Facebook and and the Future of Science Communication
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Facebook and similar social networking sites hold vast potential for reaching non-traditional audiences for science. As the NY Times reports today, Facebook has 25 million users and growing as the company plans bold new features and opens up its user base to almost anyone with an email account. Social networking sites are important new platforms for science communication since they facilitate two of the key strategies I have pushed in the past in reaching broader American audiences about science.
First, they have the potential to facilitate incidental exposure, in other words they can reach non-traditional audiences with content about science in an online space where they are not otherwise looking for it. Facebook takes on the big problems of choice and audience preference gaps in reaching the wider public.
Second, users with an interest in and enthusiasm for science can serve as "science navigators" or opinion-leaders, passing on information to friends about new science-related events or issues in science, recruiting friends to participate in science-related activities or campaigns.
There is already a fertile network of "Common Interest-Science" groups on Facebook. And there is untapped potential for cross-cutting ties between these members and other content areas such as Politics, Current Events, Philosophy, Beliefs & Causes, and Religion & Spirituality. (Indeed, sociologists who study boundary work could have a field day studying how the arbitrary lines we often draw in the "real world" between institutions and areas of knowledge are blurred at social networking sites.)
So here's an idea: How about official Facebook pages and groups for the Exploratorium, 2009: The Year of Science, NASA, AAAS, the National Academies or other scientific organizations?