Significant role of blogosphere in discourse on climate change

May 31, 2021

The climate change blogosphere is polarized, with on one side ‘the climate mainstream’ and on the other side ‘climate sceptics’. While it is difficult to quantify the impact, the climate change blogosphere has played a significant role in scientific, political, media, and public discourse on climate change. The thesis of C.W. van Eck, Wageningen University and Research “Opposing positions dividing interactions and hostile affect” a multi-dimensional approach to climate change polarization in the blogosphere, investigated the precise role of the blogosphere in climate change polarization.

A novel theoretical framework was developed to conceptualize climate change polarization, by distinguishing between positional, interactional, and affective climate change polarization:

  1. Positional climate change polarization: extreme climate change opposition or increasingly opposing climate change positions;
  2. Interactional climate change polarization: interactions in which participants are either disengaged from or increasingly contrasting others who hold opposing climate change positions;
  3. Affective climate change polarization: extreme or increasingly affective or emotional evaluations that reflect hostility toward opposing climate change groupings.

In six mixed methods research studies, the current thesis showed how climate change polarization is deeply ingrained in the blogosphere. Bloggers, commenters, and audience members are all (consciously or unconsciously) partaking in climate change polarization. More specifically, actors in the blogosphere hold extreme opposing climate change positions, have interactions where they either are disengaged or are increasingly contrasting others who hold opposing climate change positions, and affectively and emo­tionally evaluate opposing climate change groupings in a way that reflects hostility.

Polarizing interaction strategies

For example, one study showed how climate sceptical bloggers and climate mainstream bloggers both support similar journalistic norms (e.g. truth, novelty, dramatization). However, they both operationalize these norms in a way that is in line with their own climate change position, which leads to polarized blog content.

Another study showed how commenters mostly use polarizing interaction strategies when they are experiencing a framing difference with another commenter. When commenters are deploying such strategies, they repeat or upgrade their own position and are not open to the position of the other commenter. As a result, the framing difference is often left behind unresolved.

One last example is a study that showed that audience members with low climate change risk perceptions primarily visit climate sceptical blogs, whereas audience members with high climate change risk perceptions primarily visit climate mainstream blogs. This study therefore provides evidence for potential echo chamber effects.

How to depolarize the blogosphere

Overall, the theoretical framework and findings of the current thesis contribute to our understanding of online climate change polarization dynamics. The thesis concludes with four recommendations to depolarize the blogosphere:

  1. Promote an exchange of views, in order to diminish echo chamber effects;
  2. Train audience members to recognize misinformation themselves;
  3. Introduce deliberative norms to promote civil dialogues and appoint facilitators that uphold these rules;
  4. Communicate effectively about climate change. For example, create content that resonates with the values, worldviews, and realities of audience members and content that appeals to their emotions. Another example includes that one should focus on similarities instead of differences and divides.