Spheres of Skepticism - The Integration of the Climate Skeptic Counterpublic Within the German Networked Public Sphere

  • This thesis is an investigation into the climate change discourse in the German networked public sphere with a focus on the climate skeptic counterpublic. It focuses in particular on the hypothesis that a polarizing discourse might lead to a fragmentation of the public sphere and the formation of echo chambers. This overarching research question of this thesis, then, asks how the climate skeptic counterpublic can potentially be integrated in the German networked public sphere and to what extent. The climate change discourse in Germany serves as a suitable example since it is heavily polarized with the mainstream being convinced that dangerous anthropogenic climate change is happening while the skeptic minority rejects the idea of a global warming and / or mankind’s responsibility. In order to understand the possible integration of the skeptic counterpublic in the networked public sphere, three studies were conducted based on the integration dimensions of similarity of discourse, connectivity and collective identity. In the first study, the German-language climate networked public sphere was mapped with a hyperlink network analysis of over 10,000 climate websites. The results show a highly polarized, almost unconnected discourse and suggest that climate skeptics could even be considered to form an echo chamber in which only climate skeptic and antagonistic messages are being shared. The second study, then, identifies several skeptic frames in the German news medias’ reporting on COP17. However, it can be concluded that climate skeptic messages are barely being included in the media coverage thus showing that skeptics are also excluded in the mass media. In the third study, 10,262 online comments of ten comment sections (four news sites, two climate skeptic blogs, two climate activist blogs, two climate science blogs) were analyzed to look at if and how connected skeptics are on the different sites. The results show that skeptics are highly active in the comment sections and account for over 40 % of the relevant comments. It is further shown that even though there is discussion between mainstream and counterpublic, users from the mainstream react highly critical to skeptic messages. In sum, this thesis shows that albeit the climate skeptic counterpublic is structurally only barely connected to the mainstream as well as excluded from the mass media, skeptics are very vocal and foster discussions over climate change and climate science. These discussions, even though characterized by the clash of two opposing beliefs, are a sign of integration and show that the fear of an echo chamber that is disconnected from other opinions and, indeed, society is premature.

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Author:Jonas Kaiser
Referee:Markus Rhomberg, Mike S. Schäfer, Monika Taddicken
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Publication:2016
Date of first Publication:2017/01/24
Publishing Institution:Zeppelin Universität
Granting Institution:Zeppelin Universität
Date of final exam:2016/10/05
Release Date:2017/01/24
Tag:Climate change discourse; counterpublic; eco chambers; networked public sphere; similarity of discourse
Licence (German):License Logo Es gilt das UrhG

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