Digital Empathy - strategies for videos for social change

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Climate change is often perceived as a difficult subject to communicate because it is seen as abstract, difficult to understand, occurring far away and in the distant future. This research explores how audiovisual communicators can use videos for social change to help convince skeptics and activate those who are already in agreement with the scientific consensus. I define videos for social change as a genre that aims to raise awareness of injustice, raise charitable funds, mobilise protest or support evidence-based decision making. Research shows that there are several reasons why people may hold opinions, despite scientific evidence showing otherwise. People seek for harmony within peer groups or psychological defences may protect existing opinions. People also confuse weather with climate, and lack of comprehension of the scientific method can make people less likely to believe in scientific findings. 2015-2016 I directed and shot Visible Climate, a climate change campaign, which explores how digitally distributed audiovisual storytelling could help build empathetic dialogues and support for climate change mitigation. The term Digital Empathy in the title is used to describe the mediation process, rather than the quality of the resulting empathy. Evidence suggests that being sympathetic to the audience’s core values helps in delivering the message. The multiple protagonists in my project provide different points of reflection to climate change – from eco-theology to climate sciences. I show climate change visually and as a sensory experience. By limiting the production location to Finland, the viewer’s immediate environment becomes the scene for climate change and the effects influence the audience directly. Protagonists’ personal stories provide a possibility to emphasise in what ways the protagonist is similar to the viewer of the video. Scientists talking about how they know, not just what they know provides a possibility for the viewer to reflect on the premises of their argument and encourage curiosity for further reading. To avoid building an echo chamber, Visible Climate was exhibited in public spaces in Jyväskylä and Helsinki, reaching out for those that would not actively seek to watch such content. In addition, the project was included in the Teacher’s climate guide and Avaaz People’s Climate March movements. Videos for social change can be used by NGOs as a fundraising or awareness building activity, by municipalities to activate citizen-co-creators, by intergovernmental organisations to encourage participation in the political processes or by companies to attract conscious consumers.
Weselius, Hanna
Thesis advisor
Vallinheimo, Eija
video, activism, visual culture, empathy, science communications, climate change, public art, greenwashing
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Työ on arkistossa