Yi-Ling Hwong - How should we communicate climate science on social media?

Event type: 
5 September 2018
2.00 - 2.45 pm

Climate Change Research Centre, Seminar Room, Mathews Building 4th floor, UNSW, Sydney

Yi-Ling Hwong
Australian Centre for Astrobiology, BEES, UNSW, Sydney.
Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW

There is concern that a crisis of trust may be looming between society and scientists, as evidenced by the display of considerable public distrust in issues such as climate change and childhood vaccinations. In response, scientists are encouraged to use social media to engage with the public in an attempt to improve public attitudes toward science. However, little is known about the impact of social media engagement with scientists on public trust in science and scientists. In this seminar, Yi-Ling Hwong presents the findings of her PhD thesis that addressed two overarching questions: (1) does communicating with scientists on social media have any effects on public trust in science and scientists? and (2) what are the factors that affect audience engagement and trust in science?

This presentation also demonstrates how big data analysis methods such as machine learning can be used to approach questions related to social media climate science communication. More than 500,000 climate change related social media posts were collected. Results indicate that communicating with scientists on social media causes a boost in trust in science and scientists. If the objective of climate communications is audience engagement (e.g., retweets, likes), climate scientists should use plenty of visual elements in their social media communication. However, if the aim is to improve trust in climate science, similarity is key. This suggests that to improve trust, climate scientists need to better understand their audiences’ worldviews and frame science messages in a way that corresponds to their audiences’ values. One feature was found to be associated with both audience engagement and trust in climate science: authenticity. Science audiences like and trust messages that are personal, honest, and genuine.


Brief biography: Yi-Ling is an engineer, researcher and digital communication professional with a passion for data science and digital innovation. She previously worked at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) as a software engineer and for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders as digital communication officer. Currently she is pursuing a PhD in science communication and machine learning at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNSW.Her research focuses on the processes and outcomes of social media science communication using machine learning.