Date of Award

12-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Carol Tenopir

Committee Members

Suzie Allard, Harry F. Dahms, Devendra Potnis

Abstract

Space exploration has many benefits. However, federal funding for space exploration is declining with each passing year. One of the reasons for the diminishing funding is the lack of public awareness about the value and importance of space research. Public awareness of space exploration is therefore crucial to enhance public interest as well as in drafting important science policy decisions. Social media provides a great opportunity to build this interest among public via various platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. As more and more people use social media to access news information, it plays a significant role in shaping public opinion on important issues. However, each social media platform has unique characteristics and appeals to public in a different manner. It is also important to note that messages framed for each social media platform vary significantly from each other. Therefore, in this dissertation, I explore how space exploration is framed on a social media platform (YouTube) to increase public awareness about space science. I also analyze public comments in response to those videos to understand the trends, patterns, tones, and perceptions of YouTube commenters. Forty-three NASA video transcripts have been analyzed to identify the dominant frames which NASA has used to engage with the public on YouTube and 730 comments have been analyzed to understand the trends, patterns, tones, and perceptions of YouTube commenters. Seven frames have emerged from this study: (1) Science Experiments (2) Curiosity Rover (3) Findings (4) Mars (5) Science Team Characterization (6) Success (7) Communication and Engagement with the Public. Analysis of YouTube comments reveal that majority of the comments posted directly in response to the videos are positive, indicating appreciation and praise for NASA and the space exploration mission. Many negative comments are found to be conspiracy theory related. However, even though these comments attract more discussion, commenters necessarily do not believe these conspiracy theory comments and in turn refute these comments with logical and rational information. Most people use YouTube for asking questions and sharing their knowledge about science and space exploration.

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