Missive role played by social media!
Behaviour change and safeguarding ‘Environment’

S Maxwell Lyngdoh
We have just crossed this year’s World Environment Day and what we get to witness is the upload of status in Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and newspaper websites flooded with pictures and videos of individuals involved in the act of planting trees and other environmental activities. Such initiatives are seen widely across all age groups – young and old, school-going children, working adults and others.
The daunting coronavirus did not kill the spirit of many who came forward to take part in returning something good to the environment. Over the years, sensitization of preserving the environment has only risen from one level to the other with more and more people taking a pledge to conserve the existing ecosystem of which we are all part. Social media has quickly become an essential marketing and communication tool for private, public and non-governmental entities across the world to promote their organizational mission, daily events and publications. Many citizens use social media to post or share real-time photos on a variety of environmental issues such as pollution or littering, forest fires, reported chemical spills in waterways, illegal dumping, and injured or deceased endangered animals. This simple, yet effective action can result in prompt awareness of an environmental incident and timely response from various agencies responsible for the environment.

  1. Visual Learning:
    Visual learners understand best when they see the information. Visual students like diagrams, flowcharts and graphs, and they find handouts helpful, where they can write down what they hear or see as it is being described. Visual learners notice small details, so will remember exhibits. Young people were, and still are disconnected from nature, staring at screens when they should be out in the wild. But what we had not predicted is that it is these screens that are now enabling our children to join forces to save the natural world. The rise of new technology, especially social media has allowed a new generation to connect with those who share their interests. We are exposed to an awful amount of visual information nowadays. Media itself admits the influence of visuals over auditory and is increasingly relying on such content. There is a 4000% increase in visuals in literature since 1990, 9900% on the internet since 2007, 142% in newspapers. Statistics show that we learn in normal day-to-day living as follows: 3% through taste, 3% through smell, 6% through touch, 13% through hearing, 75% through seeing. Typically, in 3 days we remember 10% of all we hear, 35% of all we see and 65% of all we see and hear at the same time.
    Increasingly, educators are acknowledging and welcoming the relative advantages of social media into the teaching and learning process. The importance of including visual literacy instruction for our students in the classroom comes from the discovery that students gain a deeper understanding of a concept when they are encouraged and enabled to create a non-linguistic representation of that concept. When paired with linguistic — or text-based — literacy, visual literacy can multiply students’ ability to recall and think about what they have learned.
    This is the same case with our young ones viewing posters, write-ups and content in social media, which are informative and educative in nature regarding environmental related issues and concerns. Pictures that are action-based will help them to be motivated and join the bandwagon of this good cause.
  2. Behaviour Change Communication:
    There is an increasing focus on improving the pro-environmental attitudes, behaviour and habits of individuals, whether at home, in education, travelling, shopping or in the workplace. A better approach to inspiring people to change their behaviour is education. Education on the benefits of change empowers people to make decisions that they feel are in their best interest rather than being forced into it by others. Behaviour-change campaigns focus on messages that appeal to people’s values, while also building a sense of confidence and self-efficacy in their ability to act.
    To successfully influence our behavioural approach to conserve our environment, we need to change how we communicate when we talk or write about it. Psychologist George Marshall, the author of Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, says that humans are more inclined to believe the information presented in a narratively satisfying way. It appeals to our ‘emotional brain’ and motivates us to think about preserving our environment in a more personal and relatable way. By cultivating positive emotions associated with environmental protection actions rather than negative emotions coming from climate impacts or news, we can begin to make the necessary changes to our behaviour.
    As individuals, we each have a responsibility to change how we live on a day to day basis to reduce the further onset of dangerous environmental destruction. We can all play our part together and then many small changes will multiply into a large contribution. Behaviour change tools and techniques are vital resources for councils to work with their local communities to sustain or change residents’ behaviours to reduce climate change. These tools can also be used at an organisational level, for example, within local businesses, education and health settings.
    The societal dissemination of digital technology amongst the masses are increasingly experiencing environmental topics through digital media channels such as social networks. Several researchers, therefore, have proposed these channels as a possibility to strengthen sustainable development based on their cost-efficient nature. But while prior studies have investigated isolated factors for understanding environmental social media behaviour, there is still scarce understanding of the relevant underlying motivational factors and possible connections with more traditional environmental behaviours.
  3. Social Media and Online Advocacy:
    The use of social media is not limited to simple communications and social networking; other facets of life have benefited and are being redefined. More people spend increasing time on social networking sites. These include individuals, profit-oriented firms, governmental organizations, and advocacy groups.
    The popularity of social media increases daily: Facebook is the second most visited website; YouTube follows closely followed by Twitter. This is a strong method for interaction, not only between individuals but also between people and organizations. Many collaborations have taken place with people of likeminded which they have met through social media. This enthusiasm can be seen up and down the country and has resulted in some high-profile initiatives partly driven by younger campaigners, many of them involved with environmental concerns. Such collaborations have also taken place through various environmental groups/organizations at the regional, national and international level. While environmental groups once relied on local campaigns and traditional media to broadcast their messages, now social media has become a vehicle for their conservation and activism campaigns.
    Among other factors, the potential to reach mass audiences gives social media strategy a central place in the outreach efforts of environmental groups. While some advocacy groups are using social media efficiently, others lack the know-how of what entails a successful social media campaign. This sort of outreach can prove beneficial for organizations trying to interact and reach out to their followers. Among environmental groups, social media use is fast gaining ground not only as a tool but also as an image builder. While many environmental groups use social media to reach large audiences, others still maintain email listserv used for the primary contact. The concept of electronic communication may create the image of “being green” or sustainable in their communication methods, and therefore, may contribute to their efforts at promoting environmental conservation and protection. Whether this is perceived on the audience level is still being measured. Nevertheless, it is anticipated that social media such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter may prove equally beneficial for environmental groups to access user mind space.
    The positive impacts of social media on the youth today include keeping them updated on the events happening around the globe and enables them to stay connected with their fellow youths and friends without physical meetings. If used in the right and appropriate manner, it could facilitate better learning and networking with colleagues, and individuals who are fighting for a similar cause such as this. In one of the interviews with the youth on social media, they responded that social media platforms are educative in nature especially when they subscribed to pages that provide them with a lot of information in the area that they are interested in.
    (The writer can be reached at maxwell.lyngdoh@gmail.com)