Author: Sara Yeo – University of Utah, United States

Dominique Brossard – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Kyle Griffin – Riskpulse
Zachary Handlos – Georgia Institute of Technology
Alexandra Karambelas – Columbia University
Kathleen Rose – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Leona Su – University of Utah

Research suggests people associate different concepts with the terms “global warming” and “climate change.” We test this claim using Twitter content and supervised learning software to categorize tweets by topic. We explore differences in Twitter discourses that employ the terms “global warming” and “climate change” over time (January 1, 2012 to March 31, 2014). These data were combined with temperature records to test the extent to which temperature was associated with online discussions. We then used two case studies to examine the relationship between extreme temperature events and Twitter content: a “cold surge” (January 2014) and a “heat wave” (March 2012). We found that the topic of discussion was an important factor in whether messages about global warming or climate change were more prevalent. While more reactions to global warming were observed for topics related to weather and energy, more climate change tweets were about environmental and political issues. Consistent with previous research, our findings also showed that posts about global warming (but not climate change) were significantly correlated with anomalous temperature and impacted by seasonality. This result was further supported in our case study of the “heat wave,” where a statistically significant correlation between anomalous temperature and global warming reactions was observed. The “cold surge” case study supported our finding that political statements appear to be associated with more climate change tweets relative to global warming. Overall, these findings underscore the importance of considering how communication on social media may translate into concerns among lay publics. Depending on the policy issue at hand, it may be important to develop messages using the appropriate term that resonates with people’s existing schema.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication

Author: Sara Yeo, University of Utah, United States

Co-authors: Andrew R. Binder, Michael F. Dahlstrom, Dominique Brossard

The partisan divide in U.S. public opinion on climate change has far-reaching effects on a variety of social aspects of global warming, ranging from attitudes toward climate change to climate-related government policies. Opinions are often shaped by media content and online media have increasingly become primary sources of scientific information for many non-expert audiences (National Science Board, 2014). The present study focuses on visual media in the online environment and audience perceptions of credibility in the context of climate change. A long-standing axiom in communication scholarship holds that the purpose of a specific communication message is in the eye of the beholder. Much research has followed this tradition by focusing on the influences of different types of sources, various types of message attributes, and the micro-level effects of information processing. Yet, elements concerning specific visual characteristics of messages and how they impact audiences have been overlooked. Here, we empirically test the interaction of visual aspects of multimedia messages with more traditional source factors on judgments of credibility. This line of inquiry is directly applicable to the changing contemporary media environment, where individuals of different backgrounds and perspectives are able to broadcast their opinions through user-generated content delivered online. In our investigation, we systematically vary the source and setting of a visual stimulus about climate change. Results find that the source of information, labeled as either a scientist or a politician, has implications for perceptions of credibility given the polarized opinions on the issue. With respect to the visual stimulus, we manipulate the apparent reach and congruency between the message and its source. Our findings suggest that differences all three factors play a role in perceived credibility. The implications of our findings are discussed.