Climate Change Topic Network in Public Discourse on China’s Weibo

Yixi Yang, Mark Stoddart


This paper examines the climate change discourse network on Weibo (China’s largest microblogging platform) between 2009 and 2018. Public discourse around climate change on social media influence individuals’ perceptions, attitudes, and actions towards this unprecedentedly complex and challenging issue. Understanding how climate change discourse is represented on social media in China — the world’s largest carbon emitter and an important country for climate action — is therefore particularly important. This paper investigates the climate change discourse presented on Weibo by examining the core topics, their inter-connections, and the temporal changes in their network positions over the last decade. Using unsupervised topic modelling, we find thirteen core topics from the corpus of 210,621 Weibo original and spam-excluded posts containing the keywords “气候变化” (climate change) or “全球变暖” (global warming). These include: global climate governance, climate science, energy, extreme weather, environmental campaigns, seasons, biodiversity, the U.S., low-carbon development, ecological losses & demises, nature, climate policies, and health (ordered by total numbers of posts). Based on topics’ co-occurrence in same-author posts, we constructed a topic network to represent their coalition relationship in individual users’ online expressions. From this network, we find climate change is represented in the public discourse on Weibo mainly as a development issue, moderately as an environmental issue, and sporadically as an experienceable and influential issue for individuals. A further temporal network analysis shows that the climate change discourse on Weibo experienced a topic unification period between 2011 to 2013 and a topic diffusion period between 2013 to 2017. However, there is a stable and reoccurring topic cluster that centers around climate science and low-carbon development. We conclude that administrative rationalism and development discourses dominate the public’s discussions around climate change on Weibo between 2009 to 2018.

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