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The Social Media Revolution and Shifts in the Climate Change Discourse

The paper analyses the role of social media in shifting the climate change discourse in the North Atlantic region. Changes in the media environment have removed traditional gatekeepers of information dissemination and empowered new kinds of actors to reach large audiences. Yet, the techniques and the particular messaging through which these audiences can be reached has had to change as well. Messages spread widely on social media if they get shared, liked, retweeted frequently. They need to provoke a reaction in their audience, that leads the audience to actively respond to the messages, be it only with a mouse click. Within the climate change field two new kinds of actors have the potential to seize upon this new opportunity structure: climate sceptics and pro-climate activist social movements. Through a qualitative social media analysis, this paper compares the specific messaging strategies these two communities have deployed. It finds that the climate strike movement, notably led by Greta Thunberg, could effectively seize the opportunities social media provide to reach large audiences. By contrast, climate sceptics have been significantly less successful. Counter-intuitively, the paper finds that digitization can not only empower tech-savvy individuals, but also specific, comparatively low tech, and hitherto marginalized individuals. Notably, young women, if they can draw on their vulnerability, aesthetics, and emotional messaging, can acquire high attention scores when advocating for political change. 

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