Taking the Climate Conversation Beyond the Echo Chamber
Social media is a powerful communication tool – Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms allow users to share information and ideas widely, and build a base of supporters quickly. But social media is also very effective at spreading misinformation, and in doing so, can reinforce the echo chambers that cause rumors and myths to persist.
As this Washington Post article explains, one of the principle drivers behind the spread of misinformation online is the phenomenon known as “confirmation bias” – the tendency to seek out information that conforms to our preexisting beliefs. As with other forms of media, we tend to consume content and share opinions that match our world views, and avoid or dismiss those that do not. It’s a bias that exists on both sides of the debate.
Though understandable, this tendency means we miss opportunities to engage a broader audience. Gaining the support we need for climate action means going beyond our own echo chamber, where we agree climate change is an urgent problem, and opening the door to the other one where doubt prevails. We need to avoid blame, condescension, and preaching, and instead listen to the reasoning behind opposing beliefs. Creating an atmosphere of respect makes it easier to find common ground – and understanding their concerns and priorities can help ensure our messages are relevant to the things they care about.
Finally, we need to offer solutions that they can accept without giving up their own belief system. For example, we can show how clean energy supports their identity as a parent by providing a healthier world for their children, or speaks to their patriotism by demonstrating American ingenuity.
By Chelsea Harvey, contributor to The Washington Post
Social media is no doubt a powerful force when it comes to the sharing of information and ideas; the problem is that not every article shared on Facebook or Twitter is true. Misinformation, conspiracy theories and rumors abound on the Internet, helping to propagate and support sentiments such as climate doubt and other forms of environmental and scientific skepticism.
Figuring out how such ideas diffuse through social media may be key to scientists and science communicators alike as they look for ways to better reach the public and change the minds of those who reject their information. A study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds new light on the factors that influence the spread of misinformation online.
The researchers conclude that the diffusion of content generally takes place within clusters of users known as “echo chambers” — polarized communities that tend to consume the same types of information. For instance, a person who shares a conspiracy theory online is typically connected to a network of other users who also tend to consume and share the same types of conspiracy theories. This structure tends to keep the same ideas circulating within communities of people who already subscribe to them, a phenomenon that both reinforces the worldview within the community and makes members more resistant to information that doesn’t fit with their beliefs.
Image credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes