HOW TO EXPLOIT SOCIAL MEDIA TO ADVANCE YOUR NEFARIOUS PLOT TO SAVE THE WORLD
or, five quick tips that really do work!
Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think. If you like this newsletter, please subscribe. And tell your dog to as well.
If you’d told me twenty years ago that there would one day be a company that owned all my most useful communication tools and knew everything about me and most of the world and had the power to torque elections and incite genocide and that its most vocal critic was Borat, I...would have said I’m not really into sci fi.
And yet, here we are.
I’ve done the social media diet before. The one where I abstain from everything. The problem is all the tools and resources and information that I miss out on. How would I know when to next inflict my violin playing on the local klezmer jam? How would I know about the latest nimby happenings in my neighbourhood? Many people are wrestling with deleting their social accounts after watching The Social Dilemma. And I sometimes wish I could do likewise. But I need my socials for work and niche neighbourhood news.
If you need your accounts for work, life, or maintaining contact with your far-away aunties or special communities, you accept the good and bad of these platforms. But there are ways to try to use these spaces to push for change, and to make the experience richer for yourself and those around you by sharing valuable climate information, which is severely underrepresented on social media. The goal is not to try to swell your social following. The goal is to try to swell climate’s social following.
We know that Facebook and Instagram algorithms prioritize a certain type of engagement: enragement. It amplifies the emotional, like angry Trump rants or a cute baby dance. What does this mean for someone who shares climate content? Lots.
Climate content is often downvoted because it’s not exceptionally engaging. This isn’t because people are evil and don’t care about the world. It’s because they came to Facebook to look at their second cousin’s new sailboat with the tasteless name. Not to be confronted with an article about the world’s rapidly exhausting carbon budget.
Herewith, Five tips for Planetary PR:
1. Be a first-rate curator (without ever referring to yourself as a curator)
Share the most thoughtful articles. The ones that don’t front load APOCALYPSE. Share beautiful pieces with good data and great art and resonant ideas. Amazing stories of magical plastic-eating enzymes, hydrogen trucks, game-changing forest regeneration techniques, the rapidly dropping cost of solar. Share these things not to hide the dire, but to get people to be able to see our possible future at scale - the world where life is actually better (less pollution, less inequality, more dancing). Add thoughts (RT with comment!) about why you’re sharing what you’re sharing, and what you want people to take away from it or do. Highlight the most salient bits for the time-deprived (everyone). (More last week on what kind of positive news to share.) And look for stories that bridge divides.
2. No Smug Prescriptions
Do NOT I repeat DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT share content that talks about lifestyle changes we have to make in a hierarchical or judgy manner. I learned this firsthand when I posted an article about reducing air travel, and then took a six-month break from Facebook because I disliked the conversation I had kickstarted so much. People get defensive about the idea that we might need to change our ways (hello, loss aversion!). These articles send people into games of gotcha with the science or math on offer, IE engaging in tradeoff thinking: Well, I don’t drive a truck, so it’s okay if I eat hamburgers. This is extremely unhelpful because we are actually very horrible at tradeoff math, aka carbon numeracy.
It’s also not helpful because a lot of these ‘Stop doing this, you bad person’ pieces are predicated on the narrative that we have to sacrifice. Much research shows that this is simply untrue. Decarbonisation does not mean we all have to suffer through frigid winters eating only rutabaga (has anyone ever eaten a rutabaga?).
Plus, a lot of these pieces take a core ideological belief (we should not eat animals) and dress it up with emissions-reductions facts, belabouring individual action with no thought of how unfeasible it is for so many. Indeed, behaviour change is necessary, but only as means of catalyzing systems change. Needless to say, your uncle Joe didn’t come to FB to hear that his steak and his truck and his steaktruck (mmm…) are killing the planet. Nor does your under-resourced friend need to be harangued with impossibly expensive and time-consuming lifestyle swaps. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’re looking for climate articles that support a pre-existing belief you already have (hello confirmation bias!). I know I’m deeply susceptible to stories that gel with my worldview and always want to share those in ALL-CAPS with all the emojis and some jazz hands too.
If you ARE really interested in carbon literacy (me me me too!) there are lots of great tools that you can share that help people learn about their footprint on their own terms. A key climate communications (and life) truism is to ask people questions so they can reason out the answers for themselves.
3. Be a generous amplifier
Climate invariably gets less engagement on social, but we can subvert this by liking, commenting, and supporting this content with our best GIFage. Sometimes, I’ll like the same piece of content a dozen times. It’s about amplifying and supporting climate so that it will get more eyeballs. A key benefit of doing this is that it pushes the poster to continue sharing their climate news and views. Which is really important, as people often stop sharing climate content when it gets no social love. It’s hard enough to put challenging thoughts out there, harder still when you get zero response to your serious climate shares. Reward this brave vulnerability with a bit of your time and attention if you can.
4. One for you, one for Zuck
Despite no concrete proof of this, my anecdotal research tells me that you can tweak the algorithm by alternating your energy. If I post a silly meme or adorable malapropism by one of my children that garners much engagement, my content gets shared more widely. And then I can post something substantive about the state of the planet, and tank my algorithm once again. An alternating current of earthly delight and despair.
5. Don’t take it too srsly
Be honest, and be yourself. This video speaks to my soul and communicates my existential grief with humour in ways that a serious post about trying to deal with climate emotion never ever could.
Sharing (intense and important content) is caring. It’ll never get the most love and engagement or win you friends and fans, but honestly who the eff cares. We have a planet to save and every little micro dose of climate information helps. So don’t despair. And don’t feel bad if you get it wrong now and then. I invariably learn new things and hear new perspectives when I do. There’s always another side to a story, and good-faith commenters often help me get out of my privileged and blinkered silo.
And if all else fails, amplify the methane out of positive social norms!!!
How do you share climate content on social media? LMK
LAST WEEK (well, a few weeks ago!)
I wrote about a few very important and positive global climate indicators. Then I heard a great episode of The Energy Gang where they go very deep on the significance of all of these BIG CLIMATE COMMITMENTS, if you’re interested!
Hope you are happy and healthy.
Have a wonderful weekend,
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Your first point reminds me of that article The Atlantic, "The Women Making Conspiracy Theories Beautiful: How the domestic aesthetics of Instagram repackage QAnon for the masses". Perhaps we could use those tactics to drive climate literacy instead!