Blog Post 6—what can a Tweet reveal about the motivations behind a person’s climate change stance?

This week, in order to extend my knowledge of my chosen issue, being the factors that influence a person’s stance on climate change, I undertook a data scraping exercise using Twitter. Twitter is a social media platform which allows uses with an account to ‘tweet’ their own messages as well as ‘retweet’ the messages of others. The retweeting feature creates a kind of network amongst users, and, in a way, allows users to express their point of view without being directly connected to the tweet as they did not write it. Twitter is limiting in the amount of detail that users can go into in their tweets because of the 140 character limit that applies. It is a very sharing-oriented platform, as are most social media platforms, and the use of hashtags allows tweets to be grouped together, which can generate interesting and often unexpected connections between tweets. In undertaking some broad research into the use of Twitter in the climate change debate, I came across an article by Simon Pollock which said that “most social studies show online interaction is reinforcing pre-existing beliefs and values, rather than opening minds”. This was very interesting to me, as it highlighted that the nature of social media is such that it often groups people of similar views together, as opposed to generating discussion amongst groups with opposing views.

I used the Advanced Search feature on Twitter in order to conduct my data scrape. Whilst creating a Twitter bot would potentially allow access to a deeper, more refined, and more specific data set, I am limited in my coding ability, so this is beyond my capabilities at the moment. However, I would like to explore in the future the possibilities opened up and patterns that can emerge in tweets through the creation of a Twitter bot.

Data Scrape 1

My initial data scrape involved the very general search term of ‘global warming’, with no other parameters. As could be expected, this provided an extremely broad spectrum of tweets from people across the world, reminding me of the international reach both of the issue of global warming, and of Twitter as a social network. The first feature that caught my attention on this initial data scrape was the fact that a tweet by Barack Obama, the American President, was the top tweet in the global warming category by virtue of the number of likes it had received so far.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-3-04-58-pm
(Obama 2016)

This interested me greatly because it shows the amount of attention a tweet by a well-known figure can receive and, by extension, how much influence this figure can have on the general population. It suggests that if someone is popular or well-known, their point of view on controversial topics such as climate change, is likely to be viewed many times and thus influence the views of their followers. In relation to this, it could be seen that on the platform of Twitter, the views of well-known people are the views that will be spread around and talked about, whilst the views of ordinary people, even though they are important, will be lost amongst hundreds of other tweets. In this way, Twitter as a social media platform has incredible power to inform people about what other people’s opinions are on controversial topics, and to subsequently influence their opinions.

Within this general search, as I was scrolling through the tweets, I came to notice that there were several relating to various levels of concern about the lack of action being taken by governments, who are major stakeholders or ‘actors’ in the issue of climate change. In this, I also found that there were several people who were suggesting that climate change is a hoax being perpetuated by governments. This was extremely interesting, and a view I have not come across before.

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This raised the idea that governments across the world need to do more to tackle climate change, an opinion which has been recurrent in my other research, particularly in my visual research, as well as the idea that governments perhaps need to communicate more with the general population as to their reasoning behind their lack of action. In this general search, I also came to notice the #blacklivesmatter hashtag cropping up repeatedly, in response to a protest in the UK claiming that global warming is racist.

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This raised for me an important thought around the idea of trends on Twitter, and the potential issues this may create in regards to the legitimacy of the opinions shared by people on Twitter—they may simply tweet about a particular ‘trending’ issue to make themselves appear informed, and in order to suggest to their followers that they are actively invested in these issues, particularly when they are related to social justice causes. Another issue raised around ‘trending’ topics on Twitter is the potential for incorrect and uninformed viewpoints on different issues to be widely circulated, causing people to become confused, as well as perhaps to form incorrect views about the issues.

I found that across a lot of the tweets about global warming there were links to news articles, demonstrating that these are the sources that people get a lot of their information about climate change from, rather than from more trustworthy journal articles and other scholarly sources. This finding also really made me think about how far these not-so-trustworthy sources can travel and how easily accessible they are to people. I would suggest that these sources are a major factor in influencing people’s views on climate change because they are sources which generally get shared on social media platforms, and because they are convincing in their writing style, which often contains bias. I found that the majority of tweets were quite biased and opinionated themselves in their tone, perhaps a result of the strict character limits on the tweets, which force people to get their point across in a very limited amount of space. However, whilst this emotive quality of tweets gives an interesting and first-hand account of the feelings people have towards climate change, it also warrants caution as it shows that people are only pushing their view of the argument, presumably with limited consideration of other points of view.

Data Scrape 2

Whilst this initial search provided me with some excellent general insights into both the discussion around global warming, and features of Twitter itself, I found that there was no specific information that I could gather which would be useful for my focus area of factors that influence a person’s views on climate change. As such, inspired by the ‘World of Change’ data visualisation project I examined in blog post 4, I decided to search for tweets within a particular city. Still using the search term ‘global warming’, I conducted 3 separate searches, one for Sydney, one for New York, and one for New Delhi. In undertaking these searches, I noticed that whilst the tweets for Sydney and New Delhi were more general and focused on a range of concerns about the causes and effects of global warming across the world, the tweets for New York were focused on the recent floods in Louisiana, with many citing sources that blamed the floods on global warming.

Louisiana Floods 2016-09-09 at 12.12.05 pm.png
(Robinson 2016) (James 2016) (Cheli 2016) (Zoudis 2016) (Boss 2016) (Becker 2016)

 

This demonstrates the view of Andrew J. Hoffman, whose article I examined in blog post 2, and who states that “…personal experiences with extreme weather, both direct…and indirect…increase individual belief in climate change” (Hoffman 2015, p. 10). This presents to me an interesting insight into the types of events which may convince people with different cultural views of the realities of climate change, and I believe that this idea of geographical proximity, an area that I mapped in week 3, could become an interesting data set to explore.

Data Scrape 3

After conducting these 2 searches, I decided that I still had not gathered any useful specific information about my focus area, the factors that influence a person’s views on climate change. In considering how I could achieve this on Twitter, I came to realise that there is often a lot of information about people in their personal profile, which can be gathered through their log of tweets, their bio, and their country of origin. As such, I again conducted a general search of ‘global warming’, but, instead of taking an overview of all the tweets, I selected a few and went into that person’s profile. There were a few profiles with limited information that could be gathered, however, there were others that I could take a wealth of information from. In these cases, I was able to begin to piece together what factors were influencing the views that person expressed in their tweet. I have included some of these profiles below.

Profile 1

Danielle Peters identifies her account as one “looking at all the ways we are mitigating and adapting to climate change” (Peters 2016). Already from this bio description, it is clear that the individual is very much concerned with climate change, and one could assume that she believes strongly that climate change is occurring, and probably shares her views with others. Upon further inspection, it can be seen that Danielle follows a lot of other conservation and climate aware profiles on Twitter, suggesting that she is very much invested in this cause, and will be influenced by the views expressed by these people and organisations. These assumptions are made clearer through the log of tweets that is available on Danielle’s profile.

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I found that whilst she is trying to show people that climate change is real and that it is a big threat, she puts her point across in a very non-threatening way, mostly posting pieces of information such as news articles which she encourages her followers to go and read. She joined Twitter very recently, in August 2016, so there is not a lot of data that can be collected so far as to her influences, but it could be inferred that she takes a lot of her information from general news sources, and that she is already firmly established in her views, so is unlikely to alter her current position on climate change. Also, it could be suggested that Danielle will most likely only tweet articles which match her current views, and also perhaps only look for information which furthers her views.

Profile 2

John Beard is a “news anchor, writer, skeptic, optimist. [His] goal is to make you think, and on occasion…change your thinking” (Beard 2016). He has been a member of Twitter since 2008, and has built up a log of 29 700 tweets. In his bio, there is no specific mention of climate change, and, indeed, on inspection of his tweets, it is clear that this issue is not his only concern. Whilst he tweets regularly about climate change related stories, he also tweets regularly about political issues, and appears to mostly tweet about current news stories in order to encourage his followers to become informed, and also to put his own views forward.

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John’s obvious interest in politics stems from his own position as a news anchor, and, as such, it could be suggested that he has formed strong political views through his job. These views are likely to play into his position on climate change, which appears from his tweets to be on of support. The fact that John mostly posts his own tweets, rather than retweeting the posts of others, suggests that he is very sure of his own position on the issues and thus is unlikely to be persuaded to alter his views. The amount of tweets John has linking to news articles suggests that these are the sources he gets most of his information from, also his own position as a news anchor suggests that these are the sources that he is mostly surrounded by. These sources are likely to be the ones shaping, as well as strengthening his views. John’s statement in his bio that his “…goal is to make you think, and on occasion…change your thinking” (Beard 2016) suggests that he is quite influential amongst his friends and followers, and that he is actively trying to get people to engage in his views, and hopefully mould to them.


Summary

  1. Tweets that get a lot of likes or that are ‘trending’ have the potential to become extremely influential due to their widespread reach across the world. As such, a tweet about climate change that reached this status could become one of the factors that influences a person’s views on the issue. By extension, a tweet by a prominent figure with hundreds or millions of followers could achieve a similar result.
  2. A lot of people in their tweets about climate change link to news articles. This suggests that these often-biased sources are the main source of information about this issue for a lot of Twitter users. As such, these news articles are a factor in shaping these people’s views on climate change.
  3. The geographical proximity of a person to events that may be seen as being caused by climate change influences their view as to the severity of the issue. If a person is close to a climate change related event, they will be more likely to believe in climate change than someone who is removed from the event.
  4. The information that can be gathered through a person’s bio, tweet log, and country, can provide an insight into their views on a certain issue, in this case climate change. Looking at people’s personal profiles is one method that I could use to gather my own data set around my focus area of the factors that influence a person’s views on climate change, although it is very time consuming, and may not be accurate as people may not put truthful information in their profile.
  5. Climate change is a global issue, and, as such, platforms such as Twitter which collate data from across the world can be very useful tools. They allow people to connect with people in other countries and see what is happening in terms of issues they are interested in. To me, a platform such as Twitter is invaluable as I am able to collect data about areas such as geographical proximity to climate change events and how they affect a person’s views of the issue. However, it is advisable to be wary when using platforms such as Twitter that not all viewpoints may be represented, as only people who feel very passionate about an issue will generally tweet about it, resulting in a lot of tweets presenting extreme views of the issue.

References

  1. Beard, J. 2016, ‘California extends its ambitious climate change law by 10 years’, Twitter post, 6 September, viewed 9 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/jb111?lang=en&gt;
  2. Beard, J. 2016, ‘How Donald Trump retooled his charity to spend other people’s money-The Washington Post’, Twitter post, 9 September, viewed 9 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/jb111?lang=en&gt;
  3. Beard, J. 2016, ‘Scientists See Push From Climate Change in Louisiana Flooding-The New York Times’, Twitter post, 6 September, viewed 9 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/jb111?lang=en&gt;
  4. Beard, J. 2016, ‘Still doubt global warming? U.S. Endures its Sultriest Summer Nights on Record | Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog’, Twitter post, 6 September, viewed 9 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/jb111?lang=en&gt;
  5. Beard, J. 2016, ‘Trump wants moreUS military spending, ignoring (or not knowing) it’s bigger than next 10 countries combined including Russia and China.’, Twitter post, 7 September, viewed 9 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/jb111?lang=en&gt;
  6. Becker, J. 2016, ‘Study finds global warming increased the odds of Louisiana downpour #global #warming’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=climate%20change%20is%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  7. Bickmore, G. 2016, ‘In other news: More floods on way due to Corbyn’s failure to hold government to account over global warming.’, Twitter post, 7 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20government%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  8. Boss, J. 2016, ‘Deadly Louisiana deluge had a major climate change assist study finds: The 7.1 trillion galleons of torrentia…’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=climate%20change%20is%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  9. Cheli, J. 2016, ‘Deadly Louisiana deluge had a major climate change assist study finds: The 7.1 trillion galleons on torrent…’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=climate%20change%20is%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  10. Chickfactor 2016, ‘Dear US Government: End fossil fuels. End coal. Do more to combat global warming.’, Twitter post, 7 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20government%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  11. Crowley, M. 2016, ‘#BlackLivesMatter You’d think global warming would be one thing, the one cause we could unite behind, wouldn’t you? Well you’d be wrong.’, Twitter post, 6 September, viewed 7 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20%23blacklivesmatter%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  12. Fabian the Meerkat 2016, ‘@LBC Oh so only black people are effected by global warming? #BlackLivesMatter UK is a JOKE’, Twitter post, 7 September, viewed 7 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20%23blacklivesmatter%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  13. Freddoso, D. 2016, ‘We’re from the government, and we’re here to…not help actually. Just to say that global warming caused your flood.’, Twitter post, 7 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20government%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  14. Green City Media 2016, ‘Is the government of Florida too afraid to talk about #climatechange?’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20government%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  15. Heaphy, J. 2016, ‘Billions of dollars go to scientists who push the global warming scam for the government.’, Twitter post, 7 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20government%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  16. Hoffman, H.J. 2015, How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, Stanford University Press, California.
  17. Jacob 2016, ‘@dancedad420 global warming is a government plot’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20government%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  18. James, S. 2016, ‘Deadly Louisiana deluge had a major climate change assist study finds’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=climate%20change%20is%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  19. Melton, H. 2016, ‘@WhiteHouse @WHLive @POTUS Ha ha..global warming is just a money making machine for the government..scientists out there that say fraud’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20government%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  20. Minna 2016, ‘Tbh I am with #BlackLivesMatter but what they’re protesting in the UK is a bit stupid just saying global warming effects everyone’, Twitter post, 6 September, viewed 7 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20%23blacklivesmatter%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  21. Obama, B. 2016, ‘Rising sea levels are already flooding homes and roads along America’s coasts. The time to #ActOnClimate is now.’, Twitter post, 7 September, viewed 7 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/BarackObama?lang=en&gt;
  22. Peters, D. 2016, ‘Arctic sea ice video shows it has shrunk this year almost to 2012 levels via @NPR @NASA’, Twitter post, 20 August, viewed 10 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/DaniClimate&gt;
  23. Peters, D. 2016, ‘In the village of Ashton Hayes, England, the act of reducing emissions is a fun community project’, Twitter post, 21 August, viewed 10 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/DaniClimate&gt;
  24. Peters, D. 2016, ‘Proud of the research that is happening to understand #climate change in NYC’, Twitter post, 10 September, viewed 10 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/DaniClimate&gt;
  25. Peters, D. 2016, ‘Will a price tag on climate change get people to act?’, Twitter post, 22 August, viewed 10 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/DaniClimate&gt;
  26. Pollock, S. 2016, Social Media echo chambers are hurting climate debate, viewed 22 September 2016, <http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/08/22/social-media-echo-chambers-are-hurting-climate-debate/&gt;
  27. Robinson, S. Jr. 2016, ‘Deadly Louisiana deluge had a major climate change assist study finds’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=climate%20change%20is%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  28. Simms, L. 2016, ‘So #BlackLivesMatter is now focused on Global Warming? And you say it was never a puppet organization? lol’, Twitter post, 6 September, viewed 7 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=global%20warming%20%23blacklivesmatter%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;
  29. Zoudis, J. 2016, ‘Deadly Louisiana deluge had a major climate change assist study finds: The 7.1 trillion galleons of torrentia…’, Twitter post, 8 September, viewed 8 September 2016, <https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=climate%20change%20is%20lang%3Aen&src=typd&lang=en&gt;

Emilie Glasson

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