School of Humanities, Education
& Social Sciences
CLIMATE CHANGE, SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE
AFRICAN YOUTH: A MALAWIAN CASE STUDY
Master’s Thesis, Strategic Communication
Media & Communications Dept
Supervisor: Ariel Chen
Climate change is one of the greatest threats to humanity with millions of people already suffering from its consequences in the last two decades. Social media, as a communication channel, has an important role to play in provoking a response to climate change. Social networking sites are known to be more interactive and potentially provide a great platform for the masses to make their voices heard, shape policy objectives, and even influence intransigent negotiations. This research explored how African youth are using the social media in climate change discussions and advocacy. The literature for this study is drawn from various studies focusing on climate change key issues, climate change communication and application of strategic communication to social media climate change initiatives and campaigns. A mixed method research approach was used to collect data for the study. Findings revealed that Facebook is the common social media platform for climate change discussions among Malawian youth as 62.50% of the participants use it to talk about the issue.
First and foremost, I am very grateful to God who gave me the strength, courage and skills which I needed to do this research.
I would like to thank the Swedish Institute for Global Professionals for awarding me the scholarship which allowed me to pursue my MA in Strategic Communication at Orebro Universty. This oppotunity has allowed me to move closer to my goal of becoming an outstanding communications strategist and playing a big role in my country’s development.
I am very thankful to all the participants who took time to take part in the research through the online survey and qualitative interviews. This research would be incomplete, if it was not for your particpation.
To my supervisor, Ariel Chen, you have been there since the beginning of my thesis writing. Thank you for guiding me and helping me to get back in the course of the research whenether I got lost. I also thank my lecturers for their excellent teaching skills which has helped me to intellectually develop and stay focused throughtout my journey at Örebro Universty.
To my classmates Trinity Kubalasa, Monica Khombe, Damilola Adetipe and Zuhura Beshier, bestie Jack Msonkho, my sister Gertrude Kachali; thank you all for being there to help while I was conducting interviews and whenever I needed your support both acadamically and emotionally. My friend Dave Namusanya, I greatly appriciate your academic support throughout my thesis period.
To my parents; Aston and Queen, my brothers and sisters, I would not have the strengths to complete my journey if it was not for your encouragement and prayers. Thank you for believing in me.
There is no Planet B; Earth, the only planet we have to live on is changing right before our eyes and it needs our attention. As a writer, I am always fascinated with reading inspiring books about change and sustainable living, hence my passion in climate change and environmental protection. But my interest deepened after I started working on this research. That’s because I finally understood how serious the problem of climate change is. Our planet is warming up every day. Since we are living in a digital era, where over a billion people are using social media I decided to be one of the scholars to do this research which centers around young people and their involvement in climate change communication on social media. I am particularly focusing on young people from the developing regions which are most vulnerable to climate change impacts including Africa. The research is addressing the literature gap on African youth and their usage of social media for climate change advocacy.
TABLE OF CONTENTSABSTRACT ... i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ... ii PREFACE ... iii TABLE OF CONTENTS ... iv LIST OF ACRONYMS ... vi
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION ...1
1.1 Background to the research ... 1
1.2 Problem Statement ... 2
1.3 Aim of the Research ... 2
1.4 Outline of the Study ... 3
CHAPTER TWO: PREVIOUS RESEARCH ...4
2.1 Introduction ... 4
2.2 Key Issues in Climate Change ... 4
2.3 Climate Change Communication ... 5
2.4 Social Media Climate Change Discussions and the Youth ... 5
2.5 Research Gap ... 7
CHAPTER THREE: THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK ...8
3.1 Introduction ... 8
3.2 The Public Sphere Theory and Critics ... 8
3.3. Public Sphere Theory in Context of Social Media and Climate Change ... 9
CHAPTER FOUR: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ... 10
4.1 Introduction ... 10 4.2 Research Method ... 10 4.3 Sampling ... 10 4.4 Data Analysis ... 11 4.5 Research Ethics ... 12 4.6 Study Limitations ... 12
CHAPTER FIVE: RESULTS ANALYSIS ... 13
5.1 Introduction ... 13
Quantitative Results Analysis ... 13
5.2.1 Age ... 13
5.2.2 Gender identity ... 14
5.2.3 Level of education ... 14
5.3 Key Research Findings ... 15
5.3.1 Common social media platforms for climate change discussions ... 15
5.3.2 Engagement with experts for effective climate change communication on social Media . 17 5.3.3 Access to social media as both an advantage and a barrier ... 18
5.3.4 Role of public figures in social media climate change advocacy ... 20
Qualitative Results Analysis ... 21
5.4 Demographic Data ... 21
5.2.4 Age ... 21
5.2.5 Gender identity ... 22
5.2.6 Level of education ... 22
5.5 Key Research Findings ... 23
5.5.1 Common social media platforms for climate change discussions ... 23
5.5.2 Engagement with experts for effective climate change communication on social media . 23 5.5.3 Access to social media as both an advantage and a barrier ... 25
5.5.4 Role of public figures in social media climate change advocacy ... 26
CHAPTER SIX; DISCUSSION (CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS) ... 27
Appendix A: Online Questionnaire ... 7
LIST OF ACRONYMSCCC: The Center for Climate Change Communication
IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
WHO: World Health Organization
NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
UN: United Nations
NYNCC: National Youth Network on Climate Change
CCVS: Commission on Climate and Vulnerability Sweden
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION1.1 Background to the research
Climate change is one of the greatest threats to humanity with millions of people suffering from its consequences in the last two decades. Ecosystems are already being affected by climate change, and future impacts are expected to be substantial (Edenhofer et al. 2014). As Former USA president Barak Obama once said “climate change is no longer some far-off problem; it is happening here, it is happening now” (Davis and Myers 2015, para. 2). In its 2007 assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and climate variability(Boko et al. 2007). Among the reasons for this special vulnerability are heavy dependence on climate-sensitive economic sectors, environmental change and degradation (Brown et al. 2007). As Chidumayo et al. (2011) argues, this vulnerability is expected to have considerable negative impacts on agriculture, health and other sectors of economy.
A recent example is how Cyclone Idai caused catastrophic damage and a humanitarian crisis in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi (BBC News 2019). A Save the Children survey (2019) highlights how 2019 will be remembered as the year the climate crisis devastated parts of east and southern Africa, with floods, landslides, drought and cyclones leaving at least 33 million people in need of support. Persistent droughts in countries like Angola, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Mozambique, Kenya and Malawi have also left several families desperate and contributed to malnourishment (Masih et al. 2014). The high temperatures in most African countries have also led to increase in the number of people suffering from heat waves and vector-borne diseases like Malaria. In 2018, there were an estimated 228 million cases of malaria and 272 000 malaria deaths worldwide with Africa registering 93% of the cases and 94% of the malaria deaths (WHO 2018). Africa is also vulnerable due to high rates of poverty, low infrastructure development and low agricultural production. According to Servén (2008) cited in Blakeney and Mengistie (2011) decades of economic stagnation and declining living standards have turned African into the world’s poorest region.
2 1.2 Problem Statement
Despite African populations having demonstrated what (Brown et al. 2007, p. 1149) calls “a tremendous ability to adapt to climate variability” and despite the continent having considerable texts regarding climate change and social media, there is little literature available on African youth and how they discuss climate change issues on social media. Several researchers (eg Bojovic and Dooel, 2014; Schäfer, 2012; Segerberg and Bennett, 2011; Corner et al. 2015) have written about social media and climate change and provided valuable insights into how the global citizens use the platform in climate change engagement and action. However, there is paucity of relevant research on the usage of social media to discuss climate change by African youth in general, let alone research exploring this topic in relation to Malawian youth. To start addressing this gap, the research will look at how African youth, particularly young people from Malawi, are using social media in climate change advocacy and discussions and discuss social media platforms they are using to talk about the issue. Findings of the study can be used to help scholars and other people gathering information about climate change on social media and African youth. The findings may also guide policy makers and climate change strategists working in the civil society when formulating climate change related strategies and policies.
1.3 Aim of the Research
The overall aim of this study is to understand the place of social media in climate change discussions among Malawian youth.
Specifically, the study will focus on addressing the following research questions:
1. What are the common social media platforms that Malawian youth use to discuss climate change and why do they use those platforms?
2. How do Malawian youth talk about climate change on social media (What key issues do they discuss), with whom do they discuss this with and why?
3 1.4 Outline of the Study
This study is divided into five chapters. The first chapter includes background of the study, the problem statement and aim of the research with specific research questions on how Malawian youth use social media for climate change discussions and advocacy.
Chapter two discusses the literature review with a focus on previous research on climate change key issues, social media climate change communication and how young people are involved in climate change discussions and advocacy.
Chapter three includes a discussion about the public sphere theory which was applied to the study as it guides an understanding of the interaction between social media and young people with regards to critical discussions affecting their lives.
In chapter four, findings of the research are presented, interpreted and analyzed.
The last chapter further discusses the findings in relation to relevant research, conclusion and provides recommendations and next steps.
CHAPTER TWO: PREVIOUS RESEARCH2.1 Introduction
This chapter reviews available literature on climate change, social media and African youth. It discusses key issues in climate change including conceptualizing climate change communication and the strategic efforts taken to reduce its effects. Then the study looks at social media and how the youth are using the online platform in climate change discussions and advocacy.
2.2 Key Issues in Climate Change
Multiple researchers (eg. Masih et al 2014; Blakeney and Mengistie 2011) and reports (eg WHO 2018; BBC News 2018) have written about climate change and how the world is extremely exposed to its impacts, with millions of people including the youth, already suffering from the consequences. Climate change is mainly a result of greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulation in the atmosphere which causes global warming. Levy and Patz (2015) defines climate change as a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods. There's a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed this planet (Edenhofer et al. 2014). Long term adaptation and mitigation measures need to be enforced to reduce the effects of climate change mainly caused by the human activities.
According to Smit et al. (2001) adaptation to climate change has the potential to substantially reduce many of the adverse impacts of climate change and enhance beneficial impacts. Most countries across the world, especially those that are the most vulnerable are becoming better prepared and adopting several adaptive measures. As Brown et al (2007, p.1149) indicate, African populations have for centuries demonstrated “a tremendous ability to adapt to climate variability, often employing sophisticated and continually evolving processes and practices to respond to risks and take advantage of new opportunities.”
Moser (2010) argues that climate change also requires urgent mitigation and coping actions from global citizens, particularly from the vulnerable regions. Mitigation involves reducing emissions
of and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As defined by Edenhofer et al (2014), mitigation is a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. Consumption of fossil fuels accounts for the majority of global anthropogenic Green House Gases (GHG) emissions. Some of the possible options for lowering GHG emissions include energy conservation and efficiency, fossil fuel switching, renewable energy, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (IPCC 2011).
2.3 Climate Change Communication
The importance of communication for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation cannot be underestimated. Climate change communication examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change (Chadwick 2019). Several researchers (see, for example, Smit et al. 2001; Edenhofer et al. 2014; Masih 2014; Blakeney and Mengistie 2011) have looked at how climate change communication scientists and strategists seek to develop, test and implement scientific theories, and identify more effective communication strategies and tactics to address this critical challenge. Of consideration in climate change communication is role of the media in ensuring public understanding of climate change messages. Russill and Nyssa (2009) find that researchers concerned with public understanding have long recognized that news media are important sources of scientific information among non-scientists. The idea is that “a communication failure between journalists and scientists results in divergent representations of the issue, which prevents the public from learning about its relevance to society” (Russill and Nyssa, 2009 p. 337). Coincidently, Schäfer (2012) also argues that communication between the media and scientists need to be strategic for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation. To add value, Falkheimer and Heide (2018) argue how strategic communication has a particular focus on how meaning is shared, transferred or created between individuals, organizations and society.
2.4 Social Media Climate Change Discussions and the Youth
As it has been argued above, strategic climate change communication through various communication channels is very crucial in tackling climate change. Unfortunately, traditional media coverage of climate change in developing regions like Africa has often been challenged due to the region’s poor economic status (Servén, 2008 cited in Blakeney and Mengistie, 2011). Social
media, however, present an instant opportunity for people to engage in various issues including that of climate change. Taprial and Kanwar (2012) argue that social media can be differentiated from industrial or traditional media like magazines, newspapers, televisions and film, as they are relatively inexpensive, easily accessible and enable anyone to publish information. This is echoed by (Lee et al. 2018) who find social media as instant and easily accessible communication channel. Using social media is especially common among the youths with sites like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat being the mostly used platforms. As Ephraim (2013) argue, social networks provide almost everything to satisfy youngsters’ curiosity to explore; ranging from chatting to blogging, uploading and exchange of videos and wall posts, online games, to sharing pictures etc.
In their studies, Segerberg (2017) and Katz-Kimchi and Manosevitch (2015) discuss about climate change initiatives and campaigns which used social media as an engagement tool with the youth playing a major role in online discussions. Corner et al (2015) and Ojala (2012) for instance, stress the critical role that young people need to play in climate change discussions as they are generation whose lives will be affected by climate change more than any generation before. Fridays for Future, a global movement started by young activist Greta Thunberg is one example of global campaigns raising awareness and advocating for effective climate change policies and laws with a huge following by young people would wide. Greta’s speeches at various conferences on climate change have gone viral and sparked massive responses on popular online platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. Kalla (2019) for instance, has written about several news articles, both online and print, which have been published, discussing Greta’s speeches and her young age.
Other young climate change activists popular on social media include Alexandria Villaseñor from Califonia-USA who started a global climate change movement called Earth Uprising, Vic Barrett from New Yolk-USA who is one of the young people to sue their government over global warming in 2015 and Aditya Mukarji from India, who at 13, started campaigning to get people to stop using plastic straws in 2018 (BBC 2019). There are also other notable examples of successful online climate change campaigns with active youth involvement such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Fossil Free, Connect4Cimate and International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM). All these
campaigns, initiatives and young activists are giving us a picture of how the social media and other online platforms are being used for climate change discussions and advocacy.
2.5 Research Gap
Nevertheless, until recently, there has been a little mention of African youth and their involvement in most of these international climate change campaigns with increased online presence. As some authors (such as Unigwe C., 2019) argue, there are activists from the developing world including Africa and Asia who started activism many years ago but they have not been put on the spotlight by the media or authors. There is also a question of marginalization of African youthful activists. A recent example is how The Associated Press (AP), an American news agency, cropped Vannessa Nakate, a Ugandan young activist out of a photo taken at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland (Woodyatt, 2020). Nakate was the only black person in the photo which had other four popular young activists including Greta Thunberg. In reaction, Nakate posted a tearful video on social media saying “I felt like my story has been erased” (Nakate, 2020). Several other activists, including Greta Thunberg took to the media and condemned the news agency. Furthermore, there is little literature available on African youth and their usage of social media in climate change communication. The research intends to address this literature gap by specifically looking at youth from Malawi and how they use social media for climate change discussions and advocacy.
CHAPTER THREE: THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK3.1 Introduction
As part of its literature review and the other sections, this research looked at various authors (such as Taprial and Kanwar 2012; Grosseck 2009; Bosch, 2012; Lee et al. 2018) who have discussed the role that the social media is having in shaping the world due to its interactivity and rapid information exchange, among other factors. Taprial and Kanwar (2012) for example argue that social media are relatively inexpensive, easily accessible and enable anyone to publish information. This is echoed by Lee et al. (2018) who explained about the use of Social Media to Communicate Climate Science. Grasping how the media shape contemporary social life requires an undergirding social theory. Couldry (2012, p.9) argues that such a social theory “addresses the construction, representation and contestation of the social.” In the context of this research, Haberman’s public sphere theory was applied as it guides an understanding of the interaction between social media and young people. This chapter outlines the theoretical framework and how it has been applied to this study.
3.2 The Public Sphere Theory and Critics
The theory has its origins in the 18th Century, around 1962, building on the work of German Philosopher, Jürgen Habermas (Holub 1991). It looks at the public sphere as a civil arena where public opinions are expressed and through a process of negotiation they take shape (Prasad 2018). The driving idea behind the public sphere is that the public gets to have an important role in the formulation of government policies and laws and that governments can only be considered appropriate and democratic if they listen to the opinions of the publics. However, Habermas argues “that public sphere declined owing to various factors and resulted in the demoted status of the citizens as mere spectator” (Khan 2014. p. 41). The theory also faced criticism with critics focusing on the marginalization that are essential in the formulation of public spheres. Fraser (1990) argues that marginalized groups are excluded from a universal public sphere. This is a claim that has also been echoed by (Salikov and Yudin, 2018) who argue that the public sphere as conceptualized by Habermas is one in which the individuality is lost to the collective. In this
regard, Hauser (1999) proposes that public sphere should take a different direction with specific focus on the rhetorical nature of public spheres and ongoing dialogue on public issues.
3.3. Public Sphere Theory in Context of Social Media and Climate Change
Castells (2008) discusses how the new public sphere is different from the ideal type of 18th century public sphere around which Habermas (1989) formulated his theory. He further argues that the “global public sphere is built around the media communication system and internet networks, particularly in the social spaces of the Web 2.0, as exemplified by YouTube, MySpace and Facebook” (Castells, 2008. p.90). Khan (2014) also claims that information and communication technologies (ICTs), which includes social media, now provide numerous opportunities for the revival of the public sphere. Kruse et al. (2018) have also highlighted that social media have promoted the return of Habermas’ notion of the public sphere. Lee et al. (2018) indicates that social media is an instant and easily accessible communication channel which offers a higher interactivity needed for the development of public sphere.
Thorson et al. (2016), while specifying on climate change marches, argue on how social media i.e Twitter was used to provide a digital space of shared attention on climate issues. Similarly, Bosch (2012) and Ogunjinmi et al. (2016) argue on the place of social media in climate change discussions in the African context. Bosch (2012) specifically argues that in South Africa, social media has come to take a central role in climate change communication. Thus, the public sphere theory becomes a relevant tool in understanding how people discuss climate change and eventually engage with policy makers or get to drive the issue into mainstream politics. While this literature is not specifically focusing on young people, social media, as a public sphere, is widely used by young people too. AsEphraim (2013) argue social networks provide almost everything to satisfy youngsters’ curiosity to explore; ranging from chatting to blogging, uploading and exchange of videos and wall posts, online games, to sharing pictures etc.
CHAPTER FOUR: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY4.1 Introduction
This Chapter looks at the methods and techniques used during this research. Firstly, it outlines the research methodology, which is a mixed method, where both quantitative and qualitative research were used together as the data collection methods. The section also presents sampling techniques used, followed by analysis of the data and research ethics applied. The chapter also outlines some of the main limitations and challenges that were encountered during the research.
4.2 Research Method
An exploratory sequential mixed method research design was selected in order to draw pointers for further research regarding the place of social media in climate change discussions among African Youth. The term “mixed methods” refers to an emergent methodology of research that advances the systematic integration, or “mixing,” of quantitative and qualitative data within a single investigation or sustained program of inquiry (Wisdom and Creswell, 2013).Mixed methods are used when none of the other two distinct approaches can answer the research questions lonely and both qualitative and quantitative data can better deal with the problem (Creswell, 2012). Thus for this study,the qualitative interviews were used to explore and probe more on the quantitative findings from an online questionnaire which was administered.
Two sampling techniques were applied to get data through the online questionnaire. First the researcher used purposive sampling to select initial participants to be representative of the study population which was of Malawian youths between the ages of 15 and 35 who are pursuing secondary and tertiary education. After verifying that they met the criteria for being in the sample, the participants (20 respondents) were asked to refer the researcher to other potential participants. Here the researcher applied a snowball sampling technique which as Bryman (2012) highlights, looks at how a researcher uses his/her initial participants to establish contacts with others. In this regard, the selected participants were able to share the questionnaire among their acquaintances and networks within the study age range through email and social media platforms. This method
was chosen to save time as participants were hard to find due to various reasons including geographical location and Covid-19 pandemic. 60 participants completed the questionnaire. At the end of the questionnaire, the researcher informed the respondents that they have an option of being selected to participate in qualitative if they indicate their contact details. 16 participants out of 38 who volunteered were randomly selected for the qualitative semi-structured interviews which were conducted through phone.
The age range for the participants (15-35 years of age) was chosen with consideration of the African Youth Charter which defines youth as between 15-35 years. The definition is similar to that of the Malawi National Youth Policy (NYP, 2013). Both the online questionnaire and the qualitative interviews were divided into three main parts and included an introduction which clearly stated the purpose of the research, why the participants were selected to respond and issues of the study benefits and confidentiality. Part A focused on the demographic data of the participants. Part B assessed the basic knowledge of social media and climate change among the participants while part C focused on key issues in climate change including challenges and opportunities that the participants encounter when using social media for climate change discussions.
Malawi, a landlocked country in southern Africa, was chosen as a case study because it is one of the African countries which has been severely and repeatedly hit by climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heavy rains and storms. BBC (2019) reports how Cyclone Idai caused catastrophic damage and a humanitarian crisis in east south Africa including in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. To add value (Pauw et al. 2010) discusses more about how Malawi, despite its strong adaptive measures, continues to suffer frequent droughts and floods which damage infrastructure and housing and occasionally displace significant portions of the population.
4.4 Data Analysis
Data gathered from the online questionnaire were first automatically evaluated by surveyhero, a survey tool used to create the questionnaire. However, it was difficult to effectively integrate this data into Microsoft Word due to several reasons such as the fact that some graphs were missing variables and could only be exported in a picture format. The researcher also wanted to create
graphs for data which was left unevaluated. Thus, Microsoft Excel, which is free and more convenient than other data analysis tools, was used to present, interpret and analyze the data. Excel also helped to perform some data manipulation tasks including creating graphs.
Data for the qualitative interviews were documented through audio recording of the interviews and organized note-taking, at the same time. Excel was also used to present and interpret this data. Both quantitative and qualitative data collected was further analyzed through what Brinkmann and Kvale (2009) call analysis by coding, which is an analysis using the grounded theory (Bryman, 2012). With this process, key terms commonly used by participants in the online questionnaire and during qualitative interviews were labeled and put together in categories to help in developing subthemes during analysis of results and discussions.
4.5 Research Ethics
The Research has been conducted in accordance to ethical guidelines at Örebro University. It addressed specific research questions and ensured that the methods used and conclusion relates to the research questions. All the participants for both quantitative and qualitative data participated in this research voluntarily. There was no pressure on individuals to participate. Data was presented while maintaining anonymity and confidentiality.
4.6 Study Limitations
The researcher would have loved to include three African countries; Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia for case studies as it was indicated in the study proposal had limited time and Covid-19 pandemic not been the problem as they prevented the researcher from travelling to conduct interviews on set. The researcher thus focused only on Malawi as a case study to provide pointers for future research. The researcher’s geographical location also prevented her from conducting face to face interviews and focus group discussions. Instead, the researcher did the interviews over the phone. While this is considered as a limitation, some authors share different views including Bryman (2012) who argues that telephone interviews are usually preferred by some interviewees who find them to be less distressed to answer than when the interviewer is present.
CHAPTER FIVE: RESULTS ANALYSIS5.1 Introduction
In this chapter, the findings of the study are presented, interpreted and analyzed. The findings focus on how the study participants responded to quantitative and qualitative interview questions about climate change and how they discuss the issue on social media. The first section presents and analyses the quantitative findings while the second section presents and analyses the qualitative findings.
Quantitative Results Analysis5.2 Demographic Data
Majority of the participants in the quantitative research belonged to the 20-29 age group; 38 participants (63%) were in this age group. 19 participants were between the ages of 30-35 years. 3 participants were between 15 and 19 years.
Figure 1 shows participants’ age distribution for the questionnaire
Participants' Age Distribution
5.2.2 Gender identity
Results for the quantitative data indicated that 34 participants were females and 26 were males. Whereas the research did not focus on the reasons for the female dominance in the study (especially considering that the respondents were just participating in an online survey), it was nevertheless interesting to note the large female population as participants considering that females in Africa, especially in Malawi, have been shown to face significant constraints in accessing ICT equipment and services (Geldof, 2011).
The figure 2 below presents the gender distribution of participants for quantitative data.
5.2.3 Level of education
A majority of the participants in the questionnaire were university graduates (58.30%). 38 participants were graduates with a university first degree, 3 had a postgraduate qualification, 1 had secondary education as the highest that they received. 1 participant who indicated in the ‘other’ option mentioned that they only received informal education.
Figure 3 demonstrates that majority of participants in the Questionnaire sample were graduates (58.30%).
5.3 Key Research Findings
5.3.1 Common social media platforms for climate change discussions
The quantitative survey revealed that majority of the participants (62.50%) use Facebook for climate change discussions. 15% mentioned Twitter, 10% mentioned Instagram and 12. 50% said they use LinkedIn. In the ‘other’ option, some participants mentioned WhatsApp (50%), YouTube (4%) and Telegram (3% participants) as other online platforms they use when discussing climate change issues. This is in relation to Castells (2008. p. 90)’s argument that the “global public sphere is built around the media communication system and internet networks, particularly in the social spaces of the Web 2.0, as exemplified by YouTube, MySpace and Facebook.”
Bosch (2012) makes a case highlighting how Twitter is used to communicate climate change in South Africa. She highlights on the hashtag capabilities of Twitter to rally people around a common topic. This view is similarly advanced by Segerberg and Bennett (2011) who highlight on the power of Twitter to harness revolutions. Contrary to these studies, however, this research established the lack of Twitter in the discussions of climate change and social media in Malawi. Whereas only 15% of the respondents made a mention of Twitter as the platform that they have used, Facebook was mentioned as the commonly used platform with 62.5% of the participants of the online questionnaire indicating they had used the platform to discuss climate change.
Participants' Level of Education
In formulating the questions for the survey, the researcher had not considered WhatsApp as a social media platform that would be used to discuss climate change especially in that context where it would be understood as a public sphere with the potential to be termed as public (Fuchs, 2015). However, participants in the research highlighted WhatsApp as a social media which they used to discuss climate change. It came second after Facebook with 25% of the participants indicating that they use it. As Barbosa and Milan (2020) note, WhatsApp and other messaging apps or platforms facilitate intimate and controlled conversations within small groups which can be considered to be ‘public’ in relation to Habermas’ definition of public sphere theory. This is in line with the argument of (Omanga, 2019) in which he contextualizes WhatsApp groups in Nakuru, Kenya, as a public sphere for important discussions.
Figure 4 demonstrates that majority of participants from quantitative data use Facebook to discuss climate change
10.00% 12.50% 15.00% 57.50% 62.50% 0.00% 10.00% 20.00% 30.00% 40.00% 50.00% 60.00% 70.00% Instagram LinkedIn Twitter Other Facebook
Social Media Usage in Climate Change
Figure 5 shows quantitative data demonstrating why majority of participants use Facebook to discuss climate change
5.3.2 Engagement with experts for effective climate change communication on social Media
The quantitative data shows that the majority of the participants do not engage experts, strategists, policy makers or the press in their climate change discussions on social media. Only 2 participants mentioned that they talk about climate change with climate change experts on the issues in the survey. In the ‘other’ option, 6 participants indicated that they discuss climate change with followers, 1 participant mentioned journalists and another mentioned policymaker.
59.50% 50.00% 42.90% 31.00% 16.70% 0.00% 10.00% 20.00% 30.00% 40.00% 50.00% 60.00% 70.00% Commonly used by my friends
Popularity Easier to use (e.g. does not need one to be literate or be technologically savvy) Already has campaigns concerning climate change Other
Figure 6 shows who participants discuss climate change with
5.3.3 Access to social media as both an advantage and a barrier
On the advantages of social media, majority of participants from the questionnaire agreed with the statements that explained the platform as essential for critical discussions such as climate change. 53.97% of participants strongly agreed that social media is used for rapid information exchange and 52.38% said social media give people an opportunity to express their opinions freely (figure 8). The power of social media has been highlighted already in driving and shaping issues including that of climate change for example in Omanga (2019) and Bosch (2012).
0.00% 10.00% 20.00% 30.00% 40.00% 50.00% 60.00% 70.00% 80.00%
Friends Colleagues Students Family Aquantances Climate Change Experts
Figure 7 demonstrates how participants agreed or disagreed on how social media can be used for climate change discussions
However, social media is not just a positive force in the conversation on climate change. This research established that social media can also pose as a barrier in the conversation on climate change. In the survey, 53.97% of the participants highlighted exposure to false information and fake news on social media as a challenge associated with the use of social media in discussing climate change. 25.81% of participants agreed that social media presents technological barriers that may intimidate some audiences. As Adekunle (2016) highlights, in most developing countries, access to internet is a problem and also limited by cost and unreliability of internet services from network providers particularly through the global system of mobile communication (GSM).
43% 36.51% 33.33% 36.51% 52.38% 53.97% 46.30% 40.32% 3.17% 3.17% 3.17% 1.59% 3.17% 1.59% 4.76% 3.23% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60%
Encourage others to take action Give voice to underrepresented groups Make it easier to hold powerful people accountable Make it easier to find people who share similar views Give people an opportunity to express their opinions freely
Rapid information exchange Great opportunity to reach large audiences There is direct interaction among audiences
Advantages of social media for climate change discussions
Figure 8 demonstrates how participants agreed or disagreed on how social media can be challenging for climate change discussions
5.3.4 Role of public figures in social media climate change advocacy
The quantitative findings established that participants’ levels of knowledge on climate change campaigns was associated with the people behind or associated with such campaigns. Almost half of the participants (49%) said they were aware of one or more climate change campaigns running on social media and mentioned celebrities and activists facilitating the campaign in the follow up open ended question about the names of the campaigns.
7.94% 7.94% 6.35% 12.90% 14.29% 20.63% 22.22% 25.40% 22.22% 25.81% 41.27% 53.97% 28.57% 20.63% 15.87% 20.97% 12.70% 3.17% 0.00% 10.00% 20.00% 30.00% 40.00% 50.00% 60.00% Distract people from issues that are truly important
Make people think they are making a difference when they are not
Limits the ability to promote meaningful dialogue Presents technological barriers that may intimidate some
Mainly used for information which individuals find interesting or entertaining
Exposure to false information and fake news
Disadvantages of social media for climate change discussions
Figure 9 shows the number of participants and their knowledge about social media climate change campaigns
Qualitative Results Analysis5.4 Demographic Data
Just as the quantitative findings revealed, majority of the participants (77%) in the qualitative data, between 20 and 32 years of age, explained that they use social media to talk about climate change. However, the 2 youngest participants in the qualitative sample, both aged 18, revealed they have never used the platform for climate change discussions. When asked why, the responded mentioned lack of interest in the issue. Respondent number 7 said:
I have never talked about climate change on social media. Mainly it is because I am not interested in the issue and I do not think it is heavily affecting our lives as some people say.
Knowledge of social media climate change campaigns
Know some climate change social media campaigns Do not know any social media climate change campaigns
Figure 10 below shows distribution of age for the qualitative interviews
5.2.5 Gender identity
In the qualitative interview, 9 participants were females and 7 of them were males. The large number of female participants was also noted and discussed in the quantitative findings (see figure 3).
5.2.6 Level of education
Similar to the quantitative findings, majority of the participants in the research were university graduates (10 out of the 16 respondents). 2 participants mentioned that they have postgraduate qualifications and 4 participants had secondary school education.
The large number of graduates compared to those with only secondary education for both quantitative and qualitative results could mean a lot of things. For example, it could be an indication that majority of them are interested in climate change communication or it could be due to what Brisman (2009) describes as environmental elitism, a critique that has been levelled against movements lobbying for environmental issues of which climate change is key. Under this criticism, it is held that “supporters of environmentalism are drawn primarily from the privileged or upper socioeconomic strata—that is, that environmentalists constitute a socioeconomic elite”
Age Distribution for qualitative interviews
(p. 342). University students, and graduates, in Malawi compose that part of the ‘privileged’ people in society. At the same time, it is important to highlight that by the nature of social media in which a higher level of education is needed presented a challenge to those ‘not occupying the privileged position’ to participate.
5.5 Key Research Findings
5.5.1 Common social media platforms for climate change discussions
Participants in the qualitative interviews also revealed that they mostly use Facebook when discussing climate change issues and provided their own reasons for preferring Facebook to other platforms. Participant number 2 indicated that Facebook is a preferred because it is a common platform among her friends. She further made reference to the use of WhatsApp. The participant said:
I mostly use Facebook when discussing climate change because it is the common social media sites among my friends, acquaintances and colleagues. I also belong to some WhatsApp groups where we do talk about climate change, especially about the natural disasters current affecting our country and our role as young people.
5.5.2 Engagement with experts for effective climate change communication on social media
Just like the quantitative data (see figure 6) qualitative data also shows that the majority of the participants do not engage experts, strategists, policy makers or the press in their climate change discussions on social media. It was only participants who work with the National Youth Network on Climate Change (NYNCC), one of leading organizations in climate change action in Malawi, who indicated that they have discussed the issue with experts and journalists. Participants with no such platform did not express an engagement with experts and others mentioned that they lack basic knowledge on the issue. Participant number 4, in this context, remarked:
Yes, I sometimes talk about climate change on social media but I don’t have appropriate knowledge and information to discuss the issue in details or engage in climate change debates. I also have never interacted with experts or scientists on social media about the issue.
Figure 11 shows whom qualitative interview participants discuss climate change with on social media
Experts, scientists and strategists need to create more engagement with general public especially on critical issues like climate change. As Brewer (2011) argues, the scientific community needs to speak out more about climate change because they are the experts in the field. However, due to use of complexity words and topics which are difficult for lay audience, scientists might usually not be very efficient in communicating climate change to young people. Thus, the role of communications experts including journalists, strategists and policy makers in climate change discussions need to be emphasized as they can collaborate effectively with the climate change scientists and researchers in developing effective communication climate change messages. As (Schäfer 2012) puts it, strategic communication, public relations and advocacy efforts of various stakeholders have played a highly significant role in the climate change debate, trying to be successful in setting the public agenda and framing the issue of climate change according to their perspectives. Discuss with Friends
69%Discuss with Experts/ Scientists
13%Discuss with Strategists/ The media
69%Follow Experts/ Scientists
19%Follow Strategists/ The media
38%Discuss with Policy Makers
6.3%Followh Policy Makers
5.5.3 Access to social media as both an advantage and a barrier
In the qualitative interviews, participants provided explanations on both the advantages and disadvantages of social media when used for climate change discussions and advocacy. This is how one participant (interviewee #3) responded:
The social media connect a lot of people and have removed geographical borders to an extent that people across the world can speak and engage instantly and share experiences and knowledge on issues of climate change. However, social media can also be challenged because fake news easily spread and there is the problem misinformation and
misrepresentation since most of the people engaged in this kind of discussion are not climate change experts.
62.5% of the participants (10 out of the 16 respondents) in the qualitative interview revealed that they would like to discuss climate change issues using offline communication channels instead of online platforms like social media. This is similar to the findings of a study conducted in Nigeria in 2015 (published in 2016) by Ogunjinmi et al. (2016) who found that only 48.6% of their participants discussed climate change with their friends on social media in Nigeria. Unlike what the public sphere theory advocates, social media here is not being considered as a civil arena where public opinions are expressed and actions from authority groups are checked (Prasad 2018). This is also in contrast to what Bosch (2012) argue on the rise of the social media as key platforms for citizens to share news and political information.
Responding on why social media should not be the main channel for climate change discussions and advocacy in Malawi. One respondent (Interviewee #6) said:
Social media is indeed a good platform for important discussions. I sometimes use Facebook myself to talk about climate change. However, I don’t think it should be the main channel to discuss climate change especially here in Malawi. For effective action, I would rather participate more in offline climate change advocacy because I believe they are more engaging and effective.
5.5.4 Role of public figures in social media climate change advocacy
The research established that participants’ levels of knowledge on climate change campaigns was associated with the people behind or associated with such campaigns. In qualitative interviews, it was revealed that participants who could not mention names of campaigns would just mention celebrities, activists or influencers who are either promoting or facilitating the campaigns such as Greta Thunberg (Swedish young Activist), Leoonardo DiCaprio (American Actor), Gertrude Mutharika (Malawi First Lady) and Tigris (Malawian Musician) who are behind the campaigns. Respondent number 12 said:
Yes, I know some of the climate change campaigns which have been on social media. There is this campaign about Fridays movement, I have forgotten its name but it was started by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist. I also know another campaign which is being championed by our Malawi First Lady, Gertrude Mutharika. I can’t remember its name either but it is about keeping our country clean.
To add value, Doyle et al. (2017) specifically argue that celebrities do not only bring climate change to greater public attention, but they also expand their brand through neoliberalism’s penchant for the commoditization of everything including concern for the environment. Another respondent (participant #15) mentioned how she has been following climate change campaigns and even engaged in some discussions due to celebrities:
I know some climate change campaigns like the Fridays movement and other climate change initiatives by Actor DiCaprio and his foundation. I follow DiCaprio because I am a fan and it is interesting to see his efforts in climate change on online media. He actually made me care about the climate change to an extent that I sometimes write post or tweet about what he is doing on the issue.
CHAPTER SIX; DISCUSSION (CONCLUSION AND
The findings of the research show that social media as a communication channel is definitely being used by Malawian youth in discussing climate change with Facebook being the common used platform. This addresses the first research question on which social media platforms are used for climate change discussions by Malawian Youths. From the findings 62.50% of the quantitative participants indicated that they use Facebook for climate change discussion. This is followed by WhatsApp which, despite its interpersonal nature, has been exploited to discuss climate change especially through its WhatsApp groups feature which can be created to accommodate up to 250 people. This is in line with the argument of Omanga (2019) in which he contextualizes WhatsApp groups in Nakuru, Kenya, as a public sphere for important discussions.
While several authors, such as (Schäfer, 2012; Schäfer, 2012; Schäfer, 2012; Schäfer, 2012; Bosch, 2012; Schäfer, 2012; Ogunjinmi et al., 2016; Kalla, 2019; Pulido et al., 2020) have hailed online media for their role in climate change communication, the participants of this study preferred offline to online communication channels such as social media for effective climate change discussions and advocacy. 62.5% of the participants in the qualitative interview revealed that they would like to discuss climate change issues using offline communication channels instead of online platforms like social media.
In addressing the second research question (on climate change key issues that are discussed on social media by Malawian youth), the findings also clearly show that more effort should be invested in climate change information dissemination as most participants, while they were able to explain some of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, mentioned that they lack appropriate climate change knowledge and messages to share or discuss on social media. As a Commission on Climate and Vulnerability in Sweden (CCVS) reports, iinformation and training are very important in order to improve awareness of climate change and adaptation measures (CCVS, 2007). It has also been revealed from the findings that the use of public figures in social media climate change communication influences how young people use the platform. Doyle et al. (2017, p.3) for example explored on the how celebrities have played prominent roles through what
he called “a celebrity status to draw media and cultural attention to climate change, helping to bring it within the popular cultural sphere, as well as utilizing their fan bases to mobilize engagement and action via social media.” Also of importance are issues of social media access among African youth as they cast doubt on the effectiveness of the platform for discussions and advocacy.
In terms of next steps and recommendations, this research proposes the following:
Online communication channels such as social media to not be used at the expense of offline channels when engaging young people in climate change discussions and advocacy. Instead, both are to be extensively used for effective climate change communication. Facebook needs to be considered as one of the main social media platforms for climate
There is a need to deliberately engage and involve experts in social media climate change discussions and advocacy to ensure effective and strategic communication of the issue. Climate change advocacy and campaigns should involve more public figures.
Research on how African youth use social media to discuss climate change is still a relatively new subject as most studies about climate change and African youth have been focusing on climate change knowledge, awareness and engagement. Thus, further research on this topic is greatly recommended as this research mainly provided pointers.
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APPENDICESAppendix A: Online Questionnaire
AFRICAN YOUTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE DISCUSSIONS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
My name is Rachel Kachali, MA student in Strategic Communication at Örebro University. I am conducting interviews as part of a research study to understand the place of social media in climate change discussions among African youth from the age of 15 to 35. You are in an ideal position to give me valuable information from your own perspective. Your responses to the questions will be kept confidential and be used for this research purpose only. Your assistance in completing the enclosed questionnaire is greatly appreciated.
PART A: DEMOGRAPHIC DATA
1. How old are you?
2. What is your gender identity? 3. What is your highest qualification?
PART B: BASIC KNOWLEDGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND CLIMATE CHANGE
4. How often do you use social media?
5. Which social media platforms do you often use? 󠄁 Facebook
󠄁 Twitter 󠄁 Instagram 󠄁 LinkedIn
󠄁 Other (Please Specify)
6. Do you care about climate change?
i. Why? Please elaborate according to your answer
PART C: KEY ISSUES IN CLIMATE CHANGE DISCUSSIONS AND ADVOCACY ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Do you ever talk about climate change on social media? If your answer is ‘NO’, then move to question 7 i. How do you talk about the issue?
7. Explain what key issues or aspects of climate change you talk about ii. To whom do you discuss this with? You can choose more options
󠄁 Friends 󠄁 Colleagues 󠄁 Students 󠄁 Family
󠄁 Climate Change Experts or Strategists 󠄁 Other (Please Specify)
8. Which social media and other online platforms have you used to discuss about climate change? You can choose more options
󠄁 Facebook 󠄁 Twitter 󠄁 Instagram 󠄁 LinkedIn
󠄁 Other (Please Specify)
i. What made you choose this platform/s?
ii. You can choose more options
󠄁 Commonly used by friends
󠄁 Easier to use (eg does not need one to be iterate, does not need one to be technologically savvy)
󠄁 Already has campaigns concerning climate change 󠄁 Other (kindly explain in the space provided)