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An examination of digital empathy: When farmers speak for the climate through TikTok

Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
Available online 14 August 2023
0743-0167/© 2023 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (
An examination of digital empathy: When farmers speak for the climate
through TikTok
Ilkay Unay-Gailhard
, Kati Lawson
, Mark A. Brennan
UNESCO Community, Leadership, and Youth Development The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) 307 Armsby Building, 16802, University Park, PA, USA
Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO) Theodor-Lieser-Str. 2, D-06120, Halle (Saale), Germany
University of Florida; Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC); 1200 North Park Road; Plant City, FL, 33563, USA
UNESCO Community, Leadership, and Youth Development; The Pennsylvania State University (PSU); 204C Ferguson Building, 16802, University Park, PA, USA
Digital empathy
Young farmers
Online dialogue engagement
Climate change dialogue
Food system communication
Food production contributes to and is affected by climate change. With this dual-sided nature of food production,
separate from policymakers, the media, scientists, and activists, how climate dialogue engagement occurs when
farmers speak about climate is the interest of this research. Due to the important role of youth in climate
activism, we analyze climate dialogue engagement on the youthful platform of TikTok during the most recent
United Nations COP26 meeting, when climate dialogues peaked globally in the media. This study includes a two-
step analyses: Step-I involved a post-focused analysis investigating digital empathy surrounding TikTok posts
created by farmers. Step-II was a user-focused analysis exploring TikTok farmers perspectives on the public
engagement with their climate-farming related posts. The results suggest that the typical empathic engagement
of the analyzed climate dialogue is emotional reactions (expressed briey or explicitly). Even though the
analyzed videos contain alternative ways of communication (dynamic demonstrations, humor), cognitive
empathy can differ based on the narrative and narrator. These ndings contribute to studies investigating the
outcome of climate communication among communities that share specic interests, elaborating on the role of
alternative ways of communication in climate dialogues, and exploring how digital empathy serves to break
down self-silencing among farmers and the online communities that they reach out to.
1. Introduction
Food production contributes to and is affected by global climate
change. Both animal and plant-based foods are sources of greenhouse
gas emissions that contribute to global household emissions (Crippa
et al., 2021; Xu et al., 2021). At the same time, the effects of climate
change present a signicant threat to food production through a
reduction in crop and livestock productivity, as well as soil and water
quality and quantity (Hateld et al., 2011).
This dual-sided nature of food production puts farmers at the central
point of climate dialogues, which is mainly headed by the media, sci-
entists, policy makers, and activists. One side of the climate dialogues is
focused on the contribution of food production to global climate change,
where farmers are receivers of information about how to build practical
improvements on farms and build new relationships with consumers and
citizens (van der Ploeg, 2020). The majority of communications
engagement surrounding the climate impact of food production occurs
at both the social and political level. Apart from global political meet-
ings (e.g., United Nations Climate Change Conferences), there are high
levels of social and media interactions where groups such as activists
and creators of social movements coordinate actions to create commu-
nity social capital. These dialogues are mainly aimed at promoting the
environmental benets of reducing livestock farming, clearing land for
grazing, and decreasing other agriculture related activities that have a
high share of global emissions, such as food processing, transport, retail,
and packaging.
On the other side of the climate dialogues surrounding how food
production is affected by global climate change, farmers are again re-
ceivers of information about the threats due to uncertainty, the expected
risks associated with climate change, and how the adoption of new farm
management practices can help to deal with the negative effects of
climate change (Sorvali et al., 2021; Bavorov´
a et al., 2020). The
* Corresponding author. UNESCO Community, Leadership, and Youth Development The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) 307 Armsby Building, 16802,
University Park, PA, USA.
E-mail addresses: (˙
I. Unay-Gailhard), katilawson@u.edu (K. Lawson), (M.A. Brennan).
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Rural Studies
journal homepage:
Received 19 March 2023; Received in revised form 22 June 2023; Accepted 3 August 2023
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
communications engagement on the risks of climate change on food
production includes some communications challenges (between scien-
tists, media and farmers) due to differences in climate change beliefs and
the willingness to implement climate change measures on farm man-
agement practices (Wilke and Morton 2015; Getson et al., 2022; Telg
et al., 2020; Fiala et al., 2021).
At the intersection of this climate dialogue, apart from scientists, the
media, policymakers, and activists, how dialogue engagement occurs
when farmers speak out about the climate is the motivational interest of
this research.
Investigating climate dialogue engagements requires consideration
of three dimensions of the topic. First, previous studies note the
importance of the demographic dimension (Hautea et al., 2021; Basch
et al., 2022). Due to climate dialogue engagement becoming an
increasing concern among younger generations, this study explores
youth engagement particularly. Second, one must consider when in-
dividuals feel empowered to participate in the dialogue (Ettinger et al.,
2023). We narrowed down our research period and viewed the 26th
United Nations Climate Change Conference (UN COP26) as an oppor-
tunity to reach broader individuals engaged in the global climate dia-
logue. Third, it is essential to distinguish between the venues where the
dialogues take place (Ettinger et al., 2023). Given that farmers have
traditionally been positioned as silent individuals in public discussions
in the media (Stevens et al., 2016), our study chose TikTok. This plat-
form has dominated social media in recent years and is a potential venue
for farmers, particularly young farmers, to engage more readily in
climate discussions relative to other social media platforms due to its
youthful and playful characteristics (Basch et al., 2022).
1.1. Dialogue principle of empathy informing the study
Understanding the components of dialogue engagement is as neces-
sary as exploring how dialogue engagement is fostered. To that point,
the framework of empathy holds a key potential as a facilitator of
difcult climate discussions for social change (McBeth et al., 2022; Swim
and Bloodhart, 2015).
This study is centered upon the empathic dialogue principle, and
investigates the engagements in climate dialogues initiated by farmers,
and aims to contribute to the question of: Has the popularization of the
playful and youthful social media platform of TikTok fostered empathic
dialogue engagement surrounding the climate discourse?
This broader question is approached by a multi-method design study
and involves investigating TikTok posts created by farmers (step-I: post-
focused analysis) followed by interviewing TikTok users who identify
themselves as a farmer (step-II: user-focused analysis).
In step-I, post-focused analysis within the digital empathy frame-
work, we approached the question of How does engagement occur
when farmers talk about their climate-farming concerns? We were
interested in the informants engagement (the data includes comments
on the selected TikTok videos of farmers) over a specic time period,
particularly when climate dialogues peaked globally on social media. All
publicly available TikTok posts created by farmers that used the hash-
tags of UN COP26 (e.g., #cop26; #cop26uk) were gathered, and we
investigated the dialogue engagement of TikTok videos (N =29) by
working through the text-based comments (N =2965). We explored the
dialogue engagement patterns by categorizing the TikTok comments
based on the EPITOME framework, a new conceptual framework of
expressed empathy developed by Sharma et al. (2021), which is used to
understand empathy in text-based, asynchronous online conversations.
In step-II, user-focused analysis, we focused on explorative questions
that considered the subjective opinions of TikTok users: -Which values
play a role in the study participants being active on TikTok in connection
to their professional identities (as farmers)? Which attitudes did they
develop when initiating and engaging in climate-farming conversations?
What are their beliefs (personal opinions) on the features of the TikTok
platform that facilitate the empathic climate dialogue engagement?We
aim to explore the participants (data includes interviews with TikTok
farmers) values, attitudes, and beliefs representing their perspectives on
climate dialogue engagement. The Values Coding approach has been
used as an affective coding method that investigates the subjective
qualities of the individuals by directly naming their experiences (Sal-
na, 2021).
This paper is structured into six sections: The following section
provides the background information followed by the third section
which gives the study framework of digital empathy. Next, the data and
methodology section describes the data collection procedure and details
the nine methodological steps that we followed. The ndings section
presents the results of the step-I, and step-II respectively. The nal
section concludes with a summary of the study results, provides limi-
tations of the study, and giving recommendations for future research.
2. Background
Prior to presenting the study framework of digital empathy, this
section aims to provide the main scholarly arguments and ndings as
background information within the three contexts that are the focus of
our study.
2.1. UN COP26 as a landscape for contemporary youth activism
The UN COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland (on October 31st-
November 13th, 2021), is an annual meeting that brought together
120 world leaders and over 40,000 registered participants to assess and
negotiate paths for mitigating and adapting to climate change (UN,
2022). At that time, due to intensive coverage of the conference in
traditional and social media, awareness about the conference increased
signicantly among the public (Boykoff et al., 2022; Conner, 2021).
UN COP26 brought together a global range of young environmental
activists. Despite the many disappointments about the output of the
conference (Bloomeld and Steward, 2022), the young activists have
been described by the media as, The new generation of young climate
activists is tougher, stronger, better organized and a thousand times
more numerous than we were at their age (Ramsey, 2021).
This study decided to use the UN COP 26 as an opportunity to explore
the voices of farmers (as agricultural advocates, environmental activists,
or non-expert participants) as an occupational group that has rarely
been involved in climate dialogues in the past. Understanding the
engagement patterns in farmer-led climate dialogues during UN COP26
may give insights into how to connect climate change with specic
values, attitudes, and beliefs among the communities to which farmers
currently reach out to.
2.2. Social media, climate dialogue, and farmers
Previous studies report that most farmers are in the climate-silent
group, or in defensive mode due to the strong voices surrounding agri-
food issues, such as activism against industrial livestock farming, food
scandals, and conicts between animal welfare activists and farmers
(Stevens et al., 2018; Rotz, 2018; van der Ploeg, 2020).
Even though young farmers around the world are becoming involved
in climate actions in different forms (e.g., marches to make climate
change policy a priority in the 2023 Farm Bill in the US, calls for climate
actions to ensure generational renewal in the EU), farmers are still at the
early stages of using social media to initiate a climate dialogue with their
professional identities (Unay-Gailhard and Brennan, 2023).
However, in the new media age, consumers increasingly rely on so-
cial media for news and weather information (Liu and Kim, 2021), and
theyre looking for transparency in agri-food systems and want to know
who their farmer is and how their food is produced (Petril´
ak et al.,
2020). These trends highlight that consumers are increasingly willing to
ensure a sustainable agri-food sector by supporting farmers involved in
decisions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. These trends indicate
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
an opportunity for farmers to engage more directly with the public and
their consumers.
2.3. TikTok as a social media platform for climate dialogue engagement
Within recent years, TikTok, a video-sharing platform, started to
dominate social media. In 2022, TikTok was the most downloaded app
globally and is particularly popular among the younger generation.
TikTok is best known for its playful and youthful variety of content, from
music-dance videos to political and nancial advice with a millennial
humorstyle of communication (Anderson, 2020; Bhandari and Bimo,
Besides all these best known characteristics, the educational content
of TikTok is also widely consumed. Previous studies that have explored
the educational landscape of TikTok have documented how science
content thats presented in TikTok videos helps in the academic devel-
opment of youth (Azman et al., 2021); increases engagement in scien-
tic experiments (Habibi and Salim, 2021); brings success for new
science communication creators in geoscience (Zawacki et al., 2022);
and inspires for better instruction in higher education (Radin and Light,
In terms of climate dialogue engagement, previous studies (Basch
et al., 2022; Hautea et al., 2021) show that TikTok allows non-expert
users to engage in climate conversations, and this makes the platform
a vital tool for understanding climate change opinions among various
professionals. Therefore, TikTok presents an opportunity as an alterna-
tive way of communication and connecting climate dialogue with
diverse communities including farmers and non-farmer communities.
There is growing evidence that alternative ways to communicate
climate change other than using shock and fearful tones, such as playful
demonstration (vs. a lecture style) or humor (vs. anger), inuences
usersengagement (Kovacheva et al., 2022; Manzo, 2012). Meijers et al.
(2019) have documented that positive communication (e.g., using visual
impact metaphors) increases public engagement in climate dialogues.
Boykoff and Osnes (2019) evaluated how climate change issues are
discussed, proposing that humor (e.g., sarcasm) can be an effective
alternative to climate dialogue engagement. Based on the analysis of
wildre cartoons in the media, Moret-Soler et al. (2022) found that
humor and irony-based cartoons help construct an understanding of
complex climate change realities. The recent literature reviews on
humor in climate communication (Kaltenbacher and Drews, 2020;
Russell et al., 2023) concluded the benets and challenges of the use of
humor and highlighted the fact that the use of metaphors and cultural
references has the power to reach an audience. Even though "it is still
unclear whether using humor in environmental communication is doing more
harm than good (Kaltenbacher and Drews, 2020, p.718), there is
documented evidence of the positive effects of humor in raising
awareness, changing perceptions, increasing learning, and behavior
changes (Kaltenbacher and Drews, 2020).
Our study explores the climate dialogue engagement in the TikTok
platform based on three considerations. First, to reach a broader
segment of global youth where group discussions are based on specic
interests (interest in farmers attitudes, values, and beliefs) among
diverse communities including farmers and non-farmer communities.
The TikTok platform is a popular activism hub, particularly among
youth (Hautea et al., 2021). Second, climate dialogue engagement pat-
terns have already been studied on the social media platforms of Twitter,
YouTube, and Instagram (Chang et al., 2022; Park et al., 2021; Riley and
Robertson, 2021), and there might be differences in the reported pat-
terns on under-examined platform of TikTok. Third, based on the
alternative way of the communication potential of TikTok, our rationale
for using TikTok was that this would likely be a platform where young
farmers would present their climate concerns in a different conversa-
tional tone than on other social media platforms, which could foster
various forms of dialogue engagement experiences.
3. Study framework: digital empathy
The dynamics of our lives have changed with the rise of social media,
and the critical importance of empathy in our society transferred into a
search for digital empathy in our digital lives. In this section, we rst
introduce the emerging framework of digital empathy in different study
elds, including its importance in climate dialogue studies, followed by
the used denition of digital empathy in our research.
3.1. The emerging framework of digital empathy
A growing amount of literature on digital empathy shows the
measurable impact of virtual empathy on individuals and communities.
A Web of Science keyword search for digital empathy and virtual
empathy indicates a growing body of literature over the last twenty
years, particularly in educational research (Chen, 2018; Redden and
Way, 2017; Wambsganss et al., 2021; Friesem, 2016); the medical
literature (Terry and Cain, 2016; Sperandeo et al., 2021), and commu-
nications studies (Deri et al., 2018; Hale et al., 2020; Ravishankar, 2021;
Lovell et al., 2022; Zhou and Jurgens, 2020; Sharma et al., 2021).
In the study elds that intersect with communications literature, the
predictability potential of digital empathy arises as an essential question
(Deri et al., 2018; Hale et al., 2020; Ravishankar, 2021; Lovell et al.,
2022; Zhou and Jurgens, 2020; Sharma et al., 2020, 2021). For example,
the factors inuencing digital empathy have been investigated for in-
dividuals with limited mobility (e.g., cancer patients) and groups with
weak ofine support (e.g., marginalized farmers in remote regions and
anorexia patients). Hale et al. (2020) explored the predictors of digital
empathic support for social media posts created by cancer patients,
reporting how the construction of online narratives inuences the
reception of digital empathic support. Ravishankar (2021) investigated
digital platformspotential to generate empathy and collect small loans
for marginalized farmers to ght poverty in India, while a study by
Lovell et al. (2022) examined the role of empathy-based communication
in public organization communications during COVID-19.
3.2. Digital empathy in climate dialogue studies
The importance of empathy in the climate dialogue rst began to be
documented in recent years. According to ndings by Swim and
Bloodhart (2015), empathic messages positively affect engaging in
pro-environmental behavior, particularly facilitating donating to envi-
ronmental groups. Hobson and Niemeyer (2013) explain that empathic
negation is one of the essential components of climate change skepti-
cism, which explains what climate skeptics value and believe.
Compared to many communication studies incorporating digital
empathy, few studies provide insights into dialogue engagement when
farmers speak about their climate concerns. The experimental research
by McBeth et al. (2022) asked the question, Do climate change skeptics
empathize with a narrative that argues the opposite, and does it matter who
tells the narrative? and found that climate change skeptics empathized
more with an organic farmer when he/she shares a pro-climate change
narrative than they did with another occupational group (i.e. me-
chanics) when they shared the same narrative. The study results suggest
that for climate change skeptics, it is not the narrative but the narrator
who matters most of the time.
As documented by previous rural sociology studies that explore the
use of social media by farmers, the new media creates a sense of self-
recognition among others at the global level both by validating or
invalidating career self-concepts (e.g., recognition of interest in their
product from far away cultures versus disrespect due to food and
dietary-related movements) (Unay-Gailhard and Sim˜
oes, 2022). The
study by Riley and Roberston (2021) found that farmers social media
posts resonate with empathy ritualswhen discussing the difculties of
contemporary farming practices. In this sense, these empathy rituals
include the online provision of thoughts and values by sharing
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
emotional engagements (Brownlie and Shaw, 2019).
Due to skepticism about climate change appearing as a current social
phenomenon (Hobson and Niemeyer, 2013), which is reected by a
growing polarization of climate change communication on social media
(Colvin et al., 2020), we assume that the framework of digital empathy
holds an important potential for distinguishing climate dialogue
engagement patterns.
3.3. Denitions: digital empathy and the EPITOME framework of
expressed empathy
Based on the previous studies by Davis (1980) and Sharma et al.
(2020), we dene digital empathy as, traditional empathic character-
istics that include emotional empathy (emotional reactions) and cogni-
tive empathy (interpretational and explorational engagements) through
text-based online communications.
Studies that are interested in online communities as a source of
support have used both qualitative and quantitative analyses to measure
digital empathic support based on different measurement scales (Hale
et al., 2020; Sperandeo et al., 2021; Zhou and Jurgens, 2020; Wambs-
ganss et al., 2021). In this study, step-I of the analyses was based on the
EPITOME framework to qualitatively measure the empathy expressed in
online text messages (detailed in the following section).
The EPITOME framework was chosen due to the objective of the
study, which was to measure expressed empathy in text-based messages.
The EPITOME framework was designed by Sharma et al. (2020) and
developed explicitly to understand empathy in online conversations that
use text-based asynchronous contexts. TikTok is a type of asynchronous
communication platform where videos dominate the platform and it
does not explicitly rely on time-based dialogue engagement in its
text-based messages.
4. Data, methodology and study samples
This study utilized a multi-method design that includes two research
steps: Step-I, post-focused analysis, and step-II, user-focused analysis
with nine main stages. Fig. 1 provides an overview of the methodolog-
ical ow of the study.
4.1. Step-I: post-focused analysis
The data collection of this study commenced with the creation of new
TikTok accounts. For each step (step-I and II), to collect the maximum
number of data and avoid bias caused by a single users prole, we
created two new TikTok accounts with two different mobile devices and
IP addresses, in addition to using an already created TikTok account.
This is because TikToks algorithm heavily depends on a users prole,
such as their sign-up information, using a mobile device, IP address, and
user interactions, such as liking, commenting, and sharing videos.
In step-I, we analyzed text-based comments on the selected TikTok
posts. This step aimed to understand how dialogue engagement was
directed and attached to the farmers that created the posts on climate-
farming issues.
i) Identication of a socio-political actuality at a global scale: We
began the purposive sampling by identifying an appropriate
socio-political actuality on social media that potentially triggered
young farmers and let them comment on their climate concerns.
The UN COP 26 was chosen because it was the most recent socio-
political event at a global scale at the time of the study that also
witnessed a high number of environmental activism from youth.
As highlighted by previous studies, the hashtags of international
events are more likely to end up with hundreds of thousands of
media engagements globally (Liu and Kim, 2021). UN COP26, as
a global socio-political occurrence, was an opportunity for
encouraging farmers to post personalized information about the
event, and it was thus considered timely to observe the online
dialogue engagement surrounding this event.
ii) Identication of relevant hashtags: The data collection strategy
followed the practice of prior social media studies that use
hashtags as a research starting point (Riley and Robertson, 2021,
2022; Basch et al., 2022; Chang et al., 2022). Data was collected
from JanuaryFebruary 2022 via the most popular UN COP26
hashtags (#cop26; #cop26uk; #cop26glasgow) used together
with the farming-related English-language hashtags (#farmer;
#farmlife; #farm365; #farm24; #dairy; #dairyfarm; #dairy-
farming; #ranchers; #usfarmers; #ukfarming; #australiafarmers;
Fig. 1. Methodological ow of the study.
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
#irelandfarming; #newzelandfarm; #canadafarmers). Since it
was not possible to conclude that these hashtags conrmed a
TikTok user was an actual farmer, we also checked their accounts
to determine their professional identities.
iii) Eligibility of the collected data (N =51): The rst two authors
watched 51 identied videos together and discussed their eligi-
bility. 22 videos were excluded based on four main criteria: 1)the
post did not have any reactions from viewers, such as posts that
did not have like(s), comment(s), or emoji(s); 2)the TikTok post
was not in English; and 3)the post did not include the searched-
for content. TikTok may incentivize users to use popular or
actual hashtags that might not relate to their content, so we thus
eliminated videos that used the identied hashtags but were not
actually about the relevant content. Based on these selection
criteria, we concluded with 29 eligible videos, which, along with
the accompanying comments, were downloaded and stored using
the screen recording function.
iv) Writing analytical memos about the selected TikTok videos (N =
29): Before starting to code the digital empathy of the TikTok
comments, the rst two researchers collectively wrote an
analytical memo. As suggested by previous studies, writing
analytical memo documents reections and helps to create an
intellectual workplace for researchers (Salda˜
na, 2021; Thornberg
and Charmaz, 2014). In our study, the process of writing
analytical memos aimed to create a common understanding of the
content and context of the video.
Study sample-I: 29 videos were consisting of 2965 conversations
involving about 187 accounts. Based on what the videos featured and
the users bioinformation, we concluded that the sample included
TikTok users from the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New
Zealand and was comprised of 14 men and 10 women (in 5 videos there
was no identity-related information). The selected videos frequently
included the following ve content aspects: 1)documenting their current
work setting; 2)depicting exchange to create awareness about environ-
mental concerns surrounding their farming practices; 3)expressing
feelings and emotions; 4)expressing mockery with sarcasm and humor;
and 5) thinking in a reective manner by sharing personal knowledge
and perspectives.
v) Coding the comments in the selected TikTok videos (N =2965): The
rst two authors read each comment during the same timeframe,
considering the semiotic interactions of written text, emojis, and
images used in the comments. After reading the comments, the au-
thors individually classied each comment with the guidance of the
EPITOME framework (Sharma et al., 2020).
The EPITOME framework includes three digital empathic commu-
nication mechanisms: for emotional empathy I-Emotional Reactions,
and for cognitive empathy II-Interpretation Engagement, and III-
Explorational Engagement. The EPITOME framework differentiates be-
tween these three categories as no communication, weak commu-
nication, and strongcommunication.
However, moving through the coding, to be more explicit regarding
the annotation details, we adjusted these differentiated coding cate-
gories based on the structure of our data and our own interpretations. In
our study we coded the digital empathy of the comments of the selected
TikTok videos with four online dialogue engagement categories, and
eight sub-categories, which was: I-Emotional Reactions (differentiated
between i) expressed briey or ii) expressed explicitly); II-Interpretation
Engagement (differentiated between iii) similarity or iv) paraphrases);
III-Explorational Engagement (differentiated between v) specic or vi)
generic); and IV-Non-communication of Digital Empathy (differentiated
between vii) civil tone or viii) uncivil tone).
4.2. Step-II: user-focused analysis
As a second step, we considered the perspectives and experiences of
TikTok users (farmers). This step was aimed at understanding the Tik-
Tok userspractices of posting and engaging with TikTok regarding their
climate-farming related concerns.
vi) Identication of potential farmers as TikTok users: The potential
study participants were identied by three sampling strategies: 1)
publicly available data of the TikTok users that we analyzed in
step-I; 2)a hashtag search, and publicly available press articles
that present TikTok inuencers from the farming sector; 3)
snowball sampling where research participants were asked to
assist the study in identifying other potential farmers who use
TikTok with their farming identities. The identied relevant users
(N =87) were approached via their publicly available contact
information, such as email addresses, phone, or social media
vii) Designing the interview protocol: The interview protocol was
developed by addressing the perspectives of TikTok users
regarding their values towards engagement on TikTok with their
professional identities, the attitudes they develop on the plat-
form, and their beliefs on the features of TikTok that facilitate
climate dialogue engagement. Our questions were purposely
open-ended to guide the discussion. The participants whose
TikTok videos we analyzed in step-I (N =4) were approached
with further questions about their experiences regarding the
engagement to elicit deeper discussions on their videos posted
during UN COP26. An ethical clearance certicate was obtained
from the ethics committee of the rst authors institution.
viii) Interviews with TikTok users: In total, we interviewed 12 TikTok
users who self-identify themselves as farmers and who were En-
glish speaking. Interviews were conducted online and in person
from JanuaryMarch 2023. Each interview lasted between 30
and 40 min and all of the interviews were recorded with the
participants permission and transcribed with Nvivo software.
Study Sample-II: Our sample consisted of 12 TikTok users who had
public accounts with a varied number of followers (max ~820,000 and
min ~800). Five of the TikTok users reported that they post frequently
about their environmental concerns surrounding farming. Our sample
comprised of ve men and seven women (US =6; UK =3; Canada =2;
Australia =1). The average age of the respondents was 34 and all of our
participants were full-time farmers. Most participants were multigen-
erational farmers involved in animal and crop farming, while others
were engaged in mixed farming and logging. In terms of their social
media use, all participants reported that they are also active on other
social media platforms, with Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube being
the most common other platforms they were active on in parallel with
ix) Qualitative analysis of the interviews with Values Coding: Data
collected from the semi-structured interviews aimed to investi-
gate the subjective perspectives of TikTok users by directly
acknowledging their experiences. We used the affective coding
methods of Values Coding and analyzed the data using short
codes (e.g., professional responsibility, sociability, timeliness)
rather than sentences. Values Coding is considered an integrated
system of values, attitudes, and beliefs of human experiences
(Kozinets and Gambetti 2021; Daiute, 2013), and dened as "a
value is what you think/feel is important. An attitude is how you
think/feel about someone or something. And a belief is what you
personally think/feel to be true(Salda˜
na, 2021, p. 168). Codes
are constructed inductively, and reection on their meanings and
interaction between values, attitudes, and beliefs is presented
with three broad themes.
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
5. Findings
Our ndings focus rst on exploring expressed empathy and the non-
communication of empathy towards TikTok videos posted by farmers
during the UN COP26. We then explore TikTok farmersperspectives on
the TikTok platforms potential for emphatic support.
5.1. Results of step-I: post-focused analysis
Our results highlight the central nding that digital empathy in-
cludes all of the investigated empathy categories with different levels of
support. The typical engagement style of the analyzed climate dialogues
is supportive, with a strong level of emotional reactions and involve-
ment with a non-communication of empathy with a civil tone. There was
a moderate level of interpretational engagement. We observe a tentative
level of support for explorational engagement and involvement in dia-
logue with an uncivil tone. Fig. 2 provides a detailed overview of the
ndings from the emerging digital empathy, as well as the no empathy
categories and exemplar quotes.
I Emotional Reactions: We found a strong level of support for
emotional reactions. Most of the time, emotional reactions aim to
express a mutual understanding through thoughts, feelings, and
stories. The comments briey expressed their understanding,
with just short text messages or emojis being more frequent than
comments expressing mutual understanding explicitly with
further thoughts and feelings. Emotional reactions tended to
come from both farming and non-farming participants.
i) Expressed briey: Comments that expressed the feelings, ex-
periences, perceptions, and viewpoints with warmth and
compassion towards the TikTok user/dialogue participants,
often including support, agreement, and conrmation in the
form of short text messages, such as I love your logic. Some
comments did not include any text-written comments but
included supportive and conformational emoji(s) or just likes,
with the applause emoji, heart emoji, and hundred points
emoji being the most often used ones.
ii) Expressed explicitly: Comments that were explicitly expressed
often included one or several additional supportive messages
such as So good to see that there are actually people who care
about the environment whilst still getting the job done. Love
it. We found that explicitly expressed thoughts in our sample
tended to hold an orientation that was either linked to per-
sonal concerns (e.g., comments using ‘Isuch as So true. Ive
never thought about it like this. Great point) or to be driven
by relational concerns with others (e.g., comments using
we, such as We need the farmers to keep producing
excellent meat, keep it up please).
II Interpretational Engagement: Our study found a moderate
level of support for interpretational engagement. Even comments
that included information sharing about a topic may indicate an
understating of the TikTok user/dialogue participants view-
points but do not count as communicating an understanding (e.g.,
big dairy companies are the polluters, not the farmers). The
study annotated these comments under the non-communication
of empathy.
iii) Similarity: Interpretational engagement comments described
similar feelings of the TikTok user/dialogue participant. The
comments tended to communicate understanding through
the emphasizing of individual agreement (e.g., I had this
conversation with my other half yesterday. So true).
iv) Paraphrases: Comments that contained paraphrases of the
TikTok users/dialogue participants expressions, such as
Denitely, stop shipping meat halfway round the world
when we can produce better herefor a TikTok post on a
similar topic. Such expressions tended to show an interpre-
tational engagement by re-expressing the meaning of the
TikTok post by using different words.
III Explorational Engagement: Even though we found a tentative
support for an explorational engagement, the number of explo-
rational reactions was very high for certain videos, particularly
for videos where the TikTok users created content that valued the
process and kept a conversational tone. Most of the time, such
explorational engagement comments tended to be from a non-
farming audience, and contained curiosity, questioning, and a
willingness to resonate with the answer if coherence emerged
through dialogue.
v) Specic: Often, comments specifying a certain point included
direct questions to the TikTok user/dialogue participants
aiming for a personal discussion, such as If you plant a tree,
whats the chance it will reach maturity? I doubt more than
half but what do I know three planted is sure better than
vi) Generic: Comments that did not specify a certain point to the
TikTok user/dialogue participants and were often aimed at a
further discussion on a general topic related to the stated or
not stated issue in the dialogue. These commenters mainly
used the space for social debate, and TikTok posts helped
them to connect quickly with diverse communities (farmers
and non-farmers). These generic comments often supported
the TikTok users post with not stated but related arguments
via open and close-ended questions such as Can anybody
name anything that has changed in your daily life due to the
local effects of climate change?In some cases, such a way of
engaging in a dialogue tends to privilege personal opinion at
the expense of reducing expert authoritiesviews that rely on
science-based evidence.
IV Non-communication of Digital Empathy: We found strong
support for the non-communication of empathy on a spectrum
between engagement with civil to uncivil attitudes. In our sample
most of the non-empathic comments were containing civil tones,
providing factual, personal, and statistical information.
vii) Civil tone: Comments only providing information and
advice in a civil tone mainly included three types of ex-
pressions: 1)providing informational comments gathered
from informant actors such as the media and scientists (e.g.,
The science shows that grass-fed livestock is carbon
neutral. The issue is with intensive farming and food is-
sues); 2)sharing their perceptions and understandings (e.g.,
Deforestation will eventually put loggers out of business);
and 3)sharing personal experiences (e.g., Id take 1980 in a
heartbeat, I went to the creamery meeting today. 15 farmers
showed up from ve countries, used to be 400 farmers from
two countries). Furthermore, many civil tone comments
specically referred to their job titles to display their
expertise with the discussed subjects, such as Im a teacher
of …”; I have a master in …”; I work in both sectors …”.
viii) Uncivil tone: The uncivil comments included criticisms of
political leaders, countries due to their unethical economic
interests, activists, and the TikTok user/dialogue partici-
pants. The uncivil patriotic statements expressed were as
persistent as unpatriotic ones (e.g., Irish farming is one of
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
Fig. 2. Findings of step-I: How does engagement occur when farmers speak out about the climate?
Note: Following studies by Clair and Dufresne (2004) and Unay-Gailhard and Sim˜
oes (2022), we indicate the Level of Support (LOS): Strong support: a majority of the
analyzed TikTok comments were included in this category of online dialogue engagement; Moderate support: some of the analyzed TikTok comments contained
statements in this category; Tentative support: a very small number of the analyzed TikTok comments included statements in this category.
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
the best ways of farming in the world. FACTversus Truth
hurts. Urban sprawl especially here in the US is probably the
worst thing thats happening). Most of the time, the nega-
tive regard for other countriessuccess in climate policies or
comparison between countries greenhouse-gas emissions
from food production helped with the easy engagement of
external comments formed around the topic that kept the
dialogue continuing. Many uncivil comments about vegans,
vegetarians, and climate activists used short insults. In many
posts, the written statistics, in combination with sounds and
visuals, reinforced a dialogue showing skepticism of the
sources of the information, and in some cases, in an uncivil
way. Particularly notable is that critics emphasized that the
shared factual information was wrong and, therefore, they
are not qualied to keep speaking about the impacts of
climate change with these given facts (e.g., shit talking;
bias research, its inhuman to ignore the facts).
5.2. Findings: Step-II, user-focused analysis
Our results give insights into the TikTok farmers perspectives, and
particularly for three broad themes. The rst concerns their values that
play a role in being active on TikTok with their professional identities
and the reasons they believe their self-representation on TikTok is
important for social interactions. The second theme focuses on the at-
titudes they developed when they initiated their climate-farming related
concerns, including the perspectives of climate-silent participants. The
third theme concerns TikTok users opinions on the features of the
TikTok platform regarding public engagement of climate-farming con-
versations. Fig. 3 provides the list of codes with three themes.
5.2.1. Theme-I: Self-representation on TikTok with a professional identity
Among the respondents, one of the highly pronounced core values of
TikTok for their farmer identities is the self-representation to a global/
wider audience through simple actions (e.g., micro-videos with simple
content and a light communication style). What participants value in
TikTok is not only related to its best-known characteristics of enjoyment
(e.g., joy, humor, playfulness, easygoingness), but also as a professional
tool (e.g., being in contact with the next generation of consumers, a
business presence) as put forward by farmer 7 and farmer 8 from the US:
"The research shows that Gen Z decides within the rst eight seconds
of whether or not theyre interested in a product TikTok is where
the next generation of consumers are headed."
"It is just Im a business owner, and you know, you got to keep up
with the time."
Besides the importance of social interactions (e.g., meeting new
people, cooperation) and following the direction of digital life (e.g.,
embracing new platforms in a timely manner), the participants also
stressed the potential of TikTok as a dynamic learning landscape (e.g.,
gathering inspiration, knowledge-exchange with the Q&A feature that
allows users to ask or answer questions on the app). As a farmer 10 from
Scotland and a farmer 4 from Australia, put it:
"Its been a really good way to share skills. I would say TikTok is an
amazing learning platform. Its quite different from YouTube. There
are no classics professors and lots of tutorials."
"People are willing to learn, and I can respond easily with a video
sometimes comments can be taken out of context. So thats what I
like about TikTok. At the end of the conversation, you can have a
script of videos on the one subject."
Fig. 3. Findings of step-II: TikTok farmers values, attitudes, and beliefs
Note: In step-II study approached the questions -Which values play a role in the study participants being active on TikTok in connection to their professional
identities (as farmers)? Which attitudes did they develop when initiating and engaging in climate-farming conversations? What are their beliefs on the features of the
TikTok platform that facilitate the empathic climate dialogue engagement? with qualitative analysis of interviews with the Values Coding approach. This gure
shows the codes that were used to present this studys step-II ndings within three themes.
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
These orientations are directly connected to respondentsvalues of
TikTok interactions with their professional identities. Involvement in
TikTok is about having a voice and investing in others while balancing
joy and professionalism.
5.2.2. Theme-II: Initiate a climate dialogue
Respondents believed that only a few farmers prefer to engage in the
climate dialogue in their daily life and on social media. For most par-
ticipants, farmers engagement in the climate dialogue via their social
media accounts requires courage, solid knowledge, cautiousness, and
deliberate communication due to the polarized and intimidating nature
of the dialogue. In our sample, we observed both participants who do not
prefer to initiate climate-farming conversations (climate-silent partici-
pants), as well as those who initiate climate-farming conversations on a
regular basis through their TikTok accounts (not climate-silent partici-
pants). Perspectives of these two groups are presented in the following: Group-I: perspectives of not climate-silent participants. Core to
most respondentsmotivation to initiate a climate dialogue is their belief
in the subsequent need for more information on climate issues from
farmersperspectives. Participants from that not-silent group repeatedly
said: "Most people do not know how farmers respect the environment for
their farming practices." This belief is highly evident through the
motivation among participants to keep creating climate-farming con-
tent. Participants generally expressed how engagement in the climate
dialogue mainly comes from the younger generation from local, na-
tional, and global areas, including farming and non-farming commu-
nities. As a result of support from their audience (e.g., spreading a video
with millions of views or asking specic questions about current climate-
farming related events), farmers noticed that they had a position in the
climate discourse and felt the responsibility, as expressed by female
farmer 2 from Canada, and male farmer 10 from Scotland:
On TikTok, the most important lesson Ive learned is that people do
not know what farmers are doing to help the climate. Im connecting
the dots by showing our farm, how we reduce fertilizer emissions.
In climate change discussions, one needs to recognize that farmers
are at the forefront of the solution, not just the problem.
Interviewees shared a range of attitudes for promoting public
engagement in the climate-farming-related dialogue on TikTok, and
diverse outcomes such as engagement might be expected to contribute
to dialogue participants understanding. For the most part, these atti-
tudes and expectations let them emphasize key arguments in their
videos, such as providing personal life stories (e.g., Im the 4th gener-
ation living on this land, then I care about the health of my soil),
sharing rsthand farming issue experiences related to climate change, or
providing statistics from ofcial sources in their countries via visuals,
music, and texts.
Key elaborated attitudes that participants develop when they initiate
and engage in climate-farming conversations were: i) choosing to not
use too defensive of a tone, to not use jargon, abbreviations, and big
words; ii) to be reactive to all polarized comments with compassion; and
iii) to keep objectivity as a goal to meet when they engage in replying to
any opposition. Two farmers from Canada and Scotland, respectively,
expressed their acknowledgment of other climate dialogue participants
"The middle ground approach is possible. Its always one persons
completely right or another persons completely wrong. Ive learned
to take both of those, combine them, and just make a thing that
makes sense for both parties. I nd that has the most success."
One of the things that doesnt work is excluding people from the
conversation how you respond to comments is as important as
how you engage. Group-II: perspectives of climate-silent participants. Participants
who prefer to be silent on their climate-farming related concerns on
TikTok or who prefer to post about their environmental concerns indi-
rectly (e.g., share other usersposts) are likely to have the perception
that they will face judgment from the public. In the case of these silent
farmers, uncomfortable experiences with their previous posts about the
climate lead to not engaging in actual climate discourses, and rather to
talking indirectly to convey that farmers should not be treated as
climate deniers.
The narratives of climate-silent participants tell the position of their
profession in the climate discourses as an easy targetdue to the land
occupation and involvement with animal farming, which are highly
leading conicts in soil health and animal welfare conversations. Initi-
ating a climate dialogue is associated with "risky content" due to the
potential to destroy their accountability among their consumers, or such
a dialogue requires endless conversationwith a lot of effort, regardless
of whether the conversation is related to the farming sector.
As a consequence, a TikTok user, no matter their interest in pursuing
conict or not, must interact with another video and overcome with
another attitude. Furthermore, the narratives of these climate-silent
participants repeatedly mention the platforms limitations. For almost
all, the complexity of the topic is colored by the perception that the short
video format of TikTok is not suitable for explaining their concerns. As a
result of all these messages, farmers may easily choose to be silent (or
self-censor them) to avoid conict or to present a political opposition.
5.2.3. Theme-III: Empathy & public engagement in climate dialogue
The respondents have a similar view about the high potential of
empathic reactions in environmental conversations on TikTok relative
to other social media platforms. Their thoughts were most prominent
when they described the potential of empathic reactions: First, the
importance of the architecture of the platform. Second, a belief that
participants have the potential to capture attention with their look that
is different to how farmers are portrayed on traditional and other social
media platforms. These two most prominent thoughts were presented in
the following way:
The rst signicant emphasis was related to the characteristics and
architecture of the TikTok platform concerning four key arguments:
i) the way of spreading messages in a sensational way (like a caffeine
bomb) that results in a high number of engagements in a short time
that is different than a YouTube videos which need more time to be
consumer and with different approaches (such as get your coffee,
and have a seat).
ii) relative to Instagram (as described in the narratives as a static piece
of art,pleasing approach,” “esthetic), on TikTok, the imperfection
in self-presentation promotes engagement that values the person
more than, as these words put it:
Having face-to-face video interaction with people, replying again
with face-to-face interaction videos makes the platform (TikTok) a
lot genuinely nicer about it and more empathetic.
iii) compared to Twitter, which is associated with several narratives
that are highly polarized and wordy, on TikTok, the
straightforward self-representation with playful and humorous
tones means that arguments take place with less tension, as put
forward by farmer 1:
Backgrounds of TikTok posts create incentives to get to know
somebody better than just words written on a paper. What people
argue is against words, not against people.
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Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
iv) the technical dimension of TikTok that contributes to easy dia-
logue engagement are described as giving a space for a more
experimental way of communication,; easy to respond to other
people with micro-videos,; and superior editing tools.
As a second major emphasis, respondents often referred to the large
part of the power of empathic engagement in dialogues to stem from the
particularity of farming as an occupation, which is related to their un-
usual portrayal on TikTok that destroys the xed views towards
farmers. The core belief of many interviewees is that farmers in society
are perceived as part of the environmental problem, often portrayed
in old school way of discussions with conservative moods, and talking
about the profession more mechanically. This shared belief forms a core
guidance that denes the way they search for new storytelling styles and
how they elaborate upon the reasoning for empathic reactions.
6. Discussion and conclusion
This study explores public engagement in farmer-led initiated
climate dialogues on TikTok. The research centers on the empathic
dialogue principle, and we investigate engagements in climate dialogues
by identifying emotional and cognitive empathy in conversations and
extracting their rationales. A two-step analysis was involved that
investigated digital empathy towards TikTok posts created by farmers
(step-I: post-focused analysis) and exploring TikTok usersperspectives
on public engagement with their climate-farming related posts (step-II:
user-focused analysis). Including these two main data sources allowed us
to understand the differences between the two, that is how engagement
occurs when farmers present their point of view to others versus how
farmers perceive the engagement to their posts when talking about the
Our ndings conclude with four main points that provide directions
for future research. First, our results provide insight into studies inves-
tigating the outcome of climate communication among communities
that share specic interests and values (Hayhoe, 2021; van Swol et al.,
2022). Second, this study advanced the research on cognitive engage-
ment in climate communication (Topp et al., 2019; McBeth et al., 2022).
Third, this research answers the call to explore the climate conversation
on under-examined social media platforms (Pearce et al., 2019; Liu and
Kim, 2021) and elaborates on the role of humor in environmental
communication (Kaltenbacher and Drews, 2020; Russell et al., 2023)
while also exploring the educational landscape of TikTok (Zawacki
et al., 2022; Tan et al., 2022). Finally, the results expand our knowledge
on the effects of social media on farming identities (Riley and Robertson,
2021; Unay-Gailhard and Brennan, 2023), mainly giving insights into
how digital empathy serves to break down self-silencing among farmers.
The following subsection aims to discuss these four points with
concluding remarks.
6.1. Emotional empathy in the climate communication and community
shared values
First, the results of this study suggest that the typical empathic
engagement is emotional reactions (expressing emotions briey or
explicitly), followed by cognitive engagement (interpretational and
explorational engagement, respectively). The subjective perspectives of
TikTok users demonstrates that their climate-farming related TikTok
posts with self-representation (e.g., showing their environmental
farming practices, demonstrating how climate change is harming pro-
duction) creates empathic reactions or civil tone dialogue engagements,
particularly when theyre involved in a dialogue with a manner of
acknowledging and being reactive to the participants comments.
This empathic reaction pattern aligns with a previous study that has
highlighted the publics engagement with farmers social media posts
with "empathy rituals" (Riley and Robertson, 2021). Considering the
online networks of farmers as an afuent community in terms of the
presence of conversations based on the shared values about farming,
food production, a rural way of life, the observed empathic reaction is
consistent with communication studies that have shown evidence that
having climate dialogues with individuals that share specic values and
interests can support positive conversational outcomes (Bloomeld
et al., 2020; Hayhoe 2021; Ettinger et al., 2023).
6.2. Cognitive empathy and climate-communication engagement
Second, our analysis reveals that even though the climate dialogues
that farmers facilitate contain alternative ways of communication (e.g.,
expressing emotions with mockery or reectively sharing their thinking
with dynamic demonstration videos), it was not sufcient to create a
strong level of support for cognitive empathy. In our sample, the
involvement in climate dialogue with cognitive engagement (particu-
larly as an explorational engagement including comments that aim to
explore feelings, experiences, and viewpoints of the TikTok user/dia-
logue participant) was very high only for certain videos. Understanding
the rationale behind this nding requires further analysis of cognitive
engagement and its relationship between the narrative (story) and
narrator (identity).
Further to that point, our ndings align with the study by Topp et al.
(2019), which found not a direct but indirect link between cognitive
engagement and entertaining climate videos. The authors found that
entertaining videos may increase the perceived entertainment, and that
perceived entertainment increases the cognitive engagement indepen-
dently from the narrators characteristics (e.g., narrators political
identity, age, and education).
As documented by McBeth et al. (2022), who investigated the
narrative with which identity plays a role in the climate conversation
engagement: listening to climate-related narratives from organic
farmers versus mechanics matters for climate skeptics. In our study,
while the narrators share similar professional identities (farmer), a po-
tential challenge is that the characteristics of the narrators and the
communication style of the narrative (e.g., engaging presenters with
charisma) may impact the explorational cognitive engagement. Apart
from the relationship between narrative versus narrator, the ndings of
a relatively low level of support for explorational cognitive engagement
(compared to an emotional empathic reaction and interpretational
cognitive engagement) is also understandable because cognitive
engagement, most of the time, requires advancing on the paths of
emotional reactions.
To that point, citizen engagement and activism represents a complex
web of contexts and emotions. While some research does point out that
discrete emotional reactions are not as reliable for predicting engage-
ment with climate activism (Chapman et al., 2017; Ettinger et al., 2021;
Sanford et al., 2023), the emotional bonds between individuals are seen
as the foundation for individual and community agency around common
general needs (Brennan et al., 2022; Odera et al., 2022; Mata-
rrita-Cascante and Brennan, 2012). For the latter, engagement is an
outcome of the relationships developed through purposive interaction
around common general needs. It is this interaction that builds social
and emotional bonds, increases understanding, awareness and empathy,
and opens up venues for engagement over a range of topics, including
climate activism. Similarly, recent work has focused on environmental
empathy as a factor in behavioral changes toward pro-environmental
activism (Berenguer, 2007, 2010; Tam, 2013). Altogether, the motiva-
tions for activism represent a complex web of societal, cultural, and
personal attributes that can emerge at the local level, while also being
applied to a more global level.
6.3. Farmer-led climate communication on TikTok platform
Third, we found a strong level of support for the non-communication
of empathy on a spectrum between engagement in climate dialogue with
civil to uncivil tones. Together with all investigated categories
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
(communication and non-communication of empathy), the results sug-
gest that the non-communication of empathy with comments containing
civil tones is as persistent as empathic comments that express emotions
briey or explicitly. The evidence from our two-step analysis suggests
that emotional reactions and non-communication of empathy with a
civil tone tended to come from both farming and non-farming
These ndings show that TikTok does not view engaging in climate
conversations just with emotional empathic support to the posts of
farmers; it is also a platform that includes non-empathic communication
with comments that share beliefs, gather knowledge from different
sources, give advice, and share perceptions and understanding. Because
the TikTok platform differs in terms of the way of communication and
the architecture of Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, our
results are well-suited for comparison with other platforms.
Social media and climate conversation studies are in the early stage
of understating the different roles that social media platforms play in
facilitating dialogue engagement (Liu and Kim, 2021). Each social
media platform may affect climate dialogue participation differently
(Tuitjer et al., 2022), and to what extent non-expert individuals feel
empowered to participate in climate dialogue depends on the dialogue
venue (Ettinger et al., 2023).
For example, climate dialogue on Twitter contributes to a polariza-
tion between climate skeptics and climate-aware individuals (Moernaut
et al., 2022). While we are living with solid evidence that a dairy- and
meat-based diet is causing devastation to the environment, Facebook
discussions on livestock production may encompass the controversy and
polemical representations and shed light on the ways of livestock pro-
duction legitimization on its platform (Olausson, 2018). The analysis of
Greta Thunbergs YouTube videos document how strongly ageism,
sexism, and ableism are ingrained in climate change communication
(Park et al., 2021).
Climate dialogue among non-experts on TikTok. Responders notions
about the potential for TikTok to inuence non-expert youth engage-
ment are highly consistent. Our results show that TikTok offers signi-
cant potential for discussion among non-experts and, most of the time, is
associated with seeking an imperfect climate discourse (different than
the elite discourse (Olausson, 2018) nature of Twitter) with brief
pre-dialogue opportunities. This result aligns with the ndings of Basch
et al. (2022) and Hautea et al. (2021), which highlight the TikTok
platforms affordances that help with the involvement of non-experts in
climate dialogues among diverse backgrounds.
TikTok as a learning landscape. What is notable among the narratives
of the study participants is how the TikTok platform provides a learning
landscape. Even though there is a rising interest in the educational di-
mensions of TikTok (Azman et al., 2021; Habibi and Salim, 2021) as a
possible way of effective science communication (Zawacki et al., 2022;
Tan et al., 2022), there are limited studies that investigate the alterna-
tive ways of climate-farming communications on social media. As our
ndings suggest, the self-representation of farmers on TikTok with
professional identities is not only about having a voice and joy but also
reciprocally investing in others: gathering and sharing experiences and
knowledge by entertaining videos with informal educational contexts.
Alternative ways of climate communication on TikTok. For non-climate
silent study participants, mockery (the use of sarcasm, irony, humor)
was noted as one of the strategies for engaging with other users. Creating
climate-farming related content with short, experimental, and dynamic
style videos and expressing mockery can turn into sensational attention,
expressed as like a caffeine bomb and emphasized as a way to raise
awareness. This nding contributes to studies documenting the rela-
tionship between humor and climate communication engagement
(Boykoff, 2011; Boykoff and Osnes, 2019; Kaltenbacher and Drews,
2020; Russell et al., 2023), particularly within the study by Kovacheva
et al. (2022) and Manzo (2012), which provides evidence of how simple,
humorous messages (e.g., cartoons, internet memes) can encourage
people to engage in online conversations about climate change.
6.4. Farmer identity in the digital age
Fourth, our analysis identied some fundamental values that shape
the attitudes towards climate-dialogue initiation efforts among farmers,
which end up with a division of non-climate silent and climate silent
groups. The core belief of the need for further information on climate
issues from farmersperspectives conditions the degree to which farmers
do initiate a dialogue.
For the non-climate silent group, as a result of empathic support from
their audience, farmers noticed that they had a position in the climate
discourse and sought to promote engagement. For the climate silent
group, the complexity of the topic (political dimensions and its scientic
knowledge intensive nature) led them to self-censor the climate dia-
logue. This research assumes that the framework of digital empathy
holds the potential to understand rationales that mobilize dialogue
engagement and helps to overcome the climate spiral of silence
(Ettinger et al., 2023), where individuals are not willing to express their
opinions if their belief is not shared by others, which in turn creates a
climate silence spiral (Geiger and Swim, 2016).
Even though food-related social movements (e.g., organic and local
food movements) have motivated a growing number of youths, partic-
ularly females involved with alternative farming practices as a means of
transforming the food system or experiencing a way of farm life (Bruce,
2019; Unay-Gailhard and Bojnec, 2021), farmers are still in the early
stages of using social media with their professional identities (Unay--
Gailhard and Brennan, 2023). Further to that point, our results note how
digital empathy contributes to breaking down the "climate spiral of
silence" among farmers and the communities they reach out to. These
results give insights into the changing dynamics of farming identities in
the digital age, where (re)presentations of farming live (Riley and
Robertson, 2022)- may signal a need for emotional and cognitive public
6.5. Limitations and future research
This study has some limitations and also theres potential to further
explore digital empathy in climate dialogues initiated by farmers. First,
the sample sizes of qualitative analysis are limited regarding the number
of farmersintegrations on TikTok with the climate-farming dialogue. As
noted by previous studies (Stevens et al., 2018; Masambuka-Kanchewa
et al., 2021; Unay-Gailhard and Sim˜
oes, 2022), due to the strong voices
surrounding the agri-food scandals and activist groups (animal welfare
activism, vegan and vegetarian activism), few farmers feel empowered
to initiate a climate-farming dialogue on social media. Therefore,
reaching out to farmers who are engaging in climate conversations is a
difcult task, and particularly reaching out to such farmers using their
social media accounts with professional identities.
The second limitation is the language challenges related to the study
of TikTok at a global level. In our study, we target English-language
hashtags and posts for data collection. Such a data sampling strategy
requires comparing studies that consider non-English language coun-
triesperspectives to handle the limitation of geographical settings.
This study investigates the empathic dialogue engagement in TikTok
with qualitative research with TikTok data, and interviews with TikTok
farmers, and there is a future potential to explore the power of digital
communication technologies in shaping specic strategies for more
effective engagement in climate-farming dialogue. This starting point
may assist further studies that aim to explore cognitive engagement and
its relationship between the narrative (story) and narrator (identity) by
considering the new farmer identity in the digital age.
Declaration of competing interest
I have no relevant interest (that might appear to affect my ability to
present data objectively) to disclose. There is no nancial relationship
that might be construed as a conict of interest signicant enough to
I. Unay-Gailhard et al.
Journal of Rural Studies 102 (2023) 103075
inuence the results or interpretation of submitted study.
Data availability
The data that has been used is condential.
Funding was received for this studys data analyses and writing
period from the European Unions Horizon 2020 research and innova-
tion programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship
grant agreement No [895185]. Project title: YOUNG FARMERS: What
can digital communications do for generational renewal in farming?
This research utilized data collected from TikTok, a publicly available
social media platform. For ethical research issues involving social
media, this study received ethics committee approval from the research
institute of the rst author (IUG). The data collection and initial analyses
were carried out during the research stay of the rst author (IUG) at the
University of Florida, Department of Agricultural Education and
Communication (AEC) between JanuaryApril 2022.
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With TikTok emerging as one of the most popular social media platforms, there is significant potential for science communicators to capitalize on this success and to share their science with a broad, engaged audience. While videos of chemistry and physics experiments are prominent among educational science content on TikTok, videos related to the geosciences are comparatively lacking, as is an analysis of what types of geoscience videos perform well on TikTok. To increase the visibility of the geosciences and geophysics on TikTok and to determine best strategies for geoscience communication on the app, we created a TikTok account called “Terra Explore” (@TerraExplore). The Terra Explore account is a joint effort between science communication specialists at UNAVCO, IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology), and OpenTopography. We produced 48 educational geoscience videos over a 4-month period between October 2021 and February 2022. We evaluated the performance of each video based on its reach, engagement, and average view duration to determine the qualities of a successful video. Our video topics primarily focused on seismology, earthquakes, topography, lidar (light detection and ranging), and GPS (Global Positioning System), in alignment with our organizational missions. Over this time period, our videos garnered over 2 million total views, and our account gained over 12 000 followers. The videos that received the most views received nearly all (∼ 97 %) of their views from the For You page, TikTok's algorithmic recommendation feed. We found that short videos (< 30 s) had a high average view duration, but longer videos (> 60 s) had the highest engagement rates. Lecture-style videos that were approximately 60 s in length had more success in both reach and engagement. Our videos that received the highest number of views featured content that was related to a recent newsworthy event (e.g., an earthquake) or that explained location-based geology of a recognizable area. Our results highlight the algorithm-driven nature of TikTok, which results in a low barrier to entry and success for new science communication creators.
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In the United States, a public debate remains about the existence and effects of anthropogenic climate change. This skepticism is present in the agricultural sector, rendering climate science communication challenging. Due to the polarization of climate change issues and the concurrent need for agricultural adaptation, we sought to examine how scientists communicate in this sector. A survey, administered to climate scientists and pertinent U.S. federal agency staff (response rate = 43%), was conducted to examine perspectives on communicating with five agricultural stakeholder groups: agribusinesses, crop advisors, general public, producers, and policymakers. We focused on three aspects of the communication process with these stakeholders to evaluate if scientists, as messengers, were following best practices–communicator training, knowledge of stakeholder, and terminology use. We found scientists valued communication training; however, the majority had not attended formal training. Scientists had different views on climate change than producers and crop advisors but understood their perspective and were deliberate with their communication with different audiences. This suggests stakeholder knowledge and terminology use do not hinder communication between scientist and stakeholder. We also highlight three communication challenges present across stakeholder groups–stakeholder knowledge, timescale, and scientific uncertainty–and others that were specific to each stakeholder group. Future research should support scientists by identifying and resolving barriers to training and effective communication strategies for each stakeholder group that addresses these challenges.
Youth-focused researchers and practitioners need conceptual models to consider paths for youth citizenship and social justice which are attenuated to the context, social support, visibility, and structure of engagement opportunities. This article will expand upon the initial conceptual model created by Brennan et al. in this special issue by examining how it can be useful for both research and practice. Specifically, this model can help researchers and practitioners to: (1) remain aware of contextual factors affecting youth engagement; (2) understand how different forms of youth engagement fit within the model; and (3) consider strategies and research to encourage more radical forms of youth engagement. The paper will provide support for the conceptual validity of the model by examining theories which align with it and contextual factors to consider during its application. The paper will then apply the model to differentiate between two forms of youth engagement and conclude with a summary of areas for future research and application.
Understanding the reasoning behind diverse views grows empathy and can help strengthen democracy. This study examines narratives and their influence on individuals, to see if individuals only empathize with narratives from those with whom they share identity. Using an experimental design, we test empathy with working class climate change narratives. Results showed participants who agreed with anthropogenic climate change, who were given both evidence and a narrative, empathized with the narrator (either an organic farmer or a mechanic) that told a pro-climate change narrative. The greatest empathy was for the mechanic telling a pro-climate change narrative. Conversely, participants who did not agree with human-caused climate change and who were given evidence without narrative had more empathy for the organic farmer (over the mechanic) who told a pro-climate change narrative. Overall, we found some identity issues negatively influenced empathy, but we also found examples where individuals moved beyond their identity.