Talking to Twitter users: Motivations behind Twitter use on the Alberta oil sands and the Northern Gateway Pipeline

Brittany White, Heather Castleden, Anatoliy Gruzd


Environmental issues are being discussed through social media with increased frequency. Researchers are starting to question whether social media demonstrates a green virtual sphere: a virtual public space to discuss environmental issues that is not governed by a single authority and that anyone can access. We investigate why people use Twitter to communicate about two Canadian-based environmental issues using interviews with 10 highly engaged users. We found that they used Twitter to access news and engage in debates; however, they also raised a number of concerns: the potential for overestimating the impact of their own and others’ online activities; the prospect of harassment from other users; and the possibility of being labelled an extremist. Given these findings, we conclude that in this case, Twitter only partially demonstrates the characteristics of a green virtual sphere because it increased access to information and provided a space for debate but access to the space was not equal and users were aware that discussions were likely being monitored.


green virtual sphere; social media; Twitter; environment; qualitative interviews; Canada

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