Social media influencers like footballer Marcus Rashford and celebrities from music, TV and film could have a vital role to play in persuading the public to continue to wear masks to help combat COVID-19.
Nathan Abrams, Professor of Film Studies at Bangor University, is leading new research to explore the influence of media messaging on people’s mask-wearing choices in the pandemic.
He leads a multi-disciplinary team of experts drawn from the fields of Media, Linguistics, Law and Bio-composites, funded by UK Research and Innovation, that will examine not just mask wearing but the choice between disposable versus reusable facemasks and their impact on the environment.
The research will examine current facemask-wearing behaviour as influenced by the media in order to inform future media campaigns by government and other institutions in the future, specifically considering environmental issues.
Professor Abrams said: “Arguably, much of the public debate during the pandemic has been driven bottom up by influencers like Manchester United star Marcus Rashford and his campaign for free school meals.
“This demonstrates how influencers can have a greater effect on public debate than politicians. Complex factors underpin consumer choice about adoption or rejection of facemask wearing, including responsible disposal. Assuming that masks should continue to be worn, this new research will identify how more people can be encouraged to wear them and in an environmentally sustainable fashion.”
Dr Morwenna Spear, a research scientist at the University’s specialist Bio-composites Centre which examines plant-based alternatives to synthetic materials, added: “We want to quantify the environmental angle and will be looking at the number of disposable masks being distributed and the environmental impact of them being thrown away.
“I suspect that at least half of the disposable masks we see lying around have been dropped by accident but as they are considered unclean people won’t pick them up – it’s almost the worst kind of litter.”
Professor Thora Tenbrink, a language expert, is looking at media messaging and she said: “It’s about helping people to make responsible and sustainable choices. We don’t just have a pandemic happening right now we also have a climate crisis going on as well.
“In Asia they’ve been wearing masks for years. We might have to develop the same habit here. The debate around facemask wearing shapes our behaviour in more ways than we think – through public media and social media as well as on a personal level.
“I’m excited about this opportunity to explore this in some depth, and to discover ways of framing messages about mask wearing that will support sustainability in the long run – if needed.”