In today’s technologically advancing world, social media is transforming the way we share news and information. More than 300 million people spend at least 5 hours every day on different social networking platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube and Instagram.

In addition to staying in touch with their friends, family, and professional contacts, people are also using these social media platforms to shed light on pressing global issues of climate change, biodiversity loss and food security.

While the preliminary studies on climate change communication have been centered around traditional media, for example, news coverage of pro-environmental drives and campaigns, a recent Oxford study found that researchers are more interested in probing into the contribution of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Role of Experiential Cognitive Processing

Social media promotes a greater understanding of climate change, by providing a space for everyone—from scientists, journalists, and policymakers to academicians, activists, and ordinary citizens—to discuss their concerns about the environment. Since climate change can be an abstract topic, it’s difficult for most people to psychologically connect with the issue, especially, when they’re not offered information in a more personalizing way. According to experiential cognitive processing, people are more likely to engage with content that’s relatable and appeals to their emotional quotient. For example, a 2014 study found that when people correlate weather-related events, like rising temperatures, with climate change, they have a greater chance of perceiving risks and mobilizing prevention measures.

On social media platforms, your feed is curated with news stories, images, or videos that filter through friends, people you may know, or brands you follow. Most of this information aligns with your interests and offers a personal context. Therefore, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are effective for creating a grassroots movement around climate change.

Sentiment Analysis

With social media, you can also examine the exact opinions—positive or negative— people have about climate change, in an addition to how they frame the overall issue. For example, a comprehensive analysis of Twitter posts from across the globe revealed that people speak negatively about natural disasters, climate bills, and oil drills, but sound very positive when discussing climate rallies or book releases and green ideas. Not only this, most Twitter users from the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are skeptical about ‘global warming’ and refer to it as scientific fraud, political scam or a hoax.

Social media supports all kinds of perspectives and viewpoints when it comes to societal issues—some of them held more strongly than the others. With appropriate sentimental analysis of social media posts talking about climate change, researchers are able to gauge public consensus, develop counter-response strategies, and optimize their awareness plans.

Tracking Search Volume

In 2015, Maurice Lineman and his colleagues set out to analyze compare the search volume for both global warming and climate change and how they increased/decreased over time. According to their findings, there was a significant spike in the search volumes during well-known media events, like, the release of Inconvenient Truth (a 2006 American film) or the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change for the Nobel Peace Prize. On a related note, there are more Twitter discussions about climate change during the coverage of specific weather events or news stories.

Government organization can use this information to build credibility, shape opinions about climate change, and disseminate risk-based messages.

Bridging The Knowledge Gap

The widespread use of internet chat rooms and discussion boards has greatly reduced the knowledge gap, allowing individuals from all walks of life, including socioeconomic status and educational background, to come together and learn more about climate change. For example, Twitter streams about important climate change events, like the 2009 Fifteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties, were easily identifiable through hashtags and became “long-running epistemic communities” around climate change. Apart from providing a space for knowledgeable debate, cognitive processing or reasoned reflection, social media also encourages people to seek out more information about the topic at hand. A 2009 research successfully linked Internet use to the likelihood of an individual exploring other avenues to learn more about a snippet of information they come across.

Additionally, another study showed that frequent use of internet outlets, including social media, resulted in the adoption of more political behaviors and policy changes linked to climate change.