When looking deeper into the 20 most frequent bigrams on a monthly basis, an interesting set of high-profile supporters and opponents appear.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a US politician known for climate activism. She has been one of the most influential followers of Thunberg for a long time. A considerable number of negative tweets were provided by adult males.
Although some of the hostile comments were not generated on the Twitter platform, Twitter was actively used as a tool for communicating and reproducing these comments.
4.4.1. The Most Followed Users
The authors analyzed the characteristics of the most influential users. Doing so can help to determine how and where an issue is discussed socially.
When retweeted by another user, a tweet is expected to reach about 1000 more users, on average [37
]. Given the nature of Twitter, a tweet from a user with more followers reaches more users. For tweets mentioning Greta Thunberg, the users with the highest number of followers are listed in Table 7
By and large, media platforms and politicians comprised the majority, indicating that the traditional media and social media are mutually dependent; traditional media pursue trending issues on social media, and social media receive credit from the news authorities. Politicians also utilize the interaction between social media and traditional media with respect to trending topics in order to bring support bases together. Former Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte admitted that the interaction between old and new media is particularly attractive to politicians: “What we do on social networks leads to extra attention on television and in the newspapers” [38
The presence of social media and television shows on the list can be understood in light of the interest that Thunberg generated from people of diverse backgrounds.
4.4.2. The Most Shared Tweets
The number of retweets can be a good indicator of an issue’s dissemination because retweets are automatically presented to new audiences. Retweeting is a more active response than simply following or liking but also easier than creating original tweets.
Since this study tried to avoid a situation in which the news about the UN speech dominated the whole analysis, the authors compared the most shared tweets before and after that day. As stated earlier, the most shared tweet was Thunberg’s own; thus, the tweets generated by her are excluded from this analysis.
presents a list of users who generated the most shared tweets before Thunberg’s UN speech. The authors categorized the users by their occupation. The “stance” of each user was manually assessed by the authors and identified as a stance to differentiate it from the sentiment analysis produced by TextBlob. It was hard to determine attitudes from some of the tweets accurately, especially when satirical nuance was included. In some cases, the target of the comment was unclear. To increase accuracy, the authors examined the context and tweet history. Although some of the news content showed bias, the authors decided not to classify the news platforms, given the nature of the media and multiple news items they deliver. The stances were classified as “supportive,” “neutral,” and “against.”
In general, supportive users were more likely to retweet than were antagonistic users. News media reports and television interviews were shared actively since they are credible sources, but the retweeting rank did not always match the number of followers. In addition, the occupations appeared to be diverse: politician, professor, writer, journalist and actor. These users have something in common in that they have a certain a level of influence in their respective fields and their jobs are generally considered to be those of social opinion leaders. Elite polarization fundamentally affects public opinion formation, increases the influence of party endorsements on opinions, and diminishes the influence of substantive information. [39
Many of the retweeted contents had a similar format: comment(s) added to a news link, video clip or image. Political comments were added, both by politicians and non-politicians. Both wanted to draw the attention of their support group by actively expressing their opinions on trending issues.
presents a list of users who generated the most shared tweets following Thunberg’s UN speech. Retweet counts almost doubled after the speech, and the tweets from supportive users were shared far more often. The diversity of the influential users and the topics of much-supported opinions show interesting features.
First, there was a change in the most shared users in terms of composition. The second, third and fourth leading users are news sources. After the United Nations speech, Thunberg made news headlines globally, and media coverage increased tremendously, with the result that the issue reached people who did not have an interest in climate change. Politicians disappeared from the list, and influencers from various fields emerged. The tweets of users with fewer followers also had a chance of being shared.
Second, along with the increased diversity of users, the topics of much-supported opinions shifted from climate change to other issues. Most of the tweets quoted speeches by Thunberg or news articles but their concern was not climate change. Instead, there were conflicting opinions about Thunberg herself. Opponents criticized Thunberg and her supporters for their looks, gender, ethnicity or age. Supporters criticized her opponents for their ignorance and irresponsibility while emphasizing the inspirational nature of Thunberg’s bravery and way of speaking. Sometimes, however, users who appeared to be supportive also complained about her attracting all the attention, which they felt should be shared with other activists. The most shared tweet was a satirical video about adults angry at a child. It was posted by an actor who starred in it [40
The reactions to Thunberg were increasingly polarized; again, the polarized reaction drew more attention.
Examples of most shared tweets reflecting other sources of social conflict are presented below:
“Guys, it is not okay to want Greta Thunberg to ‘lead’ us.”
“… how white Americans literally import white activists from Europe because they won’t listen to PoC (people of color) activists …”
“Along with Greta Thunberg, three young climate activists of color you should know …”
“I am EXTREMELY inspired by Greta Thunberg’s refusal to smile or make jokes throughout all this media coverage.”