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“The Greta Effect”: Analysing the social media discourse on climate change

By Annie Muir

Conversations at this time of year, aside from the whole Christmas malarkey, tend to reflect on thoughts like… “Where on earth did the last twelve months go?”, “Why have I only been to the gym twice?” and, “Why have I spent all my money on takeaways?”

Thinking about what’s happened over the last year, a few things have struck me:

  • England beating New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup Semi Final, then getting beaten by South Africa in the final
  • BoJo getting the top job
  • And then there’s Greta Thunberg, who inspired millions of children to join her “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for climate) protests. The protests aimed to pressure governments to deliver an urgent actionable agenda in the fight against climate change, colloquially dubbed the Greta effect.

It is clear from statistical data that Greta has inspired young people to mobilise, but has it actually impacted the way young people speak about climate change?

To answer this, we compared how young people talk on social about climate change before Greta appeared on the scene, vs. after her first climate change strike in August 2018 to see whether the Greta effect is as real as people say. Here are the results of our social media analysis:

Pre-Greta

WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?
Before Greta, young people were more likely to speak about climate change using a discourse of uncertainty. Young people described the proposed effects of climate change as potential scenarios which might have severe impacts on our eco-system.

FML it’s hot outside, apparently it could get 4 degrees C hotter in the next 10 years #climatechange

The possibility of the polar bears becoming extinct because of climate change its horrible

The Greta effect - uncertainty


JUST BLAME IT ON THE POLITICIANS
Conversations surrounding the potential/maybe/possible/uncertain effects of climate change were seen as an issue which should be dealt with by the politicians.

Tweets included:

  • 35% more mentions of Prime Minister
  • 20% more mentions of Teresa May
  • 15% more mentions of Jeremy Corbyn

These results suggest that young people, prior to Greta were more likely to believe that change would happen from top-down action, i.e. high-level political action would take precedence, and citizen activism would follow. Thus, as individual actors, young people did not consider themselves as pivotal in the agenda for change.

the great effect - politicians responsibility

Post-Greta

IT’S NOW OR NEVER
A key difference in how young people speak after the emergence of Greta lies within their tone of voice. Comparatively, young people speak about the issue of climate change using more urgent verbatim such as ‘tackle’ and ‘act now’.

This notion of urgency also manifests itself through young people’s references to time. Time was spoken of as ‘running out’ four times more likely than pre-Greta.

insight card - focus on urgency


WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Now, young people talk about taking actions against climate change in a collaborative manner. The idea that climate change is a shared burden that requires collective, community action in order to tackle was apparent in the tweets:

We need to start thinking about public transport provisions in towns. More buses = less cars = less CO2 emissions #climatechange

“Come and support us at the school strike for climate change tomorrow

insight card - communal action

This analysis implies that there is significant changes in the language used by young people, pre and post-emergence of Greta into the public eye, emphasising the effect that Greta Thunberg has had on the younger generation.

Relative Insight can analyse data from any language asset. Have a browse of our case studies to see exactly what comparative text analysis can do for your business, and how you can discover social media insights you didn’t know to look for.

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