Growing polarization around climate change on social media – Nature Climate Change


We begin by highlighting the importance of COP21 and COP26 (Fig. 1). Determine 1a reveals the variety of posts on Twitter from 2014 to 2021. The inset reveals basic on-line engagement with COP measured utilizing Google Tendencies, revealing that Twitter engagement intently displays wider on-line consideration. Inside our examine interval, COP21 and COP26 are of specific significance, with the Paris Settlement signed at COP21 and the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed at COP26. Consequently, content material creation and engagement (that’s, retweet rely) are bigger for COP21 and COP26 than within the intermediate years. Our knowledge present the affect of native engagement (inset), the place the general Google Tendencies scores are introduced alongside nation-particular scores for France (the host of COP21) and the UK (the host of COP26). Supplementary Sections 1A and 1B present an identical evaluation for YouTube and Reddit, the place exercise is considerably decrease than on Twitter.

Fig. 1: Content material creation and consumer retweet distributions on Twitter from COP20 to COP26.

a, Whole variety of Twitter posts utilizing the time period ‘COP2x’ created every day. Inset: Google Tendencies (GT) reputation scores for ‘COP2x’, with nation-particular scores displaying the native enhancement of public engagement. b, The retweet distributions for COP21 and COP26. The overall numbers of retweets are proven within the high proper. Prolonged time intervals and different COPs are proven in Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2.

Ideological polarization throughout COP

To evaluate the emergence of a broad climate-contrarian neighborhood, we now analyse the evolving nature of ideological polarization between COP20 and COP26. Polarization is most frequently quantified when it comes to the modality of a distribution of surveyed opinions38 (the definition we select to make use of right here; see the dialogue within the Strategies), though different legitimate definitions exist. Nonetheless, on Twitter true opinion knowledge are unavailable, so as an alternative we infer an artificial opinion distribution from retweet knowledge as a proxy (Strategies). In subsequent sections, we validate this proxy technique by displaying how reverse ends of the ideological spectrum correspond to distinct views on climate change.

We begin by assuming that the climate ideology of a person, i, could be expressed as a single quantity, xi (ref. 27). Polarization then refers back to the properties of the likelihood distribution, ({{{mathcal{P}}}}(x)), of ideological scores throughout a inhabitants. The ideological spectrum is extracted from the Twitter retweet community utilizing the “latent ideology” technique4,5,39. Loosely talking, the tactic produces an ordering of customers and influencers the place accounts with related retweet interactions are shut to one another within the ordering, leading to related scores (Strategies). We specify that almost all group map to −1 and the minority to +1. Any account with an ideology rating lower than (greater than) zero is a part of the bulk (minority).

We calculate the latent ideology for COP21 and COP26 (Fig. 2), the place influencers are chosen as the highest 300 most retweeted accounts, excluding a small quantity (3%) that conflate the outcomes (Strategies). Influencer demographics and labelling are mentioned in Supplementary Part 1D.

Fig. 2: The ideological spectra for COP21 and COP26.
figure 2

High, a histogram of the influencer and consumer ideology scores for COP21 and COP26. The ideological minority group map to +1, whereas the bulk group map to −1. Backside, the 30 most retweeted influencers and accompanying consumer ideology distributions. Influencers who’re primarily retweeted by the ideological minority are on the appropriate, and influencers primarily retweeted by the ideological majority are on the left. Alongside every influencer, we present the distribution of consumer ideologies who retweeted that influencer. For COP21, no members of the ideological minority are discovered among the many high influencers, in distinction to COP26, the place we observe ideological polarization. Observe, @C4Ciaran seems within the minority however has cross-ideological attraction resulting from tweets referencing diesel automobile emissions (‘Political hypocrisy and the ideological divide’). An expanded determine with all 300 influencers is on the market in ref. 57. For different COPs, see Supplementary Figs. 1115. Lively customers with fewer than 30,000 followers indicated with @_______.

The latent ideology reveals unimodal consumer ideology for COP21, whereas the COP26 consumer ideology is multimodal, as confirmed by Hartigan’s diptest (Strategies): the bimodality statistic, D, will increase from COP21 to COP26 (COP21: D = 0.0023; 95% confidence interval, (0.0020, 0.0026); P = 0.003; COP26: D = 0.049; 95% confidence interval, (0.048, 0.050); P < 2.2 × 10−16). Regardless of the particular significance of COP21, equally low polarization (that’s, unimodal ideologies) is discovered for all COPs previous to COP26 (Prolonged Information Fig. 1).

For each COP21 and COP26, influencers cut up into majority and minority actors. The bulk are largely pro-climate accounts. Focusing on the minority provides some indication of the ideological divide current in these datasets. The COP21 minority has three influencers: @BjornLomborg, @Tony__Heller and @JunkScience. These people are climate targeted and self-determine as exterior the climate mainstream: @JunkScience quotes a Nature Climate Change article referring to him as “the most influential climate science contrarian”40, @BjornLomborg references his guide False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Prices Us Trillions and @Tony__Heller hyperlinks to his climate-critical weblog

For COP26, we discover 56 minority influencers. Of those, 6 have a transparent climate focus. The rest embody media organizations and journalists (for instance, @newsmax, @nypost, @GBNEWS, @PrisonPlanet and @bennyjohnson), politicians (@SteveBakerHW and @laurenboebert) and accounts campaigning in opposition to COVID-19 restrictions (@BernieSpofforth and @JamesMelville). This final group could not have sturdy views on climate; nonetheless, their presence within the minority stays necessary given how similarities in consumer–content material interactions are utilized by suggestion methods41.

Qualitatively, the rise in polarization is powerful to variable influencer quantity, completely different influencer definitions, completely different knowledge-assortment time home windows and the elimination of tweets associated to COVID-19 (Supplementary Figs. 37). Additional evaluation additionally means that bot exercise and deleted content material don’t conflate the noticed improve in polarization (Supplementary Sections 2C and 2D). Our evaluation reveals that around 30% of climate-sceptic accounts from 2015 are now not energetic on Twitter. Nonetheless, deletion charges would want to exceed 80% to clarify the noticed improve in polarization.

One necessary query is whether or not rising polarization is a consequence of shifting views (that’s, people transferring from a majority to a minority ideological place) or modifications in minority exercise (that’s, customers with pre-current climate-sceptic views expressing these views extra prominently on Twitter). We assess this by recomputing the ideological spectrum utilizing an equal variety of minority and majority influencers who seem in each the COP21 and COP26 datasets (Fig. 3). This reveals that minority influencers from COP21 stay within the minority for COP26, and majority influencers stay within the majority; over half of the minority influencers chosen utilizing this technique are climate-focused accounts. Nonetheless, for the usual retweet-primarily based COP26 minority (Fig. 2), solely 11% are climate targeted. This demonstrates that the promotion of climate-contrarian views is shifting away from climate-focused accounts in direction of a broader set of non-specialised influencers. The noticed improve in polarization might be resulting from customers with current minority views expressing these views extra prominently on Twitter, though figuring out this exactly is tough.

Fig. 3: The ideological spectra for COP21 and COP26 recomputed utilizing equal numbers of minority and majority influencers.
figure 3

Majority (minority) influencers are listed on the left (proper) of every panel. The influencers chosen should seem in each the COP21 and COP26 datasets. Influencer polarization is analogous between COP21 and COP26, however consumer polarization (that’s, distribution bimodality) will increase considerably. This displays a big improve in consumer engagement with the ideological minority throughout COP26 (that’s, minority influencers are attracting a disproportionately giant fraction of retweets in COP26 relative to COP21). Extra element is supplied in Supplementary Part 1G. Lively customers with fewer than 30,000 followers indicated with @_______, excluding elected politicians (@RogerHelmerMEP).

The political dimension of COP26

To higher perceive how ideological views on climate change are related to political leanings, we now spotlight the function of elected politicians within the COP26 dataset (Strategies). We do that by recomputing the latent ideology twice: first, utilizing completely politicians as influencers, and second, excluding politicians, producing a two-dimensional spectrum (Fig. 4). Political engagement between COP20 and COP25 is mentioned in Supplementary Part 1E; for COP21, we discover just one minority politician (Roger Helmer, former UK Independence Social gathering Member of the European Parliament).

Fig. 4: A two-dimensional illustration of the latent ideology, cut up in response to political and non-political influencers.
figure 4

Triangles label the median ideological positions of accounts affiliated with particular political events. Circles point out the median positions of customers who tweeted a selected matter, as derived utilizing BERTopic. In Fig. 2, the latent ideology is calculated utilizing the highest 300 most retweeted accounts. Right here we calculate the latent ideology twice utilizing (1) the highest 300 most retweeted accounts affiliated with particular person elected politicians (x axis; political dimension) and (2) utilizing the highest 300 most retweeted accounts excluding politicians (y axis; climate dimension). The non-political axis could be regarded as the final climate dimension, whereas the political axis could be regarded as capturing the precise political groupings of the COP dialogue. Some subjects are merged right into a single level for visible readability.

Marking the median positions of choose Anglophone political events reveals how the bulk and minority, which seem homogeneous alongside the climate axis, cut up into teams with extra geographical and political nuance. Within the minority, we discover a big block dominated by the US Republicans and former UK Brexit / UK Independence Social gathering politicians, alongside a smaller block equivalent to the Canadian Conservative celebration. Associated tweet extracts embody requires a “Net Zero Referendum” (Nigel Farage), claims that COP “has absolutely zero credibility” (Lauren Boebert) and statements that “everything you’ve being [sic] told by climate alarmists is a lie” (Maxime Bernier).

Within the majority, we discover most different mainstream political events. It’s maybe stunning that some events criticized as weak on climate motion seem within the majority, notably the Australian Liberals42. Nonetheless, this displays pro-climate rhetoric by Scott Morrison, which attracted majority retweets (for instance, “pleased to agree a new low emissions tech partnership”) in addition to criticism (“#ScottyFromMarketing”).

One obvious oddity is that left-leaning political teams (for instance, UK Labour and the Greens) seem ideological nearer to the minority on the climate axis than extra conservative events. The evaluation beneath means that this is because of cross-ideological accusations of political hypocrisy.

Matters of dialogue

Matters within the COP26 dialogue could be extracted utilizing BERT matter modelling43 (Strategies) and positioned on the ideological spectrum (Fig. 4). See Supplementary Part 1I for the COP21 outcomes.

Majority subjects

Majority subjects have a transparent climate focus, making express reference to particular COP themes, together with “women’s day”, “transport day” and “climate finance”. Past these, there are subjects associated to climate activism with a selected emphasis on youth protests, indigenous teams, the necessity for “climate justice”, and the “decolonisation” of climate change.

Doubtlessly essentially the most placing rift between customers within the majority pertains to whether or not they’re COP supportive or not. Many professional-climate accounts are crucial of the COP course of, describing it as ineffective and accusing it of “greenwashing”. This theme is a transparent shift from COP21, the place solely choose influencers have been COP crucial (7% of labelled COP21 influencers; Supplementary Part 1D), most notably George Monbiot and Naomi Klein. Since then, criticism of the COP course of has grown considerably (35% of labelled COP26 influencers).

Minority subjects

The COP26 minority talk about a broad vary of climate-related subjects. Cross-referencing these with a taxonomy of “climate contrarian” claims37 reveals that the COP26 minority promote and have interaction with all 5 of the main contrarian declare varieties (Desk 1).

Desk 1 Frequent claims made by teams who oppose climate motion and examples from the COP26 minority

Different subjects not particular to climate embody tweets crucial of specific politicians, most notably Joe Biden (known as “sleepy Joe”), Boris Johnson (for selling inexperienced insurance policies) and Justin Trudeau (for allegedly destroying the Canadian oil/fuel business). Lastly, there are subjects of wider relevance to the political proper, notably COVID-19 (the “plandemic”), vaccines (“#NoVaccinePassports”) and unlawful immigration (“[stop] illegal economic migrants”).

Political hypocrisy and the ideological divide

Understanding content material that bridges the ideological divide is necessary for assessing which subjects could act as a gateway into the ideological minority, notably since Twitter recommends content material on the idea of similarities in consumer–content material interactions between accounts41. To evaluate this, we rank tweets in response to the variety of cross-ideological retweets—that’s, majority writer however minority retweeter, or vice versa. This reveals the theme of political hypocrisy, which incorporates references to using non-public jets and diesel vehicles, the continued use and growth of fossil fuels, and the dumping of uncooked sewage. Half of all majority tweets referencing hypocrisy have been posted since December 2020 (Supplementary Part 1K and Prolonged Information Fig. 2).

Information media reliability

Given the distinct subjects mentioned by the bulk and minority, we could count on that these ideological teams reference completely different information media retailers. We present this utilizing warmth maps of ideology in opposition to impartial information media reliability scores (Fig. 5 and Strategies). This reveals that the ideological majority preferentially reference information domains with excessive belief scores, whereas the minority usually reference domains with low scores. This result’s strong if we use nation-particular NewsGuard scores (Supplementary Part 1F). In Supplementary Part 1J, we present the formation of ideological echo chambers throughout COP, a standard characteristic of polarized communities on social media9,27.

Fig. 5: The correlation of climate ideology with distinct media retailers.
figure 5

a,b, Warmth maps displaying the density of stories media belief scores supplied by NewsGuard, in opposition to the typical ideological rating of every media outlet’s Twitter viewers for COP21 (a) and COP26 (b). Visualizations of the COP21 and COP26 community neighborhood construction are proven in Supplementary Part 1J, alongside warmth maps illustrating the echo chamber impact27.

The broader climate dialogue on Twitter

We now present that the COP dialogue is broadly consultant of the broader climate dialogue on Twitter. That is necessary since key phrase-primarily based knowledge assortment utilizing the search time period ‘COP2x’ could fail to seize sure climate-related communities.

First, we cross-reference our COP dataset with two supplementary datasets: 1.3 million tweets utilizing phrases related to climate scepticism, and all authentic tweets since 2012 utilizing the time period ‘climate change’ (Supplementary Part 1K). This reveals that (1) the exercise of the COP26 minority is very correlated to the exercise of the broader climate-sceptic neighborhood on Twitter (Prolonged Information Fig. 3), (2) the COP26 minority began to have interaction with climate points far more just lately than the COP26 majority (Prolonged Information Fig. 4) and (3) climate-sceptic exercise was very low, however current, earlier than 2019. Observe that there isn’t any proof of a change within the interplay charge between pro-climate and climate-contrarian teams (Supplementary Part 1K).

The expression of climate scepticism noticed vital development from 2019 onwards, peaking through the world climate strikes in September 2019 and the Australian bushfires in January 2020. This development doesn’t seem to have translated into vital engagement from sceptics throughout COP25, almost definitely resulting from its lesser significance (Fig. 1; main new agreements weren’t negotiated at COP25).

Elevated sceptic exercise doesn’t essentially indicate a rise within the variety of Twitter customers with climate-sceptic views however extra seemingly implies a rise in customers expressing these views (which is in itself necessary). Doable drivers of this development embody (1) the problem of political hypocrisy (see above), particularly following the approval of a brand new Canadian oil pipeline in June 2019; (2) a backlash to the direct affect of the worldwide climate strikes (minority content material is especially crucial of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebel); and (3) the assumption that the climate motion is unreliable, with minority customers blaming the Australian bushfires on arson, not climate change.


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