The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Langley, van den Broek: Exploring social media as a driver of sustainable behaviour: case analysis and policy implications

Paper presenter: 
Langley, D., TNO The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research; van den Broek, T., TNO The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research

This paper describes an empirical study into the emerging effects of instantly available social media on collective environmentally sustainable behaviour. The first contribution to the literature is a model whereby social media is positioned as a means to overcome two important barriers to collective environmentally sustainable behaviour. The first barrier can be called fatalism, or a lack of belief on the part of potential participants that the sustainability initiative will have a
significant impact. This study hypothesizes that social media can help overcome this barrier by presenting evidence to potential participants of the initiative’s goals and achievements as well as by helping participants to share this information with potential participants in their own social networks. The second barrier is termed busyness, whereby the favourably disposed majority cannot permit themselves the time and energy needed to turn their attitude into behaviour. The second hypothesis is that social media can stimulate these people to take action by reducing the effort required to act and by helping participants to share their experiences with each other. These mechanisms are related to two outcomes: the scale of participation and the impact achieved by the initiative. The second contribution to the literature is an empirical investigation of the relationships between the aforementioned social media mechanisms and outcomes, whereby more than 30 relevant social media applications are analysed. Initial results show the strong influence of presenting evidence of the group’s goals and achievements to potential participants on the scale of participation. A third contribution of this paper is to translate the effects of social media enabled collective behaviour into policy implications. This study shows that social media can enable a disruptive force that may affect the power balance between market, government and consumer groups. For these three parties we discuss the implications of this changing power balance.

Internet, participation, sustainable behaviour, public policy, social media, social movements
David Langley, Tijs van den Broek