They say Twitter isn’t real life, but if you’ve read my colleague Nesrine Malik’s latest column, you know that is not true.
What happens on the internet doesn’t stay on the internet. Especially now that the people we trust to guide us through the noise of life – politicians, scientists, and journalists – rely on social media more than ever before as their primary means of communicating with us.
I’m an Extremely Online climate person . Almost everything I’ve learned about climate over the past 10 years started as a seed from Twitter. Whether that’s being introduced to new stories, research, or voices from activists, scientists and other climate people around the world, Twitter is my innovation of the decade.
I still remember when, as an early internet adopter in high school and college, the research I was forced to do by card catalogue felt hopelessly outdated and filtered through voices I didn’t trust. I first learned the importance of the climate emergency back in the early years of the internet, when my undergraduate meteorology professors were still reluctant to teach it for fear of being too controversial.
With Twitter, learning is much more organic. Learning now happens more as it should: through direct conversations with people from all walks of life.
But Nesrine is right: too often, Twitter ends up looking like this video.
Words have meaning, especially in politics and science. Words by specific people can change the course of history. Twitter, as it exists today, isn’t the right place for politicians to air their differences, or for scientific debates to take place.
#ClimateTwitter is no exception. This week, the biggest debate was whether or not advocates should treat the climate problem in tandem with the systemic social issues that helped create it, or concentrate our power to try to push for cuts in carbon emissions first. The fight devolved and relationships among people who are ostensibly working for the same thing were broken.
At the same time, harassment from outside forces on #ClimateTwitter is constant. We’re all targeted by people and organisations who want to block action on the most important problem in human history. As our movement continues to gain power, the harassment is getting worse, especially for women, people of colour, and other marginalised groups. And just like the big name politicians, we’re still trying to figure out how to have respectful conversations without blocking each other.
In my years and years on Twitter, here’s what I’ve learned: the main benefit of social media is to listen, not talk.
By focusing on listening, I am guaranteed to discover new ideas that can change my perspectives and broaden my view of the world.
When I do talk, I try to focus on sharing information that makes a difference in the world and standing up for the voices who have been pushed aside in the climate movement for far too long. In the past 24 hours, I’ve shared new information about record-breaking Arctic sea ice, institutional climate denial in the railroad industry , and a webinar about the intersection of climate grief and trauma healing.
Listening more is great advice, especially for people like me: a white man with a big platform. It’s not great advice for those who are harassed. In fact, one of the main reasons I remain committed to staying active on social media is to use the platform I’ve amassed to help raise the profile of the people who’ve been shut out of the conversation on climate for decades.
In a low-carbon world, Twitter is like travel – it can take us anywhere. In the best cases, Twitter has become an indispensable tool to create global communities built on solidarity that have become vital forces in our shared push to create the kind of world we all need and deserve. It’s up to us to put ourselves on the right path.