Social media provides data on heat-vulnerable regions

New research into social media data at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, has provided insight into what motivates people to buy air conditioners worldwide.

With temperatures rising around the world, more and more people globally regard air conditioning as an essential part of living. But AC units are also likely to increase energy consumption. So, in order to limit the impact of ACs on our energy grids and our climate, the Radboud University research team wanted to better understand where they’re sold globally, says research leader and assistant professor of system dynamics, Sibel Eker.

With traditional data often not readily available in more remote corners of the world,  the researchers found social media advertising data proved invaluable. It was through this data that they were able to get a first glimpse of what drives people to buy air conditioners globally, says Eker.  

“We have some data on how many households own AC units in countries in the Global North, and what types of people buy them,” she says. “But we don’t have a good view on what’s happening around the world in regions such as Asia and Africa.

“[As such], we decided to look at data from social media to see if that provides some indication of interest and purchasing levels in those areas.”

The researchers used data from Facebook and Instagram across 113 countries, which told them which types of people received advertisements relating to purchasing air conditioning, how many people clicked through, and how many of them actually decided to install one or more units.

This data showed that, on a global level, middle-aged, highly educated, married, or cohabiting males, as well as parents of small children, tend to express more online interest in the units.

The data also showed that regions increasingly vulnerable to rising temperatures and heatwaves, such as the Balkans and Middle East, have the highest online interest in AC.

“In those countries, population groups that have been known to be reluctant to adopt to AC, such as the elderly, show a relatively high online interest in AC,” says Eker. “That indicates that their attitude might be changing, and we might see a higher adoption of AC units in those regions than we have in the past.

“By using social media data, we were able to complement conventional data sources in improving our understanding of the extent and drivers of AC adoption at a global level. This provides valuable data to researchers and other organisations worldwide in understanding how climate change might be increasing the adoption of AC units in new regions and among different groups of people.”

The research paper “Social media data shed light on air conditioning interest of heat-vulnerable regions and sociodemographic groups” is available at One Earth.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

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