Focused Research Program

Major mis/disinformation climate initiative at Boston University—how it spreads, who it captures, and how to stop it

The Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability, in partnership with the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, has awarded its inaugural Focused Research Program for the 2022-2023 academic year. The program is designed to evolve and advance Boston University’s research in computing and data science around areas of strategic importance and emerging opportunity.

Data and Misinformation in an Era of Sustainability and Climate Change Crises

To further understand the critical role of communication in shaping public opinion on climate in the U.S., the Data and Misinformation in an Era of Sustainability and Climate Change Crises FRP will analyze the nature, origins, spread, and impacts of climate change mis- and disinformation, as well as the possibilities of mitigating misinformed beliefs.

The year-long study will center on three core areas:

  1. How climate disinformation spreads through social media sites, primarily Twitter and Reddit
  2. How native advertising, a deceptive form of paid content that mimics news articles, is employed for corporate communications campaigns
  3. What influence disinformation has on public attitudes, including which intervention strategies effectively dispel misperceptions about climate change


Spring Symposium

The research team’s findings will be shared at a symposium on May 16, 2023, for climate communication scholars from the Boston area and around the world. Stay tuned for registration details.

Research Team

Researchers and experts from across Boston University are collaborating on this interdisciplinary study, including scholars with expertise in public opinion, political communication, and native advertising; mis- and disinformation; social media analytics, computational sciences and natural language processing; and corporate communication, business and finance. Internationally recognized experts in fields that range from public health to environmental science will also advise.



Research Thrusts

Thrust 1: The spread and evolution of climate change disinformation through social media

Research goal: To build a catalog of prominent narratives of disinformation about climate change circulating in Twitter and Reddit; to identify major accounts promoting disinformation and the networks of which they are a part; to model shifting patterns of climate disinformation around key events during 2022-2023

Thrust 2: Climate disinformation and native advertising

Research goal: To extend related research to focus on the discussion of climate issues in native advertising, especially to identify how corporations engaged in native advertising are using the medium to affect public attitudes towards climate

Thrust 3: Public attitudes and behavior in response to climate disinformation and correction

Research goal: To understand the prevalence of certain forms of climate misinformation among the American public; to compare and reconcile competing frameworks for understanding Americans’ understanding of this issue; to test experimentally the effects of disinformation and the effectiveness of correction strategies