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Study: DiCaprio’s Oscar Speech Did More For Climate Change Than Earth Day

(REUTERS/Toby Melville)

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Chris White Tech Reporter

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar acceptance speech comments urging action on climate change drew more attention on social media than Earth Day, according to a study out of the University of California San Diego.

The study, titled “Big Data Sensors of Organic Advocacy: The Case of Leonardo DiCaprio and Climate Change,” was published Aug. 2 in scientific journal Plos One. It argues DiCaprio’s acceptance speech for best actor received much more attention on social media than it did on traditional media outlets.

More than 36 million people watched this year’s Academy Awards. DiCaprio won best actor for his role in “The Revenant.”

“The number of tweets including the phrases ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ on the day of DiCaprio’s speech were at the highest recorded value in our database with more than 250,000 tweets on that day,” according to the report, co-authored by Eric Leas, a University of California San Diego School of Medicine researcher.

“The example of DiCaprio and others demonstrates that dissemination can occur completely outside the context of a campaign and can even generate more public engagement than planned events,” the study noted.

DiCaprio used a lion’s share of his Oscar speech to rail against so-called man-made global warming. He also spent time chiding people for not doing due diligence fighting the scourge.

“Making ‘The Revenant’ was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history — our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet jut to be able to find snow,” DiCaprio said.

“Climate change is real, it is happening right now, it is the most urgent threat facing our entire species,” the actor said, adding that the only way to defeat it is to “stop procrastinating.”

The “Titanic” actor’s speech resulted in a 636 percent increase in Twitter activity about climate change, the study notes. In addition, Google searches for “climate change” also increased in the days after DiCaprio’s speech. In fact, Google searches on climate change ticked up 261 percent an hour after the comments.

Searches for terms like “climate change” remained high at 39 percent above normal four days after the acceptance speech.

Searches for the term “global warming” ratcheted upward as well, with a 210 percent increase the day of DiCaprio’s speech – in fact, there were 320,680 Google searches for either global warming or climate change.

The Paris climate agreement and Earth Day, by comparison, received far less social media attention than DiCaprio’s Oscar address. The Oscar award winner’s speech generated more than three times as much Twitter activity as the Paris conference in December, and 5.3 times as much Twitter activity as Earth Day.

The results indicate dissemination of information can occur completely outside the context of an organized campaign, according to the study’s findings.

Other researchers are not so sure.

Zeynep Tufecki, a former programmer on faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and a contributor at the The New York Times, told an audience at a debate on social media activism at the University of Pennsylvania in March that social movements that rely on social media primarily ignore the importance of building formal and informal organizations and structures.

Without decision makers, she said, political movements can’t behave tactically or translate tweets into votes for a shift in policy.

She compared building a social media network to climbing Mt. Everest – with a Sherpa carrying all of the gear: “You’re not learning to be a mountaineer. You don’t know how to survive at 8,000 feet.”

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