During a recent university assignment (not assessed, thankfully), we had to look at motivations for science consumption by online users. Amongst the myriad reasons we explored, one, in particular, stood out – entertainment. This was all a very brief exercise, so our conclusions were tentative, but it seemed to us that science communication reaches a wider audience when it is entertaining, possibly in a short format such as an image, meme, or video lasting only a few minutes.
I had a look at the top science pages on Facebook as a starting point. Unsurprisingly, I Fucking Love Science was by far the most popular site, boasting 25.8 million likes (amongst my approximately 1,000 friends on Facebook, 133 like IFLS). It’s a page which began life mostly sharing memes and interesting nuggets about science, a format which saw it gaining thousands of followers per day.
From the IFLS Facebook page.
It would be careless to simply assume that the popularity of IFLS is due to a simple, superficial appeal, which is undoubtedly not its entire attraction as they do offer more in-depth looks at science (albeit often problematic, but that’s for another time). What stood out whilst looking at some of the most popular science pages on Facebook was a contrast between two of the BBC pages. BBC Science News has a mere 545 thousand likes (only four amongst my friends) whereas BBC Earth has been liked by almost 7.3 million people (34 from my friends list). There is a lot of content overlap between the two pages, though I would suggest that the BBC Science News page shares more links, whereas BBC Earth has a lot of videos and images, particularly of one of the most appealing subjects to science laymen (wildlife is probably just beaten by space, with dinosaurs chasing the two of them). It might be the case that BBC Earth is listed as a TV channel which somehow broadens its readership (is there a medium-specific term I should be using?), whereas BBC Science News is listed as a news and media website, however, I am leaning towards the likelihood that its content drives its appeal.
As said above, this is a tentative conclusion and it is one which I intend to investigate further. Looking at one social media platform in a very simple way is not conclusive enough, but I do consider it to be an interesting observation. Plus, it allows me to share this image from Cyanide and Happiness: