What one film did to put fracking on the public agenda
Powerful stories have a ripple effect — a few people become many, and momentum builds. But the path between a great story and legislative action can be a long and winding one. How can we measure widespread shifts in attitude and public discourse? We needed a new methodology that could trace the spread of ideas from film, to social and mass media, to local legislative changes.
Our research team and sociologist Bogdan Vasi investigated whether the 2010 documentary Gasland contributed to social mobilization and policy change. To see how conversation topics changed over time, we compared the content of Internet search data, social media postings, and newspaper articles, as well as internet searches for those topics. In areas with Marcellus Shale — the places affected by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — we also looked at the impact of film screening events on local laws to stop fracking.
The film affected not only the volume of conversation, but introduced new frames that redefined the issue from environmental to a human-focused public health crisis. At the local level, areas which held screenings of Gasland were more likely to pass legislation to stop fracking. Our findings were published in the October 2015 issue of theAmerican Sociological Review.