Monday 26th August 2019
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Social media’s role in climate change communication

Communicating climate change using social media is very key to save the planet. Relationship between social media use and its relationship to climate change opinion, knowledge, and behavior suggests several positive impacts.

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Social media encourages greater knowledge of climate change, mobilisation of climate change activists, space for discussing the issue with others, and online discussions that frame climate change as a negative for society. Social media, however, does provide space for framing climate change skeptically and activating those with a skeptical perspective of climate change.

Social media use is an important area within climate change communication. An early and popular definition of social media states that it is an online structure where individuals use their own profiles to connect with other individuals by creating lists of friends’ profiles. Scholars recognise that climate change is an abstract topic for most, and public opinion about it forms more readily in the presence of making it psychologically closer to the individual. Information filtered through social media may be one of these personalising and concretising experiences that bring climate change closer to individuals.

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Social media is another (non-elite) cue that can be added to elite cues that impact climate change opinions. It is worth noting that social media cues can also be from elite sources, such as government organisations, and can be an effective avenue for building credibility for the organisation and disseminating risk-based messages.

 

Climate Change Knowledge and Social Media

Within science communication, several scholars have examined the idea that Internet use reduces the knowledge gap, or the different rate that certain individuals are disadvantaged regarding learning about scientific issues due to aspects of their background, such as socioeconomic status. There is also evidence that Internet use can provide space for cognitive processing that is more reflective and based on reason. While this advanced cognitive processing is not a direct measure of knowledge, it is a component of more critical thinking about the issue.

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Climate Change Behavior and Social Media

Generally, relatively few studies have examined the relationship between Internet use or social media use and climate change activism or engagement, even though several studies on a range of political issues have shown a relationship between social media use and political action. Social media discussions by both professional environmental organisations and by regular Internet users encourage different forms of online action on the issue of climate change. This perspective does not acknowledge, however, that online activism of the information sharing nature may not necessarily account for much tangible change on the issue – otherwise known as slacktivism.

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There is a wide range of possible roles social media can play in encouraging different attitudes and behaviors around climate change. While there is reason to be optimistic about the ability of social media to positively influence opinion, knowledge, and behavior around climate change, some caution that social media use may simply encourage more reinforcement of existing perceptions of climate change rather than reaching new individuals or changing opinions.

Social media, however, does provide space for framing climate change skeptically and activating those with a skeptical perspective of climate change.

By Olumide Idowu (Co-Founder of International Climate Change Development Initiative (ICCDI); @OlumideIDOWU)

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