Is our planet being saved by online content?

Picture of By Ninke Boshuizen

By Ninke Boshuizen

No topic seems to be hotter than our planet. Especially in the younger generations, the strive for climate action has risen to big proportions. Interesting enough, the young climate activists are also our world’s first digital natives. The first people that have been brought up in a world of technology. Ironically, this has led to a fight to save our planet, in the least natural place you can think of, on social media.

Climate change through our phones

You might wonder, how big of a deal can climate change be when you’re scrolling through your social media feeds? When it comes to social media, we often talk about the issues of body image, influencers, and the unattainable perfect life it portrays. But how big is the topic of the climate crisis? The answer to this question differs for each generation and individually. A study from Pew Research Center in the U.S.  found out that 44% of millennials and older generations who are social media users had seen content on addressing global climate change in the past few weeks. For Gen Z the number is even higher – 56%. Besides that, the engagement with climate change-related content had more than doubled from 2016 to 2019. This proves people do not merely observe climate change content, but also actively engage with it through following, liking, and sharing. 

What content do we see?

The climate change content is indeed a big part of our timelines and social media engagement, but what type of posts do we see? The content we seem to be engaging with the most are articles posted on social media. With or without having read the full article, people share their opinions in the comment section.  Additionally, people share a lot of content about the climate strikes that have been happening over the past few years. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, pictures can be found of people’s protest experiences that lead to an even bigger discourse on the topic. Apart from the articles and the content about climate strikes, there are many posts on social media to raise awareness. From brands to individual users, to the official account of UN Climate Change, everyone seems to be sharing content about the matter, hoping to reach more people through higher exposure. 

What will it lead to?

There is so much effort in the online world to call for action to save our planet, but does it lead to anything?

The first thing to address with action being taken on social media is the danger of misinformation and polarization. When we have people learning about the climate crisis on social media, misinformation can easily slip into the pile of articles and posts. After all, who checks every post on climate change? Raising awareness is great, but social media is not the platform where you can be sure of the truthfulness of the information you read or post. When issues are as sensitive as the climate crisis, everyone wants their opinion to be heard, so often the online discourse becomes tainted with false or even deliberately misrepresented facts. Thus, when we want to make social media efforts count, we need to pay attention to fact-checking. Perhaps even social media platforms such as Instagram can help us with that, as they regulate information about the Covid-19 crisis too. Posts that share misinformation about climate change could need a warning and a link to scientifically proven information too. 

We need to reach out to each other if we want to save the planet. 

Besides fact-checking, there is the danger of further polarization. Strengthening your opinion on a matter through the support found on social media is easily done, because of  algorithms and filter bubbles we are surrounded by these days. If you are already concerned about the climate crisis or believe the climate crisis doesn’t exist at all, social media will likely offer you content that confirms your opinions and values. The offered content can get more and more extreme. When talking about something they are passionate about, people can lose touch with their empathy for other opinions and instead of trying to understand others, only crawl deeper into their information bubbles. This might make real-life discussions more difficult because people will have a hard time listening to each other. If you ask me, this could be a real problem when we want to tackle this crisis. If we want to move forward, we have to keep listening to each other and make sure many people can get on board with the steps needed to be taken. We need to reach out to each other if we want to save the planet. 

Can online activism save the planet?

Apart from the dangers, we need to keep in mind when we talk about social media activism, luckily there is some hope. Social media might also help in this crisis. Social media has played a significant role in helping people communicate, including spreading knowledge about the danger of climate change. With the growing number of climate movements and actions, the messages could create more awareness and reach policymakers. Social media can reach millions of people worldwide, and we might need this many people to reach our world leaders. It can give us a sense of connection with this problem that crosses country borders. Social media, in this case, might give us the exact options we need for the future fight against climate change. Maybe we really can save our real-life planet by communicating in our online universe.

If we are willing to reach out to people that don’t share our opinions and put the effort into recognizing misinformation and fake news, social media can be a wonderful tool for climate change activism. So check your facts, reach out to social media platforms to help us with that, but definitely do share that post. Who knows what it will lead to. If we only have a few years to do this, we need to step up our game and work together. With the accessibility and wide reach of social media platforms, I think they can be our destined tool to fix this. Of course, we need real action and companies hopping in on the change, but this is something everyone can do. Things can start with sharing. Let’s save the planet with some clicks, shall we? 

 Cover: Lara Jameson 

Edited by: Polina Osipchuk


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