Mutual Group Polarization in the Blogosphere: Tracking the Hoax Discourse on Climate Change

Michael Brüggemann, Dag Elgesem, Nils Bienzeisler, Helena Dedecek Gertz, Stefanie Walter


A salient tactic used in online communication about anthropogenic climate change is to accuse the opposite side of being untruthful. This hoax discourse identifies one side as deniers of scientific facts and the other side as manufacturing false alarm. We study the hoax discourse on climate change in the English-speaking blogosphere as a disruptive discursive practice. The study uses automated, qualitative, and quantitative content analysis as well as network analysis to identify the main patterns of the hoax discourse, drawing on a sample of almost 50,000 blog posts related to climate change published online for one year, from May 14, 2016, to May 14, 2017. The study shows that hoax discourses are a salient feature of online debates. They engage both mainstream voices and contrarians in mutual accusations. Accusations of untruthfulness are rarely voiced in a way that identifies concrete lies and liars; instead, they form part of broad attacks designed to vilify the other group. The discourse does not directly address the other side of the debate. It does not constitute a deliberation, but rather serves to affirm one’s social group identity and exacerbate mutual group polarization.


climate change, blogs, hoax, public sphere, Habermas, discourse, truth, truthfulness, group polarization, denier, denial

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