How social media is driving the climate change conversation

September 26, 2019

Written by Katherine K. Ellis
Climate strike signs and protestors

Just ahead of the UN’s Climate Action Summit, photos from climate strikes around the world emerged on all platforms, demanding action on the impending climate crisis. We wanted to take a look at how the conversation has shifted in the past few years, and how the conversation is taking place on different platforms.


Last Friday, millions around the world joined together to voice concerns about impending irreversible climate change. Outraged over lack of action on the part of governments to help solve the problem of global climate change, people of all ages took to the streets, demanding a commitment to a solution. Many have credited the young Greta Thunberg, only 16 years old, with launching this movement globally, setting an example for others who believe the actions of one individual can have an impact.

First up, engagements to climate change content generally have fluctuated greatly in the past couple years, though it has been a public conversation generating millions of engagements per year as far back as 2014. As detailed in the chart below, we seem to be in the pinnacle of coverage and content for climate change. It is only September and there have already been over 132 million engagements to articles focused on climate change this year, blowing previous entire years’ totals out of the water.

Chart detailing engagements to climate change content by year2019 has had more articles (270k) written about climate change and climate-related initiatives than any previous year. With coverage about climate change comes a lot of conversation on all social platforms, but first we wanted to see which stories are rising above the rest in terms of engagement.

Top 10 articles on climate change by engagement

Top Ten Most Engaged Articles about Climate Change

The most engaged article about climate change this year was CNN’s coverage of the fires consuming Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. It garnered 1.3 million engagements across the web and social and was shared over 265k times on Facebook.

The second most engaged article was from publisher (which has actually failed several 3rd-party fact checkers’ criteria for credibility) claiming that NASA admitted global warming occurs because of Earth’s orbit, not fossil fuels. What’s particularly distressing is how quickly the story spread through various networks, racking up almost as many engagements as coverage of the Amazon burning.

For content focused on the climate strikes around the world specifically, the top ten articles were as follows:

Top 10 articles on climate strikes by engagement

Chart ranking the top ten most engaged climate strike articles

Greta Thunberg is the key figure featured in nearly every article covering the strike last Friday. The most engaged article showed how far she’s come in inspiring change around the world, and most sites featured photos of the strikes happening in over 156 countries.

The strikes are getting global coverage, but engagement is lower than stories just focused on climate change. The strikes were more engaged on social platforms, with Facebook and Twitter really driving the conversation in real-time as strikes around the world progressed.

Reactions to these stories were varied, and while most of the top them had a higher proportion of Loves than Angries, climate strikes and coverage thereof have increasingly divided audiences in Facebook’s comment sections.

Top Posts for Climate Strikes on Facebook

Chart ranking the top ten most engaged climate strike posts on Facebook

While the top ten most engaged Facebook posts seemed to feature positive coverage of the strikes, comments devolved into chaos, ranging from support for the resolve of today’s youth to shaming them for not being in school. 

Critics and climate change deniers are particularly hard on Greta Thunberg, attacking her personally on Twitter and arguing in threads on whichever platform they can get a response.

Twitter was a very mixed bag in the past week, with celebrities, politicians, and influencers chiming in with their opinions of Greta and the strikes. While Twitter was a live feed of the strikes and everyone’s opinion about them, Instagram was a more concerted effort to document the event, and brands showed out to support the strike as well.

Top Instagram Posts from Brands

While Instagram’s top posts during featured celebrity or news organization accounts sharing photos of the strikes, several brands received high amounts of engagement for their already widely known stances on climate change.

Collage of top instagram posts from the 2019 climate strikes

Patagonia, The North Face, REI, Reformation, and Nickelodeon were a few of the most engaged brands on Instagram for their posts about the strikes. While the former have made their positions on climate change known as a key piece of the brand, this seemed like a first for Nickelodeon.

Watching the historic events unfold in real time will only continue to shift and change as the movement grows. Instagram seemed like an easy way to share images from the day, while Twitter’s opinionated feed and Facebook’s comments section devolved the conversation into chaos. This Friday, Sept 27, there is another climate strike planned and coverage will no doubt continue to evolve on this topic, but will continue making waves across social.

If you’d like to monitor the conversation about climate change in real-time, check out NewsWhip Spike.

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