The potential of social media in communicating science

RICHARD PHILLIPS

Everyone is using social media, and on it constantly. From a prospective science teacher, what kind of an impact, if any, can it have from the viewpoint of science? More importantly, how is each social platform best used?

Facebook is the obvious start. It has 1.49 billion monthly active users [1], giving a massive audience to advertise science to. There are pages, such as “I f***ing love science”, which have a large amount of followers and which post regularly. The problem is, the science is going to be very media friendly: fewer words, more pictures; sensationalist science which has a broad appeal and can gather a viral snowball of likes and reposts. Even though the science isn’t too in-depth, one still has to take into account that over 22 million followers [2] get regular science updates.

A more instant form of social media is Twitter. The advantage of Twitter is that developments can originate straight from the horse’s mouth. Following academics such as Brian Cox, gives people information from reputable sources. This seems the easiest way to give a more detailed side of science. Links to news stories and concentrated updates give users the latest science – fast. A disadvantage is tweets can be overlooked; If you are not on Twitter, you may miss the memo. If Facebook is to inspire the uninspired, Twitter can supply more in depth and mature information about news and current scientific affairs.

For more depth, we can look at YouTube. YouTube gives a way to teach and show off science without reading or leaving your house. It’s the ultimate tool for today’s generation. The broad range of videos available means even niche areas of science can get publicity. Scientists can make videos they want, as opposed to TV where they are constrained by viewing figures and production costs. Channels such as ‘Sixty Symbols’, pulling in about 46.5 million views[3], help to not just supply the video wanted, but an easy way to find new ones. However, videos take time to make and watch. We should use it less for news, and more for supplying background and explanations to the headlines from other sources.

Another useful platform is Reddit. It hosts “Ask Me Anything” forums (AMAs) by prominent scientists which answer questions to a high depth, also showing they’re not whacky but normal people too. This kind of platform is great for informing the 9.5 million subscribers of “/r/science[4] about advanced science, although most have a good knowledge of science as it is. It will help advertise those niche areas that don’t get noticed due to the advanced knowledge needed. The sense of community could also be used for crowdfunding; if they can do it for NASCAR, why not research? Posts are less about reputation and more about the content, arguably how science should be. Like any forum, however, trolling and down voting will always bury posts and dishearten users.

From young school kids to professors, social media is changing how we teach, advertise and explain science. The old medium of New Scientist and other publications are no longer the frontline of science. A new, more 21st century style is leading the charge, and rapidly expanding the appeal of science.  Only time will tell if it works.

[1] Statista,. ‘Facebook: Monthly Active Users 2015 | Statistic’. N.p., 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

[2] Facebook.com,. ‘I Fucking Love Science’. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

[3] YouTube,. ‘Sixty Symbols’. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

[4] Reddit,. ‘Science • /R/Science’. N.p., 2006. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

The potential of social media in communicating science

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