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Breaking Through Twitter's Spiral of Silence with the #ClimateDaily Pledge

Posted on 20 May 2022 by Steve Dondley

The Spiral of Silence Problem

As climate communicator John Cook cleverly illustrates below, a big obstacle to raising awareness about climate change is the "spiral of silence," a reluctance to talk about it. There are many reasons for this reluctance we can speculate about. Perhaps people don't want to be "Debbie Downers," or don't feel knowledgeable enough to bring it up, or wish to avoid being perceived as controversial.

The Spiral of Silence

But whatever the reason, it's a problem. And we see this problem on Twitter, one of the biggest platforms for disseminating news and shaping public opinion. With the exception of those of us on Twitter who are on a mission to raise awareness about climate change, the vast majority of people don't tweet about climate change much, if at all. Though wildfires, temperature records, and other worrying weather events can help break through the social media noise machine, climate change soon fades into the background again, replaced with the next crisis of the hour.

The end result is that climate change, the biggest challenge that humans have ever confronted, is not mentioned nearly enough. This is unfortunate because science communicators tell us that the act of talking about climate change regularly is an important precursor for action because it gets more people thinking about the issue. So what to do?

The #ClimateDaily Pledge

I propose making a concerted effort to keep climate change in the forefront of people's minds that I call the "#ClimateDaily Pledge." My twitter thread here explains it succinctly, but please read on for additional details on how I imagine it working.

The pledge is simple, having only two parts:

Climate Pledge graphic

1) Make a conscious effort to tweet about climate change at least once a day and tag it with the #ClimateDaily hashtag.

The use of the #ClimateDaily hashtag is key. First, it reminds people about the pledge if they are already aware of it and follow through on their commitment. Second, it's a good excuse to break the ice and talk about climage change. If you are doing something you know is done in concert with others, you are going to be much more likely to do it. Third, it adds to the virality of the campaign. Whether it's raising awareness about sexual harassment or getting you hooked on an online game, hashtags can help ideas take on a life of their own. Lastly, the hashtag provides a symbol for participating in a fun, collective effort to raise awareness about climate change, something I think we all yearn for.

Most of us reading this are already making daily tweets about climate change. All that's left for you to do is to remember to tag your tweets with the #ClimateDaily hashtag.

2) Spread the word about the #ClimateDaily pledge by actively encouraging others to participate.

This second part of the pledge makes it extremely viral and so is very important to do.

The goal here is to find people who understand the urgency of climate change but rarely tweet about it. Ideally, many high profile accounts will take the pledge. Think of people like Neil deGrasse Tyson or prominent politicians. This alone would obviously be a great boon to keep climate change in the forefront of people's minds. If these large accounts also encourage their followers to take the #ClimateDaily pledge, this will create a tremendous avalanche effect.

Some early feedback I've received indicates that less activist-minded people may be more willing to participate with a #ClimateWeekly or even #ClimateMonthly hashtag. As long as it helps tweet more frequently about climate change, this would obviously be welcome. So if they are reluctant to commit to #ClimateDaily, see if they might be willing to commit to a #ClimateWeekly or #ClimateMonthly pledge instead.

So that's it! Just two simple steps: Use the #ClimateDaily hashtag at least once a day when you tweet about climate change and encourage others to do the same.

What Should You Tweet About?

What you tweet is up to you. It should match your style, areas of interest, and personality. The tweets can be just about anything related to climate change, including:

  • personal reflections about how you feel about climate change
  • news about about the tangible impacts of climate change
  • news about ongoing efforts to combat climate change 
  • political news about climate change efforts in government
  • wonky scientific and political information
  • memes

Just be sure that whatever you tweet is backed up by sound science or solid journalism if your tweets are informational.

If you are looking for factual information to tweet, the Skeptical Science website is a great place to start:

Finally, if you're pressed for time, you can quickly retweet another another climate change tweet you like and tag it with #ClimateDaily and still feel good about meeting your daily commitment.

How Can You Help Raise Awareness About the Pledge?

The simplest thing to do is just ask others to take it. It might be best to start with those already tweeting about climate change to help raise awareness about the #ClimateDaily pledge. You can send them a link to this article or to this short thread at that provides a brief summary of how the pledge works.

Don't get discouraged if you get ignored. That's going to be the typical response, especially with high profile accounts who are likely bombarded with messages. But it won't take long before you find someone who gets it immediately, especially if they are already inclined to be climate change activists. And when individuals who may have initially been reluctant to participate will begin to see requests to take the pledge from many people, the bandwagon effect will kick in and help the campaign take off.

This is why you don't have to focus on just big Twitter accounts. Ask any other tweeters you regularly interact with about the pledge and encourage them to sign on. You can also find accounts that might be inclined to take the pledge by searching Twitter for hash tags such as #ClimateChange and then ask them to take the pledge. Try to ask at least one account a day.  

Will This Actually Work?

Well, we won't know until we put some effort into it. But we have a lot to gain and absolutely nothing to lose so it seems our best option is to try it and find out!

There will be some pitfalls. For example, a climate denier has already started using the #ClimateDaily hashtag to try to hijack it. But the deniers are far outnumbered and they will be far less successful in being able to get highly influential people to participate. And we shouldn't let the fear of how others react dictate how we get the message out. That's just bad strategy.

Most importantly, the biggest obstacle we face right now is Twitter's "Spiral of Silence," so I suggest we make our best effort to pull together and break it. I haven't heard any better suggestions. I did a detailed analysis and ruled out a fundraising campaign for scraping together $45 billion from climate activists to outbid Elon Musk's Twitter offer.

avalanche

Unmodified image from Wikimedia.org under Creative Commons License

And so far, so good. Early indications are there's strong enthusiasm for the idea based on some monitoring of the use of the #ClimateDaily hashtag. Though the campaign is in it's very early stages (a few days old at the time of this writing) it's getting decent traction. I've spotted over a dozen different twitter accounts using #ClimateDaily in the wild, one from a verified  account, a TV meteorologist for KHOU in Houston, Texas.

My goal is to get this kickstarted and hope that the wider community runs with it until it takes on a life of its own. With a little luck, pluck and your help, I think it could result in many millions of additional impressions about climate change each day. I am open to any suggestions for what I might do to bring this nascent idea to fruition. Feel free to DM me on Twitter at @steve_dondley with ideas or share them in the comments below.

Before closing, I would be remiss to not offer a big hat tip to Dr. Gerald Kutney, whose "#ClimateBrawl" hashtag helped inspire this idea and promoted the idea to his followers to help get the ball rolling. Thanks, Gerald! And thanks also to Baerbel Winkler for reaching out to me and letting me know about the "spiral of silence" phenomena, a topic she has written about here on Skeptical Science.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 6:

  1. The Spiral of Silence problem is likely partly, and maybe significantly, a result of the development of inflexible minds.

    See my comment on the recent SkS reposting of "The kids are not OK".

    As the recent BBC Ideas video "How new experiences 'rewire' your brain" explains things, people can respond to encountering something new or unexpected (prediction error - meaning not what a person's experience-based learning would lead them to initially expect) by flexible learning or inflexible resistance to learning (resisting changing their developed beliefs).

    People who are less flexible thinkers can learn to become more flexible thinkers. But if they developed their identity as part of a group that includes inflexible thinkers on an issue they risk being rejected from that group if they question and try to change the developed beliefs, even if the developed beliefs are contradicted by evidence or are understandably misunderstandings that are harmful to others.

    Harmful influencers who understand this will try to limit the raising of awareness or improvement of understanding. They will fight against the need to learn to limit and correct harmful lack of awareness and harmful misunderstanding.

    It would be great if Social Media Star Influencers would become part of the team that tries to raise awareness and limit and correct harmful misunderstanding. However, those people risk losing 'likes (and related profit)' if they do that.

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  2. Climate silence is climate surrender. 

    It's worth noting that many people won't talk about climate change in online venues (or standing at a vista in a national park for that matter) because what stands for discourse around climate change is often dominated by ovewrought, highly emotional people expressing their fear of climate change, climate mitigation and climate adaptation as dismissal of the fairly simple handful of basic principles governing the climate. These few make talking about climate change extremely unpleasant.

    So, one must either swallow one's feelings of repugnance for the process of dealing with such folks, or clam up. It's of course far easier to do the latter. Particularly, everybody has limits of patience, and repeatedly dealing with the same fundamentally misguided and flawed opinions expressed in heated and often personal expressions becomes boring and hence exhausting.

    In short , anybody with a significant number of followers and committing to daily climate change reminders is going to encounter some tiresome crap.

    "Be a Marine" and deal with it. But here are a few tips to keep help things centered and most importantly useful.

    • The audience for disagreement is not those who are talking but those who are only reading. Write for the bystander. Make it easier for bystanders to understand what they're truly learning by witnessing disagreement, namely that there is no actual basis for disagreement and that disagreement is not only not rooted in what we know about climate systems but rather in matters having nothing to do with climate science itself.
    • Ad hominem remarks are a means to change the subject. Don't let the subject be changed— stick with the topic of climate change, remind bystanders of the purpose of ad hominem remarks (whether directed to yourself, other individuals or entire classes of persons).
    • Any remark dismissing or disagreeing with consensus agreement among the actual scientific community on matters of climate change -must- be accompanied by a citation to published research. Insist on this. Keep reminding the interlocutor of their deficiency until this is accomplished, or their energy is sapped.
    • Aside from a small handful of professionals, folks popping up to disagree with common sense are expressing their fear of something else. Remind them (and bystanders) of this.  
    • You will be challenged to explain why fringe theories are wrong, or engage in discussion over quibbles. Don't waste your time on this when the work of doing that has already been accomplished. As Steve says, lean on others; there are no new counter-arguments to scientific consensus left to explore, and more or less all of them are covered here at Skeptical Science. You won't change your interlocutor's mind but pushing a link to correction provides a service to bystanders. 
    • In short, educating bystanders is the only useful purpose for engaging with disagreement on climate change in any public forum. Exploit opportunities to the fullest extent possible— which is not complicated.
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  3. Most of my discussions about peer reviewed climate science result in rebuttals about what the Bible says, or a popular political opinion from a prominent corporate leader. Any advice on that? 

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  4. I think SKS would have to clearly state that the Christian Bible is not a source of peer-reviewed science and that political opinions do not trump peer reviewed science. Since SKS prohibits discussions about religion and politics, could this be done?

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Off-topic and moderation complaints snipped.  Really, you know better. 

    Please stay on-topic.

  5. Here's a freshly published article directly relevant to this campaign:

    Social Engagement with climate change: principles for effective visual representation on social media

    Open access. 

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  6. Aeyles @3,

    Anyone making reference to Biblical points could be challenged by the following 'biblical understanding'.

    The Bible requires its adherents to be stewards of God's creation, not be harmful unsustainable exploiters of God's creation.

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