Danny Ebanks
Highly polluting fossil fuel firms reframe climate and sustainability communication on social media

Authors: Ramit Debnath, Daniel Ebanks, Kamiar Mohaddes, Thomas Roulet, R. Michael Alvarez
Paper: Revise and Resubmit at Scientific Advances


It is crucial for climate action to identify climate misinformation on social media. Misinformation comes in a variety of forms; however, subtler strategies, such as emphasising favourable interpretations of events and data and reframing conversations to fit preferred narratives, have received little attention. This paper examines this behaviour over seven years of online climate communication (2014-2021). We examine historical Twitter interaction data ($n$ = 728,967) from the top eight polluting private fossil fuel firms, eleven non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and eight inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) to study the nature of social media communications on climate change. We find evidence that the fossil fuel industry influences the direction of this communication ecosystem. When environmental justice and climate action are discussed with negative connotations, fossil fuel companies are more likely to engage with NGOs and IGOs. The industry influences NGOs by pushing specific themes and frames to emphasise cleaner business models (such as electric vehicles), whereas the IGOs influence NGOs’ communication in the areas of corporate sustainability and media engagement. The results of a sensitivity analysis involving exogenous factors such as stock market performance and climate change-driven weather events indicate that when the fossil fuel industry is profitable, NGOs and IGOs emphasise green jobs while downplaying fossil fuel divestment. Extreme weather events, such as storms, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires, have a negligible impact on the course of online conversation. In conclusion, we provide a new data-driven foundation for understanding the structure of influential stakeholders’ online conversations in the climate and sustainability space and pave the way for rethinking the design of social media platforms for online climate communication.

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Danny Ebanks

Hi, my name is Danny! I am a Postdoctoral Fellow for IQSS at Harvard after having recently earned my PhD at Caltech in Quantitative Social Sciences! With a research passion for political methodology and American politics, I strive to develop and implement statistical methods, to understand the latest in machine learning and AI, and innovate in these areas in ways small and large to better understand our political world. I am always eager to chat about research and statistics, so feel free to reach out. Outside of research, I'm lifelong runner who hails from New York.