Article

Framing the Global Youth Climate Movement: A Qualitative Content Analysis of Greta Thunberg’s Moral, Hopeful, and Motivational Framing on Instagram

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Abstract

Climate change is a critical global problem that requires immediate action to mitigate its effects. In recent years, youth climate activists have mobilized worldwide protests to demand action, using social media platforms to communicate and broadcast their message. This study examines Greta Thunberg's rise to global prominence through an analysis of her first year and a half of Instagram posts from June 2018 to January 2020, including visual and textual elements. First, we explore how climate change is communicated on social media by youth activists, and then examine these concepts through the unique case of Thunberg’s Instagram. Then, through qualitative content analysis, this study elucidates her communication strategy by applying the concept of framing to unpack how she frames climate change as a moral and ethical issue, uses an emotional appeal of hope, and visually frames motivational collective action to mobilize her audience. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings to explore the complexities of communicating climate change through social media and how Thunberg's activism on Instagram may provide an example for future generations.

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This study content analyzed 3,300 user comments from the 11 most-viewed YouTube videos about climate activist Greta Thunberg. The analysis reveals that about 4 in 10 comments contained some form of incivility. Moreover, 40% of the uncivil comments reflected ageism, slightly more than one third sexism, and just less than one quarter ableism. The analysis suggests that uncivil comments about Thunberg on YouTube were far from deliberative in nature, ignored her positions on climate change altogether, and focused on her youth, gender, and Asperger’s syndrome.
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In the 16 months before TIME magazine naming Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year, as her influence grew, so too did the news media’s attempts to make sense of her. This project analyzes profiles of Greta Thunberg to understand how journalists constructed the persona that has become “Greta.” We argue the paradoxical framing of Thunberg as exceptional and fierce and childlike contributes to an alternative construction of girlhood grounded in the positive portrayal of her Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. While featuring ASD as her “superpower” is potentially progressive, we argue foregrounding Thunberg’s whiteness and age cements her construction as the iconic voice of the climate crisis movement, potentially downplaying the need for collective action to end climate change.
Article
In Australia, the polarised debate over the pace and scale of change necessary to mitigate climate change has been exacerbated by inconsistent federal government policies which are seen to hinder the transition to a low carbon energy future. This includes the way in which particular energy technologies have been framed within the debate, with potential effects on public support for a given technology. This paper presents the results of a study that examined question order framing effects on support for a range of energy technologies across a nationally representative survey of the Australian public. It was hypothesised that this experimental manipulation would allow us to better understand how the salience of different frames may lead to shifts in individuals’ preferences for various energy technologies. Four different experimental frames were developed covering the following topics: knowledge; cost and reliability; climate change: and energy behaviours. Overall, our results demonstrated that such question order effects can impact support for the range of different options. The energy behaviours frame demonstrated an increase in overall levels of support for nearly all energy technologies and was the only frame that significantly increased overall levels of support for CCS. Consistent with prior research, overall support for renewable energy technologies remained highest. However, the frames led to unexpected outcomes in their impacts on expressed support. While the reasons for these responses are not clear, this study highlights an important consideration for ongoing survey research into the effects of question sequencing and priming around topic salience.
Article
Greta Thunberg’s meteoric rise from lonely school striker in August 2018 to global icon is one of the most remarkable political phenomena in recent decades, and one full of paradoxes. Thunberg started out with no resources, a child of 15 with limited experience and a history of Asperger’s. Thunberg’s iconic performance seems to have been able to turn these weaknesses into strengths. To understand how this happened, we must situate her analysis within the social media ecology. Two things distinguish this environment from previous phases: iconic protagonists now have wide degrees of control over their own performance, and audiences are no longer mere receptors of iconic performance, but active co-performers. Greta Thunberg is one of the first major political icons to have been fully formed within the new social media ecology. This article provides the first systematic analysis of this dynamic.
Article
While media images can ease political information perception and processing, the impact of images on behavioral intentions to engage in protest is relatively unexplored. We ask: Under what conditions can news images of protest “move” people and affect the willingness to participate? Aiming to answer this question from an information-processing perspective, we shed light on the nexus between spontaneous, sensory behavior and cognition in response to news media images of protest. We conducted a multigroup experiment in which 143 recipients were randomly exposed to four news images of protest and their visual attention monitored. Multilevel regressions indicate that viewers fixate on images of protest prior to accompanying texts. When exposed to protest images with a negative valence, an increase in the observation duration for protest images increases the recipient’s willingness to participate. Contrariwise, when viewing protest images with a positive valence, a longer observation duration does not increase participatory intentions. Irrespective of image valence, the greater the salience that viewers subjectively ascribed to the image, the greater their willingness to protest concerning the depicted issue. Our analysis also reveals a cross-level interaction effect indicating that the impact of image observation duration on the willingness to engage is conditional on individual levels of political interest: The positive effect of observing protest images on the willingness to protest is especially increased, if an individual is highly politically interested. These results indicate that, under certain conditions, media images are efficient carriers of political content that can motivate citizens to protest.
Article
This study investigates the representation of the Fridays for Future strikes in the German online newspapers Bild.de, Zeit Online and FAZ.net. Through a qualitative and quantitative content analysis over the time period August 2018 to March 2019, eight frames have been identified. Whereas Zeit Online shows a framing towards intergenerational justice, the coverage of FAZ.net and Bild.de strongly adheres to the protest paradigm. The majority of all articles guarantees protesters a voice, but this voice is often reduced to apolitical testimonies and the protesters’ self-agency is undermined through disparagement. German media coverage thus tends to reproduce existing power structures by marginalizing and depoliticizing the political agenda of a system critical protest. Although this framing feeds into the shift of the climate change discourse towards adaptation, the study shows that the idea of climate change as an issue of intergenerational justice and children’s rights has become part of the media’s agenda.
Article
Action on climate change is urgently needed. Because the climate crisis is a wicked problem driven by human activities, it requires social solutions. Although previous research has led to significant progress in our understanding of how to effectively communicate the existence and seriousness of climate change-and how to motivate people to behave in ways that help mitigate it-relatively little research has investigated the factors that lead to enduring change. In this Perspective, we highlight three promising areas of research that can inform efforts to answer the question of how to generate enduring change-deep engagement, general mental models, and social norms-and propose a research agenda aimed at generating enduring motivation to act on climate change.
Article
Climate change and the concerns it raises for the environment and all those inhabiting planet earth, human and nonhuman alike, have prompted waves of activism since the last decades of the twentieth century. Over the last few years, however, a novel form of activism has emerged, apparently led by children and youth from all over the world. This article studies how one of its most prominent leaders, Greta Thunberg, and her climate activism may be read as a lifewriting project. Drawing on traditions of social movements and testimony, rights discourse, rhetoric and strong emotions are strategically deployed to generate affective and effective engagement and action. The self that is in the making in Thunberg’s audiovisual and written life-writing texts is arguably a testimonial “I” to lay bare injustice. Her self-construction hinges upon the denunciation of broader systemic causes than mere lack of attention to the climate crisis.
Article
Sharing personal stories of how climate change is already harming people is a promising communication strategy to engage diverse and even skeptical audiences. Using two experiments, we test the effects of a radio story on the climate change beliefs and risk perceptions of political moderates and conservatives. The radio story, which aired on hundreds of stations across the U.S., is a North Carolina sportsman’s personal account of how climate change has already affected the places he loves. Both experiments found positive effects on global warming beliefs and risk perceptions. Additionally, Study 2 found these effects were mediated by emotional reactions of worry and compassion. These studies suggest personal stories can be a persuasive communication strategy.
Article
The American youth-led movement for gun violence prevention (YMGVP) that emerged after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has received tremendous media attention. To assess the potential effect of this coverage on readers’ efficacy, we conduct a two-wave population-based survey experiment on members of Generation Z, the Millennial generation, and Generation X that frames the movement as a success or failure in terms of achieving its political goals. Results show that emphasis framing impacts readers’ perceptions of the movement’s likely success in line with the manipulation. Furthermore, framing the YMGVP as unsuccessful suppresses readers’ own external and collective efficacy regardless of generation. Subjects’ support for gun control moderates the effect of treatment, such that individuals low in support express a decline in internal and information efficacy when presented with the success framing. Thus, we extend the effects of news framing beyond attitudes toward the subjects of reporting to readers’ own perceptions of themselves as capable of political action.
Article
Introduction Educators and policymakers promote political participation in young people as a means to strengthen the legitimacy of democracy. Creative social media use has grown in popularity in the digital age; however, this creative usage still receives inadequate attention in the literature—particularly its association with political participation. Method This study collected three-wave panel data from a sample of young people living in Hong Kong (56.9% male, mean age = 18.81, standard deviation = 2.70) and used cross-lagged structural equation modeling to evaluate the mediating and moderating roles of online political expression in the link between creative social media and political participation. Results and conclusions The results showed that creative social media use positively predicted political participation indirectly by the full mediation of enhanced online political expression. Findings did not reveal the moderation role of online political expression in the link between creative use of social media and political participation. Findings make important theoretical contributions in the field linking social media usage to political engagement.
Article
Research on young people’s protest participation has focused on how the family, peers, and institutions support activism and micromobilization. But digital and social media usage has arguably altered how we interact and how individuals participate in politics and activism, especially among youth. This sets up an important question: Do the institutional supports (e.g., schools) and network ties (e.g., friends and family) that have historically driven micromobilization still matter in a world of pervasive digital and social media usage, particularly for youth? In this article, we analyze this question using interviews with 40 high school and university students. Rather than acting as a disruptive force, we find that digital media has become an integral part of youth micromobilization, facilitating traditional paths to activism and offering pathways to activism for those with no other options. As has been true historically, participation may also be dampened when supportive network ties are absent. We conclude with a discussion of the broader implications for micromobilization and political participation.
Chapter
This chapter positions political communication research within the broader field of visual research methods. Visual political communication research has its roots in a broad range of humanities and social science disciplines. Despite the emergence of a visual culture, the use of visual data in social research is still limited and lacks a systematic framework for the analysis of such data. The author begins this chapter by outlining a taxonomy of interdisciplinary research based on the origin and outlet of visual data. He then focuses specifically on visual political communication through social media, as this is now a ubiquitous and potent political phenomenon. He then reviews ten recently published analyses of visual social media data and examines the emerging patterns and gaps. The chapter concludes with recommendations that could help strengthen both the role of visual data in political communication research and our analysis of such data.
Article
This article explores collective efforts by undocumented youth activists to use storytelling to reframe the debates around immigration reform and discursively position themselves as the rightful leaders of a movement that had been dominated by adult citizen‐advocates. Drawing on 19 months of fieldwork, 37 in‐depth interviews, and hundreds of pages of movement documents, I show how youth activists in the United States worked together to develop stories that: (1) drew into question the legitimacy of adult citizen‐advocates to speak on issues of immigration and (2) cast undocumented immigrant youth as the proper authorities on these matters. I argue that through collective storytelling and character work, the activists were able to subvert adult citizen authority and construct themselves as powerful, new collective actors in the contemporary immigrant rights movement. I conclude by discussing some of the practical implications and limitations of using narrative reframing strategies to advance the social change agendas of marginalized movement factions.
Article
Algorithms are said to affect social realities, often in unseen ways. This article explores conscious, instrumental interactions with algorithms, as a window into the complexities and extent of algorithmic power. Through a thematic analysis of online discussions among Instagram influencers, I observed that influencers' pursuit of influence resembles a game constructed around "rules" encoded in algorithms. Within the "visibility game," influencers' interpretations of Instagram's algorithmic architecture-and the "game" more broadly-act as a lens through which to view and mechanize the rules of the game. Illustrating this point, this article describes two prominent interpretations, which combine information influencers glean about Instagram's algorithms with preexisting discourses within influencer communities on authenticity and entrepreneurship. This article shows how directing inquiries toward the visibility game makes present the interdependency between users, algorithms, and platform owners and demonstrates how algorithms structure, but do not unilaterally determine user behavior.
Article
The field of environmental communication has reached several milestones since the 1990s, particularly the establishment of environmental communication-related divisions at professional associations and the founding of the journal Environmental Communication in 2007. This systematic review characterizes the peer-reviewed literature on environmental communication to date, examining methods, geography, top-cited articles, and analyzing keyword and titles. Drawing on the Web of Science Core Collection, which archives the Social Sciences Citation Index and the Arts & Humanities Citation Index, the review finds that attention to environmental communication has exploded in recent years and that the field is methodologically open-minded. Scholars have shifted focus from general environmental risk to specifically climate change in the last decade. Implications for the field are discussed.
Article
Substantial research examines the cognitive factors underlying proenviron-mental message effectiveness. In contrast, this study investigates the role of emotion, fear and hope specifically, in the gain/loss framing of environmental policy initiatives. The 2 (threat vs. no threat) × 2 (gain- vs. loss-framed efficacy) experiment revealed emotion, especially hope, as a key mediator between gain-framed messages and desired climate change policy attitudes and advocacy. Results further supported the value of sequencing emotional experiences to enhance persuasive effect. This research offers an inaugural test of emotional flow theorizing and highlights the need for additional research on emotional processes in environmental communication.
Book
A much-cited and highly influential text by Alastair Pennycook, one of the world authorities in sociolinguistics, The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language explores the globalization of English by examining its colonial origins, its connections to linguistics and applied linguistics, and its relationships to the global spread of teaching practices. Nine chapters cover a wide range of key topics including: international politics colonial history critical pedagogy postcolonial literature. The book provides a critical understanding of the concept of the ‘worldliness of English’, or the idea that English can never be removed from the social, cultural, economic or political contexts in which it is used. Reissued with a substantial preface, this Routledge Linguistics Classic remains a landmark text, which led a much-needed critical and ideologically-informed investigation into the burgeoning topic of World Englishes. Key reading for all those working in the areas of Applied Linguistics, Sociolinguistics and World Englishes.
Article
There has been considerable debate over the extent and role of young people's political participation. Whether considering popular hand-wringing over concerns about declines in young people's institutional political participation or dismissals of young people's use of online activism, many frame youth engagement through a “youth deficit” model that assumes that adults need to politically socialize young people. However, others argue that young people are politically active and actively involved in their own political socialization, which is evident when examining youth participation in protest, participatory politics, and other forms of noninstitutionalized political participation. Moreover, social movement scholars have long documented the importance of youth to major social movements. In this article, we bring far flung literatures about youth activism together to review work on campus activism; young people's political socialization, their involvement in social movement organizations, their choice of tactics; and the context in which youth activism takes place. This context includes the growth of movement societies, the rise of fan activism, and pervasive Internet use. We argue that social movement scholars have already created important concepts (e.g., biographical availability) and questions (e.g., biographical consequences of activism) from studying young people and urge additional future research.
Article
This study focuses on the ‘self-personalization’ of campaign politics, marked by candidates highlighting their personal lives over their policy positions. The rise of social media may be accelerating this shift. Applying Strategic Stereotype Theory [Fridkin, K. L., & Kenney, P. J. (201427. Fridkin, K. L., & Kenney, P. J. (2014). The changing face of representation: The gender of U.S. senators and constituent communications. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.View all references). The changing face of representation: The gender of U.S. senators and constituent communications. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.], which holds that women politicians try to deactivate stereotypes that associate men with agentic leadership traits while capitalizing on stereotypes that associate them with warmth, we assess what role gender plays in candidate self-personalization on social media. A large-scale computerized content analysis of social media posts by gubernatorial candidates in 2014 suggests that male candidates may see more and female candidates see less strategic benefits in personalizing, but this effect does not persist in the face of electoral contextual variables like competitiveness. We also find qualitative differences in the ways male versus female candidates personalize through social media.
Article
Appreciable advances have been made in recent years in raising climate change awareness and enhancing support for climate and energy policies. There also has been considerable progress in understanding of how to effectively communicate climate change. This progress raises questions about the future directions of communication research and practice. What more is there to say? Through a selective literature review, focused on contributions since a similar stock-taking exercise in 2010,1 the article delineates significant advances, emerging trends and topics, and tries to chart critical needs and opportunities going forward. It describes the climate communication landscape midway through the second decade of the 21st century to contextualize the challenges faced by climate change communication as a scientific field. Despite the important progress made on key scientific challenges laid out in 2010, persistent challenges remain (superficial public understanding of climate change, transitioning from awareness and concern to action, communicating in deeply politicized and polarized environments, and dealing with the growing sense of overwhelm and hopelessness). In addition, new challenges and topics have emerged that communication researchers and practitioners now face. The study reflects on the crucial need to improve the interaction between climate communication research and practice, and calls for dedicated science-practice boundary work focused on climate change communication. A set of new charges to climate communicators and researchers are offered in hopes to move climate change communication to a new place-at once more humble yet also more ambitious than ever before, befitting to the crucial role it could play in the cultural work humanity faces with climate change.
Article
Widespread political polarization on issues related to environmental conservation may be partially explained by the chronic framing of persuasive messages in ideological and moral terms that hold greater appeal for liberals and egalitarians. A series of three experiments examined the extent to which variations in the moral framing of pro-environmental messaging affect liberals' vs. conservatives' conservation intentions, climate change attitudes, and donations to an environmental organization. While liberals did not generally differ across conditions, conservatives shifted substantially in the pro-environmental direction after exposure to a binding moral frame, in which protecting the natural environment was portrayed as a matter of obeying authority, defending the purity of nature, and demonstrating one's patriotism to the United States. This shift was pronounced when conservatives perceived the congruent appeal to be a stronger argument. Evidence of mediated moderation is also presented, in which the attitudinal and behavioral shifts for conservatives were a function of the degree to which the values present in the pro-environmental appeal were perceived as coming from the ingroup. Discussion focuses on future directions for more precisely specifying moral framing effects, and on considering the pros and cons of targeted messaging for the sustainability of environmental attitude change.