Green Tweets

Seidenberg Professor Catherine Dwyer examines if Twitter can truly be the tipping point for climate change.

“You have people clicking the ‘like’ button or retweeting and feeling like they’ve actually done something for the environment instead of say recycling,” says Catherine Dwyer, PhD, Seidenberg associate professor and member of Special Interest Group on Green Information Systems (SIGGreen). The group, which brings together a wide variety of Green IS professionals and researchers, uses technology to facilitate transglobal collaboration and research. SIGGreen members recently traveled to Barcelona where Dwyer presented her research on Twitter’s role in the issue of climate change.

Dwyer presenting in Barcelona, Spain.

“Everybody is on Twitter and there is a goodwill feeling that has a role in advocacy. We saw it with the Arab Spring and other political events and it certainly has enabled a lot of connections between people who were not connected before,” says Dwyer. “But can Twitter really make a difference in something as complex and interconnected as climate change?”

Using Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis from his article “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” Dwyer mapped his findings onto the issue of climate change. “He had terrible timing—In October 2010 he writes that Twitter basically doesn’t matter, and along comes the Arab Spring in early 2011,” explains Dwyer. “It looked as though he was completely wrong, but he really made some good points.”

Twitter, she agrees, is great for making connections with different people and sharing information, but the degree to which people are engaged hasn’t been measured yet. So is all of this liking and retweeting just a superficial phenomenon in social media?

The answer is yes and no. While Dwyer and other Green IS professionals are working out the nuts and bolts of recognizing, measuring, and optimizing engagement, Dwyer has noted a trend. Most social media, she believes, seems to be most successful in the advocacy arena when related to a current or ongoing event like the Gulf oil spill. “Organizations were all over Twitter then, and they were breaking all kinds of news stories,” she says “but we don’t have those sorts of events every day.”

To learn more about SIGGreen and the work they’re doing, click here.