Majority of U.K. consumers turn to academics, friends and family for information on climate change


Research conducted by The Conversation, an academic-led independent source of news and views, in collaboration with YouGov and the University of Cambridge, surveyed over 1,700 U.K. consumers and found that amid growing concerns around climate change misinformation, the majority (71%) don’t trust online influencers when it comes to climate change, 73% don’t trust social media outlets and 23% thought climate change reporting on social media was untrue. When asked whether they found reporting clear or confusing, 26% found climate change reporting confusing, 74% don’t trust social media influencers to tell the truth about climate change and 63% said there were too many conflicting opinions on social media.

When it comes to who consumers trust as a source of climate change information, over half (54%) don’t trust journalists or politicians (67%). Instead 67% turn to academics as a trustworthy source and friends and family (59%), which indicates that expertise isn’t the only driver of trust.

While the majority (78%) of those surveyed agreed that climate change misinformation was very or fairly damaging to our ability to tackle climate change, only 24% actually took the extra step to fact check climate change information they saw on social media or in the news. Forty-four percent of consumers also admitted to not knowing how often they came across climate change misinformation online.

Over half of consumers polled said they were worried about climate change (59%) and 80% were willing to make positive changes to their lifestyle, but they had concerns about the way climate change was reported in the media. Fifty-five percent thought there were too many conflicting opinions, over a third (39%) said reporting was too abstract and 29% said it was plain confusing. To add to this, 54% didn’t trust news outlets to tell the truth on climate change. 

Sander van der Linden, ​​professor of social psychology in society, and director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Laboratory, University of Cambridge, comments: “Our research highlights growing distrust and confusion among consumers when it comes to climate change reporting on social media platforms and in the media. It’s clear there’s a lot of work to be done to improve the way we communicate climate change news.”

“Over the last decade, the huge rise in misinformation campaigns have undoubtedly had a negative impact on public opinion. To rectify this, the scientific community needs to urgently come together and strengthen its partnership with the media to improve communication and awareness among the general public.”

Chris Waiting, chief executive of The Conversation, adds:“As climate change misinformation continues to surge and people’s confidence in media and social media reporting decreases, we need to work together to address this if we have any hope of convincing consumers to make permanent and positive lifestyle changes that will support the U.K.’s Net Zero by 2050 target.” 

“But to achieve this, it’s critical we listen to consumers’ concerns and turn climate change reporting on its head to deliver coverage that is clear, truthful and relatable. As academics are considered the most trustworthy source, a closer media and academic partnership will enable us to engage more consumers and help regain trust in journalism.”

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