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Is Seaspiracy accurate? Using text analysis to compare media reactions

The on-going threat to the Earth’s oceans is a very real and worrying thought. Plastic pollution and rising temperatures might be the first things that come to mind. However, the recent Netflix documentary Seaspiracy sheds light on another damaging aspect: the global fishing industry.

Airing to over 200 million subscribers, Seaspiracy has created waves amongst viewers. Throughout the documentary, filmmaker Ali Tabrizi captures upsetting, incriminating footage of the fishing industry and highlights the environmental impact that industrial fishing has on marine life.  

However, marine biologist Daniel Pauly argues that Seaspiracy undermines the real issues in an unregulated and often criminal enterprise, with an avalanche of falsehoods. The documentary is being criticised for being vegan propaganda, full of hyperbole and mischaracterisations.

Using text analysis to compare reactions

Being in the world of linguistics, we wanted to find out how different media sources have reacted to the release of Seaspiracy. Specifically, how left-leaning news publications, who often attract a more radicalised, politically woke audience, are discussing Seaspiracy in comparison to more conservative right wing publications. We also wanted to measure the effect the documentary had on the general public.  

Using Relative Insight’s text analysis platform, we uploaded a sample of articles from each end of the media bias, as well as discussions taking place on Twitter, and ran two comparisons:

Through comparison, we were able to pinpoint the linguistic nuances unique to each channel and audience – and here’s what we found…

Left-leaning news coverage

Importance of documentaries
While journalism’s job is to appear factual and informative, media bias will often influence reporting style. When comparing left-leaning news articles against their conventional competitors, we found that hey were 7.2x more likely to stress the importance of documentaries such as Seaspiracy. Leftist publications seemed to be appealing to their audience, who are receptive to such forms of activism.

Taking action
Furthermore, these publications use lexical verbs such as need and do to stress the actions people should take after watching Seaspiracy. Left-leaning news outlets are infinitely more likely to mention petitions inspired by the documentary, encouraging their audiences to act. One news article stated: “Seaspiracy has exposed the truth, but we can’t fix this on our own. now we need action, and that’s where you come in. Together we can change this.”

These publications stand firm on their stance that the documentary is completely factually accurate, and they do not acknowledge any notion of exaggeration or hyperbole.

Collective voice
Similarly, the need for a collective effort to fight environmental issues is subtly present throughout the tone of voice of left publications. When discussing Seaspiracy, journalists use personal pronouns to create a direct relationship with the reader. The oceans become our oceans and our seas. The threat is on our life and the planet we love. In this sense, reporting is less objective, and emphasises the need for people to work together to protect the planet. 

Right-leaning news coverage

Accusing Seaspiracy of spreading misinformation
In comparison, right-wing publications adopted an accusatory tone when discussing the ‘facts’ of Seaspiracy. Words such as claimed and argued suggest that right-leaning newspapers believe there is little evidence to support the details of the documentary. And they aren’t afraid to comment.

Controversial claims
The idea that Seaspiracy is problematic is further underlined by right-leaning news articles, who are 5.7x more likely to describe the film as controversial. This is a huge contrast to their counterparts who label it as important.  

We dived a little deeper into this insight and found that one of the main issues that right-leaning publications have with the documentary is its final suggestion: that to stop eating fish will save our oceans. Right-wing publications argue that this statement requires “western privilege”. But also twists the narrative and supports the argument that the film is in fact vegan propaganda.

Negative impact on the ocean’s conservation
Journalists are infinitely more likely to talk about how the documentary undermines environmentalists who dedicate their whole lives to ocean conservation. Moreover, right-wing news articles are 13.7x more likely to discuss the negative impact of Seaspiracy on non-profit organisations. The criticism that Seaspiracy has done more harm than good is rife in right-leaning publications.

Social media

While it’s important to analyse media conversation, comparison also enables us to understand how people, rather than journalists talk on different channels. In this case, we compared the Twitter conversations around Seaspiracy to the combined news coverage.

Emotional response: “Never eating fish again!”
The documentary instilled an emotional reaction in viewers, who described their shock and sadness on Twitter. Whereas news coverage remains mostly factual and informative, this highlights how social media captures an organic, emotional response from its users. Twitter users were infinitely more likely to use the phrase never eating fish again, and this sudden urge for people to boycott the fishing industry shows the seismic influence of Seaspiracy, and the power of mass-media to inspire change.

Different channels and publications attract entirely different audiences who speak about particular topics in very nuanced ways. However, it’s essential to understand all sides of the conversation. Whether you’re a brand, agency or consumer, understanding polarising standpoints will give you a 360-degree view of any dialogue.

In this example, leveraging comparison enables us to measure the effectiveness of Seaspiracy on its viewers, as well as keeping a finger on the pulse of criticism taking place in the press.

Relative Insight is the key to analysing public discourse around specific topics, providing context through language insights. Get in touch to find out more!

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