Automated Framing of Climate Change? The Role of Social Bots in the Twitter Climate Change Discourse During the 2019/2020 Australia Bushfires


Extreme weather-related events like wildfires have been increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change. Public online conversations that reflect on these events as climate emergencies can create awareness and build support for climate action but are also used to spread misinformation and climate change denial. To what extent automated social media accounts—“social bots”—amplify different perspectives of such events and influence climate change discourses, remains unknown, however. We use Twitter and the 20192020 Australia bushfires as a case study to explore this issue. Utilizing more than 1 million Tweets, we identify how climate change is framed in the context of those fires, and to what extent social bots affect specific climate change frames, including the spread of misinformation. Our results show that climate change represents a substantial part of online conversations about fires. The bushfires are primarily framed as a climate change issue including its measurable impacts and political perspectives. Climate denial represents a small share of this conversation and receives limited amplification. Social bots seemingly contribute to the climate change conversation, both through frames that support and oppose climate action, and amplify to larger degree frames appealing to emotions, such as sympathy or humor. We also find that Twitter discussions about the role of social bots in spreading climate denial are amplified more than actual climate-critical frames propagated by bots. A complex interplay between social bots, Twitter conversations, and online news media is emerging, which shapes discussions about climate change and wildfires.