Greta Thunberg – how a 16 year old is driving global engagement – despite vitriol
But, hostility appears rife. The Guardian reported that Arron Banks, the Brexit backer warned the teenager that “freak yachting accidents do happen in August” as he responded to a tweet by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas who said Thunberg was carrying “the vital message to the UN that time is running out to address the climate emergency”.
Prof Tanja Bueltmann, founder of campaign group EU Citizens’ Champion, told The Guardian that:
“Verbal attacks on Greta Thunberg have been coming from many different people for quite some time.”
But this vitriol appears to be doing little to dilute Greta’s message, nor her supporters enthusiasm. It could, research suggests, serve to damage her detractors instead.
Why are young climate activists undimmed by hate?
Nieman Lab noted that, according to the report, news avoidance is growing, especially in the UK. 58% of respondents cited ‘Negative impact on my mood’ as a reason for avoiding the news.
As a result, Greta’s detractors may be doing more harm than good for their own messaging and publicity; by unleashing vitriol against Greta, they may in fact just be restricting their messaging, as exhausted, positivity-poor readers turn off the news-based torrent of negativity.
And the Reuters report finds that “news brands are less important” for younger people.
Arguably then, negative responses to young activists, quoted in traditional media, may in many cases never actually reach Gen Z eyes; they’re gazing elsewhere. But such responses will reach older generations or traditional readers, who, as outlined, may themselves switch off from the relentlessly harsh messaging.
Cycles of negativity
The answer; modern newsrooms should. It is their job to offer up unbiased, equivocal reporting, and find a way to get the balanced viewpoint out there through the right channels.
Why swerving negativity can help publishers engage with Gen Z
“Many of our interviewees felt that some (popular) media outlets simply had an unconstructive mindset: “The Daily Mail. They are always on social media, trying to make someone look bad.” Ellie, 18–20, UK
“News is a major negative and has a huge impact on everyone who watches it. There is never any positive or happy news.” Female, 24–35, UK
Not every Gen Z story has to be 100 per cent supportive of Greta. Rather, as the Digital Report notes, ‘Younger audiences in particular don’t want to give up instant, frictionless (and ideally free) access to range of diverse voices and opinions.’
The art of listening
Today’s publishers must listen to what Gen Z has to say:
Young people were often frustrated by the negativity of the news agenda, about sensationalism and about the perceived agenda of the mainstream media. Sometimes they feel that the views and concerns of their generation – such as climate change and minority rights – are not properly represented.
But equally they do not want traditional media to go away, dumb down, or radically change their style just to appeal to them – Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report
What’s plain is the fury against Greta is no joke. The BBC has picked up on negativity, reporting that Greta Thunberg has become a primary target.
Ms Thunberg is not the only eco-activist under fire, it notes. Four young climate campaigners told the BBC of the abuse they have been subjected to. One was compared to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels while another said she had been racially abused.
These environmentalists have asked difficult questions of politicians, and been ruthlessly derided for doing so. With hostility heightening, why are young climate activists facing so much hate? – The BBC
Greta’s brand of environmentalism, argues the BBC, does not appeal to everyone. In particular, those who “don’t like being told what to do” and feel children “don’t have the right to say these things”, Richard Black, the director of the environmental think tank the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, told the organization.
Climate activism will always cause division. But for responsible newsrooms, solid understanding of the reader response caused by negativity, and the newer ways in which young and old audiences engage in such conversations will be increasingly essential to honest and equitable reporting.