Is climate change a hoax? Social media listening study
Climate change isn't real is a phrase you can hear surprisingly often in 2020. While the Arctic is melting and Australia is burning, there's solid opposition to climate science and Greta Thunbergs of the world, with private individuals and very public figures making a stand against climate action.
Climate change doubters/confusers/skeptics/contrarians/deniers — you name it — appear all over the place, and there's a good reason for that. Everybody who's not a climate scientist has a hard time speaking about climate change with 100% certainty. And even climate scientists themselves aren't in perfect harmony on the topic.
What all of this leaves us with is millions of conversations around climate change buzzing on social media and the web. You know the drill: whenever there's social data, there's research potential for a social listening tool like Awario.
And we took the challenge! Namely, what we embarked on is an assessment of how much weight climate science doubters have on social media, news, and blogs. Here's exactly what we did.
- 4 weeks ago, we set Awario to collect every mention of climate change on social media, news, and blogs. What we ended up with is over a million mentions — these were climate change mentions during the 4 weeks + some historical data.
- We took the mentions for the past year and sorted them by Reach to single out the top-20 biggest names talking about climate change on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
- We then analyzed the top-20 most influential mass media covering climate change on the news.
- Finally, we looked at the 20 businesses and non-profits with the highest reach to determine the tone of their mentions of climate change.
The reason we chose Reach as the determinant metric is that it reflects total potential impressions, allowing us to pull the most influential mentions. Sorting by Reach, we get authors with the largest number of followers, likes, retweets, etc. These are the people who truly shape the climate change discourse.
Exciting, right? Let's see what we found out.
Biggest influencers talking climate change on social (sorted by reach)
To social media marketers, the power of influencers is clear as day: people tend to trust other people. Human faces always beat brands, and influencer marketing is just as effective, if not more, for promoting causes as it is for selling products.
That is why we took the influencers business as seriously as it gets and identified top-20 names with the biggest reach by platform. These are the people who have spoken about climate change in the past year. The names highlighted in yellow are climate change skeptics.
Important to note is the fact that in the table we did not highlight climate action doubters — people who believe in climate change as such but oppose the methods and efforts undertaken to combat it.
To give you some perspective, the reach of the influencers talking climate ranges from 393K (Jon Cooper on Twitter) all the way to 117M (Billie Eilish on YouTube). Influencers with the biggest reach are at the top of the table, which means that climate change doubters, as few as they are, boast much, much lower reach than influencers advocating for climate action.
We need to make #ecocide a crime! Make destruction of our environment ILLEGAL by making ECOCIDE LAW. International law. Go to stopecocide.earth and become an earth-protector @ecocidelaw #stopecocide #makeecocideacrime #saveourplant #earthprotectors #ecocidelaw #RECYCLEDPAPER
With impressive following as is, climate activists tend to amplify each other's reach even further by tagging and mentioning their fellow Earth protectors.
By contrast, within our lineup of the biggest influencers talking climate change on social media, skeptics stand alone. Also eager to back each other up, their accumulated reach is still nowhere near the total reach of climate action advocates who are also featured generously in anti-climate action posts. Ironically, boasting much lower recognition, climate science doubters need climate activists for additional visibility.
Another observation is that the amount and intensity of climate change talk vary greatly from platform to platform. Facebook and Twitter, hosting the most of political talk, happen to be the home of the most climate science skepticism of political nature. Instagram, being the least political of the 4 platforms, is also the only social network that rooms no climate change skepticism in the top-performing climate posts.
Biggest media outlets talking climate change on social (sorted by reach)
|People's Daily, China|
|BBC News (World)|
|I fucking love science|
|The New York Times|
Hardly surprising, media coverage of climate change is shaped in a way that doesn't explicitly deny climate change — at least that's true for mass media outlets with the highest reach. The range here is 14.7M (NowThis) to 95.4M impressions (CGTN, or China Global Television Network), and none of the mentions reveal climate change as a hoax.
Naturally, some media outlets are less enthusiastic about climate action than others (looking at you, Fox News). But even Fox News aspires to provide unbiased climate change narrative as often as it can (or at least issue a timely apology whenever needed). Fortunately for mass media and unfortunately for the rest of us, climate change and its consequences are so multifaceted that there's always an angle to make it relevant to every type of audience.
As you can see, there are many ways to report on climate change, and none of them seems to be related to doubting climate science and the need for climate action.
Biggest businesses and nonprofits talking climate change on social (sorted by reach)
When looking at climate change talk on social media, businesses appear as invested in helping the cause as nonprofits are. It's equal parts commercial brands and nonprofits on our list, and yet businesses are more successful in delivering the message. Reach-wise, the winner here is Levi's, with 26.1M impressions on Facebook.
Other commercial brands go even further and partner with nonprofits to deliver a joint message. With the climate impact awareness we have today, businesses are changing their products and strategies accordingly.
“The nature surrounding our communities is changing. There is increasing threat of food scarcity as rivers dry and temperatures change. Life is at risk.” - Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of @ourarcticrefuge.⠀ ⠀ The decision to reopen the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling threatens the food security and traditional way of life of the Gwich'in people, who have lived in close communion with this land for thousands of years. It will also irrevocably damage the vibrant and vital ecosystems of this incredible national treasure.⠀ In the coming weeks, we hope Congress will vote on H.R.1146, which would STOP the current Administration's push to lease the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas companies. Text ARCTIC to 40649 or check the link in bio.⠀ ⠀ Last month, ambassadors @tommycaldwell, @clare_gallagher_runs, and @slukenelson traveled to Alaska to attend the 2019 Arctic Indigenous Climate Summit. They were humbled and honored to listen to voices from of the Gwich’in Nation, a variety of Alaska Native perspectives from neighboring communities about the dramatic effects of climate change on the Arctic landscape.⠀ ⠀ Afterward, the trio set out on a wild overland adventure through the heart of the Refuge, hiking, climbing, and packrafting their way across this pristine and threatened landscape. All this week we will be sharing more about their trip here on our feed and in our stories, and on @patagonia_climb and @patagonia_trailrunning.⠀ ⠀ Images and words: @austin_siadak
Businesses and nonprofits stand together in promoting climate action, raising awareness and showcasing efforts. As far as top-performing climate change posts on social media go, both commercial and non-commercial entities seem to be committed to advocating for climate action.
So is climate change a hoax?
If we ask social media, climate change is very rarely a hoax. Having analyzed top-performing climate change posts by individuals, mass media, businesses, and nonprofits, we can safely state the following: among the influential people talking climate change on social media, skeptics are very few and their accumulated reach is much lower than the reach of climate action proponents.
To let the numbers speak for themselves, the total reach of all the climate change doubters' posts featured in this study is 6.1M impressions. The total reach of a single post from Billie Eilish advocating for climate action is a crazy 117M.
Naturally, there are more than 4 influencers doubtful about climate action and not climate change as such. These people speak up as well, making their points with hashtags corresponding to various levels of climate action uncertainty. This might be sufficient for a social listening study of its own, and we'll be looking into the topic in the coming months.
For now, we're left with a comforting conclusion. Most people think that climate change is real, and some people are even doing things to slow it down.
With social media rehabilitated once again, there's every reason for us non-climatologists to keep navigating the Internet waters freely, learning and doing by example of the best of us.