The Instagram #climatechange Hashtag Community

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Abstract

Some scholars uphold social media platforms such as Instagram as potentially powerful technologies for social change, since they allow people to connect with each other independent of place and space and reach a broader population with their message. A picture is worth 1,000 data points, and Instagram images can have a compelling, persuasive impact that may inspire others to act on an important issue like climate change. Despite this, scholars remain concerned that online “slacktivism” begins and ends with posting online. We thus chose one hashtag community to examine the potential for meaningful action via the building of social capital and novel network formation on the issue of climate change. We conducted a mixed-method analysis of Instagram posts tagged with #climatechange, looking at sentiment through text analysis and complementing it with a network analysis of user mentions. We show how, even though Instagram affords a type of interaction that has the potential to encourage social capital and network formation to effect change, this potential is currently unrealized within the #climatechange community due to the mostly unidirectional nature of comments and posts and the homophilic nature of the media.