Conceptualising the ‘Visual Essay’ as a way of generating and imparting sociological insight: issues, formats and realisations. Sociological Research Online 17(1):[sp].
Pauwels, L. 2015. ‘Participatory’ visual research revisited: a critical-constructive assessment of epistemological, methodological and social activist tenets. Ethnography 16(1):95–117
Thaler, AD et al. 2012. Digital environmentalism: tools and strategies for the evolving online ecosystem, in Environmental leadership: A reference handbook, edited by D Gallagher. London: SAGE.
Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.