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Frack-Off: Social Media Fights Against Fracking in Argentina

A Research Paper by Malayna Raftopoulos and Doug Specht, published by Environmental Communication

This article explores how the anti-fracking movements in the province of Mendoza, Argentina, have used Twitter to shape narratives around anti-fracking. Adopting a dynamic view of collective action frames, the article shows that the anti-fracking movements have developed multiple frames to articulate their struggle and justify their grievances, and how procedural injustice and environmental values have been motivational factors for local citizens. The article also demonstrates that Twitter is principally being used as a broadcast platform rather than being used to create online collective action, but that the strong framing means that disparate groups have been united behind the common cause.

 

Introduction

The extraction of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as “fracking”, has found itself at the center of energy debates, as governments navigate environmental issues, carbon budgets, and energy security concerns. Considered to be the most significant and controversial innovation in the energy of the twenty-first century thus far, shale gas production has polarized political debate and has been met by high levels of local resistance. Proponents argue that it reduces gas prices, creates employment, and provides “energy security,” while conversely growing evidence shows significant impacts on the environment and human health (Bamberger & Oswald, 2016; Sovacool, 2014). Much previous research has focused on fracking in the United States and Australia (Bubna-Litic, 2015; Inman, 2014) with little attention given to Latin America. Studies have explored place-specific social and ecological impacts of fracking highlighting increasing environmental and public health concerns (Bamberger & Oswald, 2016; Sovacool, 2014; Vengosh et al., 2014), and more recently, the social and political dimensions of fracking in domestic contexts, including social conflicts in Australian communities (De Rijke, 2013), perceptions of risk and opportunity in US communities (Ladd, 2013) as well as fracking as an environmental justice issue (Clough & Bell, 2016; Fry et al., 2015; Short et al., 2015). However, few studies have examined the use of social media by anti-fracking movements despite the increasing use of such platforms within global activism (Hopke, 2016). This article aims to contribute to the literature by exploring the local dynamics of anti-fracking activism in the Global South and their use of social-media as a communication strategy to articulate their narratives and alternative imaginaries.

In the last decades, social movements have increasingly used social media to raise awareness, gain visibility, disseminate information, and recruit members (Carty & Reynoso Barron, 2019). Debates over the effectiveness of social media to enact change continue, but platforms such as Twitter remain important for environmental movements. Born of concerns that mainstream media are complicit in the construction and concealment of green harms and crimes (Di Ronco et al., 2019), environmental groups have turned to these platforms to share their message. There was much criticism of academics for the overemphasis of Twitter’s role in the Arab Spring (Carley et al., 2016), but the largely successful use of Twitter and other social media in protests around Standing Rock (Di Ronco et al., 2019), and the persistent use of the platform by movements such as #BlackLivesMatter (Taylor, 2016) suggests that the platform may still play a significant role to play in protests. Researchers have long noted the potential of the internet to strengthen democratic governance (Grossman, 1995), through its ability to promote and shape collective action (Merry, 2014), while collective action has long been the mainstay of environmental movements, where environmental issues are not fought for alone but are defined through collective processes (Taylor, 2000). Twitter lends itself to the loose but connected nature of environmental movements, allowing them to frame arguments (Doğu, 2019), build online connections (Merry, 2014), provide a base for knowledge sharing (Costie et al., 2018), and give a sense that one can change and shape the world around them (Drury & Reicher, 2009). Although many environmental struggles remain local, retaining their own identity and narratives, the digital age has allowed some to tackle large-scale political-economic processes on a global scale (Serafini, 2018). This article analyses how anti-fracking movements in the province of Mendoza, Argentina, use Twitter to shape narratives and amplify key issues related to environmental justice by linking them to broader social, political and economic processes. It also examines the way networks are built and driven through Twitter, noting that while there is not one homogenous collective, the use of collective framing through Twitter makes it an invaluable tool for social movements opposing fracking in developing collective frames.

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Doug Specht

About

Doug Specht is a Chartered Geographer (CGeog. FRGS) and a Senior Lecturer (SFHEA) at the Communication and Media Research Institute, within the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artefacts, focusing on development issues, and he has written on this subject in numerous books and papers. He has also spoken on topics of data ethics and mapping practices at conferences and invited lectures around the world. He is a member of the editorial board at Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, and sits on BSi committee IST/36 Geographic Information, where he focuses on geographic data in the SDGs. Doug is additionally a trustee of the Santa Rosa Fund, an educational charity; and a core member of the Environmental Network for Central America.

Details

Date
4 January 2022
Published By
Environmental Communication
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