Environmental discussions are less polarized on social media, study reveals

The study concluded that environmentalists and opposition figures comfortably outweigh profiles aligned with the government’s environmental policy in terms of the evaluated subjects.

Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Department of Public Policy Analysis (FGV DAPP) recently published a new study called “Online Public Debate and the Green Agenda: Emerging Subjects in Brazilian Environmental Discussions,” which was based on approximately 12 million Twitter and Facebook posts made between June and September of this year. The study revealed that debate on environmental issues is not very polarized – something that is common in the digital world – and it also identified that government-related groups in Brazil – made up of the official profiles of the federal government, right-wing politicians and conservative channels – occupy minority spaces when it comes to less visible environmental subjects such as family farming, water shortages, energy issues and new environmental technologies.

The study concluded that environmentalists and opposition figures comfortably outweigh profiles aligned with the government’s environmental policy in terms of the evaluated subjects. “The debates we analyzed were less belligerent, making it possible to establish strategies that are less reactive to environmental setbacks,” reads FGV DAPP’s report.

In the studied period, one of the topics selected by researchers on Twitter was “technologies and the environment.” They highlighted posts about a Superior Court of Appeals vote regarding indigenous people’s land and protests held by indigenous groups in Brasília in September. The study showed that the nonpartisan left (people, organizations and groups) led debate in this area in terms of number of profiles and interactions. The central focus was on the policies of the Environment Ministry, then led by Ricardo Salles.

“The government group was unable to mobilize as many people as its critics and it ended up being defeated,” says FGV DAPP researcher Victor Piaia. He says that President Jair Bolsonaro was the best positioned person within the government group, but he had a lower level of engagement than profiles such as “Mídia Ninja” and “Fiscal do Obama.” Out of 48 profiles with the most interactions, the pro-government group accounted for just nine.

Another topic related to the environmental agenda that has been widely talked about recently on social networks is family farming. The study extracted 167,410 posts about the topic on Facebook and 348,512 on Twitter. Unlike other debates marked by antagonistic views, groups linked to the government and environmentalists both competed to defend the interests of small producers. The government group accounted for 26.8% of interactions while the press and opposition politicians made up 40.5%.

Of the subjects analyzed, energy and Brazil’s recent drought had the greatest political polarization, according to the study. Official profiles of the federal government and politicians mentioned renewable and clean energies as possible solutions. On Twitter, mobilization was greatest among nonpartisan groups, which stressed the economic impact of the drought and complained about higher electricity prices.

Any opinions expressed by Fundação Getulio Vargas’s staff members, duly identified as such, in articles and interviews published in any media, merely represent the opinions of these individuals and do not necessarily represent the institutional viewpoints or opinions of FGV. FGV Directive No. 19 / 2018.