Using social media to understand attitudes towards sharks


An innovative new study will use social media and interviews to explore approaches to shark management in populated coastal areas.

SharkAn innovative new study will use social media and interviews to explore approaches to shark management in populated coastal areas.

Associate Professor Peter Simmons and Dr Michael Mehmet from Charles Sturt University's (CSU) Institute for Land, Water and Society have teamed up with Associate Professor Rod Clarke from the University of Wollongong's (UoW) to analyse content on social media platforms relating to sharks and management strategies, and conduct interviews with individuals and stakeholder groups along the NSW coast.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has awarded a grant to support the one-year research collaboration.

"Sharks and shark management on our coastline has become increasingly topical, and this research will help the DPI understand community sentiment concerning coexistence with sharks and strategies for managing sharks," lead researcher Professor Simmons said.

"We aim to understand people's attitudes, what influences their attitudes and what circumstances influence attitudes to different management options.

"The better we understand community attitudes and beliefs the more effectively the department can represent those attitudes, and the more purposefully the department can communicate about the different options.

"Ultimately, it's about reducing the risks to surfers, bathers and other ocean users, and minimising harm to other species."

The CSU academics have previously researched the human dimensions of coexistence with other species, examining attitudes to kangaroos in Australia and monkeys in Malaysia.

"Communities in Australia and other countries are becoming increasingly interested in options for better understanding and managing sharks," Professor Simmons said.

"At the moment there is a lot of information online, especially in social media, and we can make sense of a lot of this data. We can identify what factors are influential and also what beliefs are particularly powerful and common."

The study will employ approaches to analysing social media using communication theory that has been pioneered by Professor Clarke and developed in joint work with Dr Mehmet (both pictured) analysing 'multimodality' in social media – the 'sentiment' being expressed through the interaction of words, images, emojis, and other aspects of the context for online exchanges.

"It's important to hear from a range of different stakeholders," Professor Simmons said. "We will also conduct a series of interviews and focus groups with stakeholders – surfers, bathers, tourism operators, local government, lifesavers and others. We know we will find different attitudes to coexistence and management options.

"Our aim is to develop deep insights into different stakeholder perspectives, where they come from, and how they are evolving and influenced."

Media Note:

Associate Professor Peter Simmons is based in Bathurst. Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews.

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