No ‘echo chambers’ in Reddit’s climate debate

Climate change debates on Reddit don’t take place in polarized ‘echo chambers’ new research suggests.

The study found evidence to suggest more “deliberative debate”.

Researchers from the University of Exeter looked at the topics, sources of information and the existence of different communities in Reddit’s climate discussions.

They found little evidence of echo chambers – unlike previous searches on Twitter who found that discussions of climate change often occur in polarizing echo chambers.

However, the study found evidence of polarization, with the most common topic in climate-related posts and comments being “uncivil debate” (containing name-calling and hostile language).

“We also found evidence to suggest more ‘deliberative debate,’ with many discussing important aspects of the climate crisis and many topics suggesting debate that is not uncivil,” the lead author said. Kathie Treenfrom the University of Exeter.

“It was encouraging to see a lack of echo chambers, other than a single pro-Trump community that has since been banned by Reddit.

“Even though there is a polarization in terms of opinion, both sides are debating in the same place.”

The researchers used three methods to analyze climate discussions on Reddit:

  • Topic modeling (data on words commonly found together, which can reveal topics covered). This showed wide-ranging discussions on topics such as the causes and impacts of climate change, politics, economics and science. But “uncivil debate” was dominant in more posts and comments than any other topic, and skepticism/denial was a close second.
  • Community sensing (which people engage with each other?). A “response network” based on who responds to whom was used to detect communities of individuals. Mapping the interactions between these communities revealed what Treen called a “hairball” of interconnected communities. Rather than echo chambers whose members spoke only to each other, the different communities were “highly connected” (measured by the level of interaction between the different communities).
  • Source analysis (which sources have users cited?). The cited sources suggest a general leaning rather to the left politically and ecologically in its climate perspective. Wikipedia was the most shared source, followed by YouTube and Twitter. The only mainstream “expert-generated” sources in the top 10 were the Guardian and NASA. The IPCC – the authoritative assessment of climate change information – was 35th.

Treen explained that “While most research on the social media climate debate has focused on Twitter, Reddit has a different platform architecture, e.g. community moderation and message-based news feeds. themes rather than followers”.

She added, “The findings of our paper suggest that platform architecture plays a key role in shaping the online climate debate.”

The study used data from April 1 to June 30, 2017 – an important period in climate policy, since the United States announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on June 1 this year.

The researchers analyzed 18,558 posts and 267,147 comments from 93,850 users related to the issue of climate change.

The article, published in the journal Environmental communicationis titled: “Climate Change Discussion on Reddit: Polarized Discourse or Deliberative Debate?”

The authors of the article include researchers working on TO ACCESS, a new five-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council that aims to provide leadership on the contribution of the social sciences to solving various environmental problems. It will build the leadership capacity of a new cohort of early-career researchers and work with stakeholders to ensure that social science evidence informs decision-making.

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