The Role of Social Media in Enforcing Environmental Justice around the World

The Role of Social Media in Enforcing Environmental Justice around the World

Gayle M. Pohl (University of Northern Iowa, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2019-1.ch006


This chapter is a critical analysis of the role that social media plays enforcing environmental justice around the world. It particularly examines how social media has been used internationally to foster Greenpeace International's actions to enforce environmental justice and compliance in three selected countries, namely India, Canada and Russia. The cases examined are a.) the Essar Ltd.'s coal mine project in the Mahan Forests in India; b.) Prirazlomnaya Oil Company's offshore drilling in the Artic Sea, and c.) Resolute Forests Products' mining in the Boreal Forest in Canada. The paper concludes that social media can be used to promote and foster environmental justice globally.
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Social Capital Theory As Theoretical Framework

The concept of organizations and community activists’ groups interacting with one another is not a new factuality. Gaining and/or exchanging social capital through professional networking is a common business practice today. Therefore, when Greenpeace, an internationally well-known environmental organization received a whiff of perceived wrong-doing by an international corporate entity they were sure to play on their social capital and shout to their supporters across the globe that evil was being perpetrated. The corporate entities, who were supported by customers and other businesses (their social capital) cried they were following the letter of the law. So, what is social capital, how did this “fight” come about and who did this fight engage?

Social capital defined by Hanifan (1916, p.130) is:

Those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit. . . . If [an individual comes] into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. (Hanifan, 1916, p.130)

Today, communication researchers believe that social capital is positive as long as it has a constructive effect on people’s lives (Woolcook & Narayan, 2000). The idea of social capital is one of the important assets that can be used during a crisis, used for one’s enjoyment or leveraged for one’s gain. That is why people may volunteer for community groups, help disadvantaged children knowing that they need more than motivation, participating in church groups or assisting in fundraising for special causes. People in this type of community have more social capital and are in a stronger place to combat exposures from organizations and other invading forces.

Social relations and political ties lead to the first type of social capital that organizations and activists’ groups rely heavily upon, the networks view. Granovetter (1973), “recognizes that strong intracommunity ties give families and communities a sense of identity and common purpose” (Astone et al., 1999). On the other hand, “…without weak intercommunity ties, such as those that cross various social divides based on religion, class, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, strong horizontal ties can become a basis for the pursuit of narrow sectarian interests” (Woolcock & Narayan, 2000).

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