Combating regressive gender norms and violence against women through social media edutainment campaigns – Lessons from India

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Permissive attitudes towards violence against women (VAW) are unfortunately widely accepted in developing countries, with as many as four in ten women and three in ten men justifying its prevalence. Most VAW prevention programs are delivered through resource-intensive grassroots mobilization campaigns, whose results are mixed, and scaled implementation may be prohibitively costly in low-resource settings .

Can edutainment media with development objectives be an effective alternative?

Studies of entertainment education - or edutainment - show that placement of public health or other socially critical messages in mainstream entertainment programming can improve individuals’ attitudes and behaviors across multiple development areas, including in the prevention of VAW . Recent field experiments in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa show that stand-alone and low-cost campaigns delivered through community screening/listening events are effective tools for reshaping attitudes towards domestic violence, increasing willingness to report VAW, and reducing its incidence. Interestingly, this research also provides evidence that the positive effects are greatly driven by adjusting audiences’ perceptions of what others do and approve of or a “social norms” channel. 

Can edutainment work on social media? 

Can these findings be generalized to social media campaigns, where the lack of a shared community viewing experience may prevent activation of the social norm channel? The policy relevance of this question is significant. Social media platforms engaged more than half of the world’s population in 2020, so they do have the potential to shape norms and behaviors at scale

A recent World Bank paper experimentally tested the effectiveness of a social-media-delivered edutainment campaign targeting 18-24-year-olds residing in seven large cities in northern India . Individuals who clicked on an ad that was part of the campaign were redirected to Facebook Messenger, where the intervention was delivered and where chat surveys and objective on-line measurements were collected. Researchers measured impacts one week and four months after viewers’ exposure to the intervention.  

The campaign consisted of several short video clips that in total amounted to approximately 25 minutes. Produced by Population Foundation of India, an NGO that advocates for the formulation and implementation of gender-sensitive population, health and development strategies and policies, the videoclips were informed by extensive research.

To better understand what format of edutainment content is most appropriate to discuss sensitive topics like VAW effectively, users were randomly assigned to a control group or one of two treatment groups. The first treatment group was exposed to an implicit format of programming in the form of a fake reality TV series that takes place in a fictitious court where gender myths and misconceptions are often discussed in a humorous way. The second treatment group was presented with a programming using an explicit format, a docu-series that included real-life stories with clear calls to action to stop VAW, with celebrities, including Bollywood celebrity and social advocate Farhan Akhtar, making appearances.  

Results 

Our findings show that both edutainment formats worked, with effects varying for different outcomes. The viewership data shows that take-up rates for the humorous reality TV series were twice as high compared to the more information-focused docu-series. On effectiveness, neither format dominated in the one-week follow-up survey. Intent-to-treat estimates show that while the drama was more effective at moving a global index - that included indicators for knowledge and attitudes related to gender norms and VAW - by 0.25 standard deviations, the docu-series managed to move this index by 0.12 standard deviations.  On the other hand, the docu-series was more impactful in increasing willingness to share videoclips with friends by 9.4% and in promoting online information-seeking behaviors (i.e., users were more likely to visit and spend more time on websites promoting gender equality). 

For both campaigns, most of the positive effects greatly diminished in the four-month survey, highlighting the critical importance of message reinforcement for long-term impacts. One interesting finding was that individuals assigned to the docu-series group were 7.5 percentage points or 91% more likely to add the frame “End Violence Against Women” to their Facebook profile picture. Treatment-on-the-Treated (ToT) estimates were twice as large in that group. Moreover, we were able to document substantial snowballing effects: a year and a half after the programming was first presented to study participants, it was used by more than 34,000 people, an amplification of about 55 times the initial audience size. In our heterogeneous treatment effect analysis, we generally find no evidence that the intervention had differential effects for a series of social and demographic indicators, including age, caste, membership to a social organization, and educational achievement of parents and individuals.

Policy implications 

The study provides empirical evidence that edutainment delivered through social media can be a low-cost tool for reshaping gender norms and VAW attitudes among social media users.  Microtargeting capabilities of social media platforms can be utilized to target vulnerable populations in low-resource settings, where resource-intensive campaigns may be too expensive to scale. The general lack of heterogeneous effects for different social status indicators suggests that social media may be an effective medium for delivering campaigns to vulnerable populations active on social media channels.  

To combat today’s many global crises, including the VAW epidemic which worsened during COVID-19, focused and continuous collaboration between the development and entertainment sectors is urgently needed , especially in the global entertainment hubs.

The World Bank’s DIME-Hollywood Foreign Press Association forum “Global Challenges Require Global Solutions: Innovative Partnerships between the Entertainment and Development Sectors” discusses such emerging collaborations. Moreover, rigorous, transparent, and reproducible research of innovative and scalable approaches to prevent VAW remains critically needed for scaling up effective interventions.


Additional Research:

Authors

Dante Donati

Assistant Professor in the Marketing Division at Columbia Business School

Nandan Rao

Co-Founder of Virtual Lab, Chief Product Officer at Kannact

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